Cookbook History


My old standbys.

We’re the ones who don’t think in measuring cup increments. Instead we think in spice palette increments.

I’m one of those intuitive cooks. You know what I mean? We’re the ones who read a recipe in 30 seconds, then try to recreate it.

“mmmmmm, cumin with honey?” or “Oh, wow, rosemary and lime juice!”

We think of cooking as an art, not a science.

We toss in a bit of this, a smidge of that, stir it around and suddenly realize that it needs buttermilk.

Cooking is my creativity.

So it’s kind of funny that I have a cookbook collection. I have cookbooks from China, Russia, Germany, Italy. I have cookbooks about snacks, cookbooks about desserts, cookbooks that are for kids. And I have a whole shelf of amazing leather bound cookbooks from the past century that tell more about social expectations of women than they do about how to make a perfect squab. I often read them for fun.

Tonight, though, I found myself thumbing through my very favorite cookbook ever. My daughter Kate gave it to me for my birthday during her junior year of college.

Kate and I used to cook together, and often experimented on recipes that the men in the family consumed with pleasure.

When she’d moved from the dorm into her first campus apartment, I’d sent her with a cookbook full of my favorite recipes. She might not be at home in my kitchen anymore, but I needed to know that my girl had the family recipe for red sauce and meatballs at hand.

She’d loved the gift, and had added her own discoveries and creations during the school year.

So when my birthday rolled around, Kate gifted me with my very own cookbook of HER favorite recipes. It was fabulous! She included recipes for “Reverse Chicken Soup” (made with beef broth and ground chicken meatballs) and “Pasta e Fagioli Cucina Lavandino” ( kitchen sink pasta e fagioli).

It was hilarious! I loved it.

I put its pages into my own home made cookbook.

Every time I found a delicious recipe, or an enticing food idea, I included into this three hole punched cooking notebook.

Well.

Tonight I decided to add a new recipe, for the first time in years. I have started making more raw veggie dishes, and wanted to add in hand written recipes for two new favorites: Italian Cole Slaw and Carrot Cumin Salad.

I wrote them down, popped them into the cookbook, and then started to flip through the pages.

Yikes.

This is like the history of my marriage and motherhood years. It’s broken into sections (appetizers, main dishes, desserts) but each one is in chronological order. A stroll through these pages is a documentation of my evolution through the basics (meatballs, chicken piccatta, yellow cake) and into our early marriage years.

That was when we wanted quick, easy and cheap (The Sausage Casserole I invented in grad school when each dinner had to come in at under 3 dollars). Dessert was usually a couple of graham crackers.

The book moves on into the early parenting years, when I mastered “Mexican spiced chicken fingers” and a lovely dish called “Heavy Slop.” Filling, easy and healthier than Hamburger Helper.

It goes on through special events that gave us “Christmas Shrimp Cocktail” and even “Red Sox Noodle Dandy”. The latter was created during the playoffs of 2004, when the word “Yankee” was completely forbidden to be spoken anywhere in New England.

Now I find healthier, higher-end recipes being added to the book. Foods with less fat, less salt, more fiber. Dishes that cost three times what the first entries did. Now I see recipes for lamb, for shrimp, for exotic pastas and sauces.

I love them all.

But mostly I love the idea that my life has been recorded as a series of recipes.

I can’t think of anything that would be a better fit for me than this!

Buon Natale


My Dad used to say it that way. My Grampa did, too. And my PapaNonni said, “Buon Natale”. In our house we didn’t say it in English when the whole family was around.

Buon Natale.

For my whole life, those two words have meant the sharing of good food, of laughter, of presents, of long stories told it two languages.

Buon Natale meant the meal of seven fishes, with shrimp and calamari and especially with octopus cooked by my Sicilian Grampa who pronounced it “boopie.”

The magic of the celebration meant gathering with cousins we saw only two or three times a year. It meant catching up with each other’s news, introducing new boyfriends, new fiances, new babies.

Buon Natale. Every year the location of our family party would rotate between the houses of my mother’s siblings. Some things would change, as people moved and families grew, but many many things stayed the same. The boopie, the calamari, the red Santa hats, the bottles of good Scotch under the tree.

Years have passed for me. Decades have passed now.

So many of those we loved have left us. Grampa, the original boopie chef, has been gone for more than thirty years. Our Nana left us more than ten years ago. We’ve lost my Dad, my sweet, funny brother-in-law, and my hilarious and brilliant Uncle.

But you know what?

We gathered again today. We hugged, and kissed and wished each other Buon Natale. There was wine and good Scotch. There was boopie and shrimp and calamari and calzone. We had ricotta pie and wonderful desserts.

Mostly, though, we had a new generation of little cousins who play together and laugh together only once or twice a year. We had laughs and memories and a few quiet tears.

We had each other. We had tradition and repetition and time to look back and remember that the joy of the season is really about celebrating how lucky we’ve been to have known and loved each other.

I don’t know what the future will bring, or how long traditions should hold.

But I know that my daughter will be hosting her brothers and us on Christmas. And I know that she’ll be cooking boopie.

Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo a tutti.

Well, I don’t have a picture of boopie.

Food, Glorious Food


I am not generally a fan of food trends. I don’t follow the latest crazes (acai berry, anyone?) My Dad always taught us, “All things in moderation, including moderation.”

I eat meat, dairy, wheat, veggies, fruits, cookies and just about everything in between. I am, in a word, an omnivore.

But I am also the friend of some very intelligent, highly informed, super healthy women. When they talk about nutrition, they know of what they speak.

The upshot of these friendships is that I am now living a gluten free life.

The thing is. I don’t have a particular difficulty with wheat. My digestive system is generally pretty reliable, as long as I go easy on the brussel sprouts and black beans.

But I do have fibromyalgia, and I complain a lot. So on one of our women’s getaways we were talking about all of the potential effects of gluten. Most of the women in the room had researched gluten intolerance. In fact, 6 out of the 8 of my pals were not eating gluten anymore.

“You should try the gluten free diet, ” said my brilliant actually-a-real-live-nurse friend Karen. “It might make a big difference with your inflammatory issues.”

“I lost a lot of weight once I stopped eating wheat,” added our equally brilliant (and very tiny) friend Cindy.

So. What could I do?

I came home from our weekend and decided to try it out. How hard could it be to stop eating wheat?

HA.

First of all, I’m Italian. Pasta is my middle name.

Second of all, I am a food snob. I refuse to eat things that are processed and preserved and all that. No fake gluten free pizza dough for this woman!

So I stopped my morning toast, my noon time sandwich, my crackers for snack and my pasta for dinner. I happily ate my meat and more fruits and veggies than usual. I was careful to add in gluten free carbs, like quinoa and rice.

Healthiness, here I come!

Within two days I was shaking. My palms were sweaty. I felt weak. And that reliable digestive system? Holy rumbling grumbles. I wanted a bagel. I wanted ravioli. I wanted toast.

I wanted salt.

By day four, I found myself salivating at the thought of potato chips. I bought a bag of “Skinny Pop” and ate it. I was craving fries. Pretzels. I kept adding salt to my pots of quinoa.

By day six, I noticed that I was tasting things more sharply. Adding a little cumin to my chicken marinade made me feel like Giada DeLaurentiis (without the perky boobs.) A bit of turmeric on my saffron rice? Magnificent!

And by day 7, I had lost three pounds.

What the hell.

I wanted my bagels back, but….three pounds in a week?

As week two got underway, I noticed that I was still shaky, still feeling weak and still craving salt. And the digestion issues were not getting better. Ugh. I would have quit right then, but….three pounds.

So I reached out to my wise women of the village. My super healthy, super aware friend Maureen said, “Your body needs time to adjust. Stay with it.”

I did.

It’s now week three.

I have lost another two pounds. I have mastered the fine points of preparing both quinoa and polenta, neither of which I thought I’d ever achieve. I feel fine. The rumbles and grumbles from my slightly smaller belly have subsided.

But my fibromyalgia and the aches and pains that go with it are unchanged. My energy level is unchanged. Stuff still hurts.

So now what do I do?

Well, I certainly have given all of this some thought.

While I don’t believe that gluten or wheat are hurting me, I sure do wonder how much salt I am taking in with my store bought bread items. I definitely know that bread fills me in a way that other foods don’t, which is why I think I am losing a bit of weight.

Here is my plan.

I am going to limit my wheat consumption to a few times a week. And I’m going to go back to baking my own bread. I even have a yeast free sourdough starter going. I’ll skip the crackers with my cheese and will eat carrots instead. Or olives. Or fennel!

I’ll enjoy my newfound quinoa and polenta skills. Maybe I’ll even master lentil salad. Who knows?

I feel happy to have tried this food adventure. I can tell myself that I did what I could to control the fibromyalgia aches. I have learned that commercial breads, muffins, bagels are loaded with salt and sugar.

At last, at last, I can whip up a batch of quinoa or a big pot of polenta and cheese with basil.

So even though we are heading into the hot part of the year, I’m going to renew my efforts to make my own pasta (which has a really unpredictable success rate), my own bread and my own (yes, I mean it) bagels.

And I’m going to NOT give in to my potato chip cravings.

Instead I’ll eat an entire jar of pickles.

Thanks, wise women of my village! I love youse!

 

I’m Thinking of Writing a Cookbook


I actually am thinking about writing a cookbook.

I need a source of additional income, and my only two reasonable skills are cooking and writing. Hence: a cookbook!

I know, I know. The market is absolutely flooded with cookbooks right now.

But MINE will be special.

You see, I have been experimenting with some truly unique recipes.

Here’s the backstory.

My grandson Johnny loves to eat. His nicknames include “Johnny Cheeks”, “Big Goomba” and “Johnny Pork Chop,” At a mere nine months old, the kid can chow down with the best of them.

johnny's first pastina

Good for him, right? Nothing makes Nonni happier than feeding babies.

The thing is, he’s still an infant. He’s supposed to be getting his nutrition mostly from breast milk. His mother is a milk producer par excellence. Think Holstein and you get the picture. She has enough of nature’s perfect nutrition to feed a whole barnful of Johnnys. She wants him to have her milk. She says it’s the best possible food for him.

He doesn’t particularly agree. Maybe he doesn’t want to seem immature, you know? Or maybe once you taste meatballs there’s no going back. I’m not sure.

All I know is that my boss  daughter leaves me 8 ounces of fresh mother’s milk every day, and my job is to get it into the Goomba. I’ve tried his usual bottle, a sippy cup, a straw, a spoon, and a bottle with handles he can use to feed himself.

No dice. No matter what I try, he pushes it aside and reaches for the nearest ham sandwich.

So I have become an expert at hiding breast milk in everyday foods.

Oatmeal in the morning? Sure! We cool it off with breast milk. Pastina? Yup, breast milk goes in there, too. Scrambled eggs with spinach and breast milk? One of his faves.

I have even given him risotto with carrots, peas and chicken. Made with….you guessed it. Breast milk.

Can’t you just imagine how awesome my cookbook will be once I pull it all together? How unique, how different? How useful?

I’ll need super shiny, fancy photos to grace every page. I figure I know enough cute babies to pose them with my breastmilk and maple sugar pancakes. They can even give the testimonials for each dish.

Johnny oatmeal

“Mmmmmmm. Numnah!”

Naturally, I’ll need to come up with chic hipster names for each recipe. I read “Bon Appetite.” I know how this works. You have to include at least one non-English word in each title, and it has to be served “with” something.  All the new restaurants and cookbooks feature items like “Wild boar ragout with chanterelles and persimmon sauce.”

I have a few recipes already, and plan to spend the next three months perfecting others. Right up until the Pork Chop is fully weaned.

How do these sound to you? Delicious? Be honest. What do you think?

“Bananes frites with mother’s milk and fresh blueberry sauce.”

“Best of the Breast omelette with mushrooms.”

“No Cow Juice For You Fruit Shakes- a healthy mix of Mom’s pride and fresh fruit.”

“Pastina con latte materno.”

“Risotto a la Mamma Mia.”

I think it will catch on. I can’t wait to start working on desserts. Just think of the creamy custards!

Caviar on a POTATO CHIP?!


No.

Nope. Nuh, uh.

I am NOT going there.

What the hell is wrong with foodies these days?

I used to be a devotee of all those wonderful food magazines. Some of my very favorite recipes (“John’s Apple Cake”…mmmm) came from Gourmet or Bon Apetit. Back in the 80s, both magazines used to be full of useful cooking tips and interesting recipes.

Recipes that you’d actually want to eat.

No longer.

I subscribed to one of these food magazines a few months ago and I am completely bewildered. I suspect that the editorial board is now filled with geeky High School kids in skinny jeans. The kind of kids who spend 45 minutes arranging each piece of hair to look perfectly messy in the hippest possible way.

I’ve gotten used to monthly photo shoots of some allegedly famous chef whipping up a little something for 5 gorgeous friends in a “rustic” beach house. Everyone is smiling while sipping cocktails made of bamboo shoots, tequila and some kind of Peruvian berry. The chef poses with one hand on his bony hip while stirring the “quick sauce” he’s making out of duck blood and mango peel.

Or something.

I can usually flip through the pages, gag a little and move on.

Not. This. Time.

I just opened my new copy of Bon Apetit and what should meet my jaded old eyeballs but this:

caviar.jpg

This horror is supposed to be the latest thing. It is expensive caviar on a potato chip.

Quelle horreur!

This is NOT cooking, folks. This is not good food. This is just plain yucko.

So I’m skipping the rest of this issue. I’m going back to cookbooks I can trust. The ones with easy to follow recipes using real food, preferably cooked by chubby women who know their way around a nice butter filled pie crust.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!! May your crusts be flaky but your relatives not so.

cookbooks

My old standbys.

Is This Healthy? Or Am I Kidding Myself?


The thing about summer is that all of the veggies are amazing.

Right?

It’s July now. So I can drive up the street to the local farmstand where I can buy fresh, buttery lettuce, fresh peas, tomatoes still warm from the sun, cucumbers that are as crisp as breadsticks.

I can run up to the weekly farmer’s market and get garlic scapes, fresh spring onions, tender, fresh kale.

I can go home and microwave some beets, then cool them and mix them into all those fresh, tender greens with a bit of goat cheese.

Holy delicious.

I am the healthiest eater in the world from June through October.

But does all that delicious green goodness buy me extra time on this earth if I refuse to touch salad in the winter?

I mean, I try. Every single year, I try to eat salad in the winter. I buy grocery store lettuce (bitter!) and grocery store cukes (flabby!) and grocery store tomatoes (tasteless!).  And they sit in the fridge until they begin to liquify, at which point I give up until the following summer.

So am I still healthy if I sort of stock up for six months? Can I still call myself a healthy eater if I only eat roasted carrots, beets, potatoes through the fall? Is it still a good veggie side dish if it’s roasted butternut squash with butter and real maple syrup?

My theory is that New Englanders learned to eat a whole pile of greens all summer (I DO!). And then they learned to preserve summer veggies like corn and tomatoes and beans (I DO THAT, TOO!) so in the winter they could eat pig fat while telling themselves “Well, at least we have veggies put up in the old root cellar.” (YUP, THAT’S ME.)

The early New England settlers managed to survive without eating hothouse tomatoes. They didn’t die of scurvy just because they refused to eat hothouse kale.

And I won’t either.

Right?

By shucking the corn and taking the peas out of their pods all spring and summer, I am earning my way into ‘healthy eater’s heaven’, aren’t I?

I love summer food. The peaches, the cherry tomatoes, the ripe berries all over the yard. I love it. I could forage all summer on the garden delights that surround me, as long as I could get a free pass to eat pork and butter my bread all winter long.

What do you think?

Am I delusional, or can I really save up my health points before the cold New England nights set in once again?

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Homesteader Nonni


IMG_20170507_190003

You know, I really believe in eating local foods.

I do!

So when I found myself in my local grocery store, looking at $3.99 a pound dandelion greens, I was kind of amazed.

Amazed, as in, “What the hell is wrong with you people?”

Now, I grew up in a first generation Italian American family. We ate greens. Lots of greens. Including dandelion greens.

At no time in my life, ever, did anyone pay four bucks for a bunch of weeds.

So I went home from the store. I put away my “not a weed” foods and I had a quiet night.

The next day, though, I was out in my yard. My big, wild, just-one-step-shy-of-a-forest yard. What grass there is was populated by many, MANY dandelions. With big green leaves.

Suddenly, my inner homesteader emerged. My inner old Italian Nonni came out. I grabbed my weeding tool and I pulled up a HUGE bunch of weeds.

Weeds that are no doubt healthy, high in vitamin C and iron, and probably…maybe…delicious.

I was SO proud of my old Nonni self.

“Nonni,” I said to me, “If the grid goes down because of a storm, or a hack by the North Koreans or the Russians or the angry men in Anonymous, I’ll be ready!”

Sure. So, yeah. Not totally ready, but still. Wouldn’t it be so cool if Nonni could feed the family by cooking lawn weeds!

So I brought my big pile of dandelion greens into the kitchen. I was feeling pretty cool as I put them into a colander and started to wash them.  I’m pretty sure I was humming an Italian love song, like “O, Mio Babbino Caro“.

I rinsed the big pile of greens.

Then I saw that there was….ewww….a lot of dirt, clinging to the roots that I pulled out.

OK, no problem, Homesteader Nonni. You just put the whole pile into a pot of cold water, and you pull out each bunch and cut off the roots.

Then I noticed….uuuuuuh……what is that? A pine needle? A giant pile of pine needles?

Do not panic. A pioneer woman like me can pull out the pine needles. One at a time. Even when there are more than 10,000 pine needles.

So two hours after I started to clean my dandelion greens (Local! Organic! Sustainable! Available even in a Zombie apocalypse!), I found myself faced with a big colander filled with mostly dandelion greens.

I kept picking through them.

“CRAP!!!!! Is that a spider????!!!????”

Screeech! Panic! Run!

Come back slowly…peek at the blob with the legs….

Oh, haha!!!

It’s a dandelion bud. With little green spikes around its dandelion head. Cool!

I kept cleaning. I pulled out each skinny, wet, limp leaf. I washed off the dirt. And the pine needles.

Every nice clean piece went into a bowl. All was well….Until.

HOLY SHIT!!!!

THAT’S A SLUG!!!! UGH! EWWWWWWWW!

I dropped the leaf, jumped back 12 feet, turned in a circle, made a series of old Nonni gagging noises…..

A SLUG!

What if I ATE it? What if I cooked it? And didn’t know it and I ate it and it went into my stomach and I got super sick and nobody could figure out what was wrong and I got sicker and sicker and I ended up on “Mystery Diagnosis”and they never did figure it out and I died of eating a SLUG and my family never knew what killed me and I’d never get to see my grandson or watch my sons get married…..

After about 15 minutes and a quick glass of wine, I slowly approached the counter and the weeds delicious dandelion greens. I used a very long chopstick to poke the slug…..

Oh, haha! Look at that! It’s actually just a tiny curled up flower bud!  Silly me…..

Eventually, after several panic attacks and a lot of screeches, I had a clean bowl of dandelion greens.

I had saved myself 4 whole dollars as I single handedly managed a pile of weeds. I put them in a bowl, poured on some olive oil and salt, then I microwaved the bowl.

I sat down to eat my dinner of roasted chicken and fresh dandelion greens.

Gulp.

Sip the wine. Taste the chicken. Take a tiny bite of greens…..

Whoah!

Delicious. Fresh, bitter and sweet, salty, delicious.

And free.

So. If the Zombie apocalypse hits us during the growing season, come on by. I’ll make a wonderful, healthy, slug free dish of dandelion greens.

Just do NOT ask me to deal with fiddlehead ferns.

Ewwwwwww!

 

 

Food is love


The idea that food equals love is not an original one. Years ago I had a friend, a teacher colleague, who used to talk about her own nuclear family growing up. They were Italians, like my own family, and her Mom raised her, as mine did, with the idea that feeding people is a way to show that you love them.

I totally live that way.

One of my favorite hobbies now that I’m retired is going through old, old cookbooks and reading about the delicacies of the past. I’ve been collecting old cookbooks that I read the way other people read a novel.

One of my favorites was a wedding gift to my Mother, given to her in 1950. The book was first published in 1901. It has tips on things like making a roast chicken. Step one? Kill the chicken.

Anyway, I was thinking today about the whole cultural idea of food as a show of love. And I think that feeding a hungry person is absolutely an act of love.

In my 61 years on this earth, I have brought food to friends who are grieving, family who are sick, friends and family who are celebrating milestones. I have made soup for fellow grad students on a snowy night. I’ve brought muffins to school on the morning after terrible and shocking events like 9/11.

And I’ve learned, slowly, to accept tortellini soup when I was the one in need. I loved it when a friend at school gave me a gift of lasagna for Christmas when I was a working mother of three little children.

So in the past few weeks, as Ellie has had her first bad cold and ear infections, I found myself thinking about “food is love” once again.She had the chills; I made her ginger lemon tea. Not from a tea bag. With actual grated ginger and lemon and honey.

I made soup. I had frozen chicken stock, made after we had eaten our locally raised, organic, sustainable birds. I cooked down the carcasses, peeled off all the meat, froze it into small cubes. Which I then cooked with garlic (antibiotic properties), onion, carrots, the herbs I dried from last summer……

It was good. She like it. She ate it. No biggie.

Except that I felt fabulous. I felt like Nonni of the year.

Why? I didn’t make her better; she still had to take her antibiotics and her nose drops. She still had her fevers and her chills.

But I COOKED for her. I showed her how much I love her. I gained a totally false but somehow satisfying sense of control over the microbes of the universe.

It was great.

Today Ellie and I roasted a big pan of beef bones, which we then put into a stock pot with veggies and spice.

It’s simmering on the stove right now. Just waiting for the next cold or flu to hit someone I love.

Food. Is. Love.

That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

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Chaos on the door


  Buttermilk and Sriracha?                   Really?

Buttermilk and Sriracha?
Really?

The funny thing about vacations is the way they bring out my inner neat freak.  I mean, the luxury of all this time around the house inevitably has me cleaning closets, bleaching the under-the-sink cabinet, and scrubbing out the fridge.

And all this cleaning and organizing can lead to some interesting self-reflection.

For example, earlier this morning I found myself contemplating the door to my fridge.

Wow.  You wanna talk Chaos Theory?  Here it is in all its glory.

I think that the door of my fridge is like the junk drawer of my inner life.

All the important stuff (milk, chicken, cold cuts, goat cheese, apples, eggs…..) is in the main part of the fridge.  Some of them (like the fruits and veggies) even get their own special drawers and shelves.  I know where to go when I need to grab the yogurt or the bread or the salad ingredients.

The same can be said for the rest of my kitchen. I know exactly where to go to locate the flour, the sugar, the paprika.  I know where the bags of rice are stored (arborio, jasmine, brown).  I can find the peanut butter, the Nutella, the tea and coffee and the chocolate chips.  There is a set place for the pasta (spaghetti, rotini, ditalini, farfalle,orzo,lasagna,ziti, mostaccioli). There is a shelf for the canned foods (crabmeat, clams, tomato paste and beans) and a shelf for the snacks (cookies, crackers, rice cakes, popcorn).

Don’t even get me started on the spices.  Grouped by type, arranged on tiered shelves.  A place for everything, and everything in its place.

Until I look at the door of my refrigerator, and all bets are off.

What does it say about me that the bottom shelf of the fridge door contains a bottle of white wine, a half full quart of buttermilk, a jar of martini olives and three kinds of mustard? Move up a shelf, and you’ll find a squeeze bottle of Sriracha, a jar of pickled ginger, some hoisin sauce, a tube of harissa sauce and sweetened lime juice.  There is small jar of olive tapenade, a plastic bottle of horseradish, real maple syrup, two jars of yeast and a quarter bottle of Worcestershire sauce.  There’s butter (salted and sweet) and jars of strawberry, raspberry and apple jam.  A rolled up, halfway dried out cream cheese packet and three kinds of pickles.

As I looked it all over, I decided that I should throw some of it away.  So I spent the next hour taking things out and putting them back.  Blue cheese stuffed olives? You never know when I might crave a dirty Vodka martini!  Hot mustard, sweet mustard, horseradish mustard?  Well, we do have sandwiches for lunch most days.  Harissa…I hardly ever use it, but it reminds me of Tunisia. I want it!

Eventually, everything was cleaned up, the shelves were wiped and cleared and it was all put back.

So.

Does this…….creative display of oddball food items mean that I am an exciting chef?  Or a food hoarder?  Does it mean that I hate to waste or that I love to be adventurous in my eating?

Am I a slob, or a bon vivant?

I don’t know!  But as I make myself a lovely snack of olive tapenade with cream cheese on rye bread, I’d invite you to check out your own fridge door.  If everything is up to date and enormously useful in your daily life, please don’t tell me.  But if you find an interesting combination of pickled onions and maraschino cherries, drop me a note, will you please?

 

Defeated by Quinoa


I am a pretty good cook.

I can make homemade ravioli with four cheese. I can make a fabulous mushroom sage-butter sauce for pasta.

My meatballs have made grown men weep.

When I bake bread, the smell alone can change your view of life.

And yet.

I have been defeated by quinoa.

Red_quinoa

A few short years ago, I had never heard of this miracle grain.  I was perfectly happy to go through life without it, until I tried it at a High School Reunion Weekend.  My friend Karen made a quinoa salad that was so delicious, the mere memory of it causes “yummy noises” to emerge from my watering mouth.

So I asked for the recipe. Of course I did.  I am the woman who recreated a dinner of seafood risotto over smoked mozzarella after eating it at a local restaurant.

(Mine was better.)

So I tried to make the quinoa recipe.  Karen’s was crisp, and fresh and flavorful.

Mine?

Mine was a bowl of slimy little wormy things with a few bites of cashew and some bok choy. The quinoa grains looked like baby sperm, with big heads and long tails.  YeeeeeUk.

My friend assured me that quinoa was easy to cook, and really delicious!  So I tried again.

YeeeeUk redoux.

I asked for some advice.  All the cool foodies were into quinoa. I had to figure this out!!!

My friend Maureen told me to make sure that I rinsed my quinoa  thoroughly before I cooked it.  So I did.

I ended up with a pot of slimy little wormy things sticking to the bowl and just waiting for some flavor.  I added salt. I added pepper. I added fresh basil.  And lemon. And nuts.  I took a bite.

I threw it out.   Bleh.  Blehblehblehblehbleh.  It was sticky and a little oozy and slimy and yuck.

What the hell?

So I decided to give it up. I was simply not cut out for quinoa. I returned to making brown rice with roasted veggies and homemade chicken stock.  Yum!

Then I opened my cabinets and found two bags of quinoa: one red, one white.  Oh, oh.  I had already paid for them!  I HAD to use them! So I did a google search. “how to cook quinoa without the slimy little sperm tails making it gross.”

Or something like that.

I found a recipe that said, “Do not rinse”. Instead, it told me to lightly brown the sperm  quinoa in olive oil before adding veggies and stock.  I tried it.

Huzzah!  It was delightful!  Dry and firm and packed with nutritious deliciousness!  Yay, me!  Paul and I enjoyed it alongside our roast chicken, feeling both healthy and hip as we swallowed it down.  I was feeling so. smug.

Until I tried the exact same recipe two weeks later.  Exactly the same.  Precisely the exact same ingredients, cooking technique, temperature, time.

Exactly.  The. Same.

And I ended up with a bowl full of slimy little spermy wormies. I took one bite, gagged a little, and gulped down a swig of wine.

What the hell.

This process has repeated itself four or five times now.  One delicious, healthy side dish followed by two dinners that were nearly ruined by the slime patrol.  Another fabulously nutty salad, followed by a couple of tossed in the trash slime-oh-rific followups.

So I have come to the conclusion that there is a vast international quinoa conspiracy, no doubt lead by left-wing activists who hate America. I have come to realize that all the little dry curled up quinoa soldiers send coded messages at night, telling each other about the latest plan to defeat the meatball maven.

When they get the signal, they all unfurl those super spermy little tails and start to secrete ancient Aztec slime sauce, thereby ruining any plan for a yummy dinner.  In this way, they surely plan to take over the world.

So I am hereby announcing that I am giving up the quest for the quintessential quinoa.  I am switching back to nice cheesy, fattening, compliant risotto.

I know when I’ve been beaten.