I am not a cook.
Despite the fact that I was born many years after Nixon’s “I am not a crook” speech, I can’t help but hear that sentence in his voice. The difference between Nixon and me is that I’m telling the truth. I also differ in other minor ways, such as gender, occupation, and the fact that I’m still alive, but those are irrelevant to my point.
I have never thought of myself as a cook. I can boil spaghetti and add a jar of sauce. I can scramble eggs and make a halfway decent omelet. If you give me a boxed dinner, I can combine the ingredients in the intended manner. I can even chop most vegetables. But I lack the intuition and experience to know that if I combine these ingredients with those ingredients, and heat the whole thing just so, that it will come out as something delicious. My version of trying to add flavor to something is to add garlic and/or butter.
I must pause for a moment because by now my mother will have picked up the phone to call her friends and explain that she is not to blame. And she’s right. She tried to teach me, to get me involved in cooking when I was growing up, and it just didn’t take. I also worked in two bakeries and a school cafeteria, and learned about the same as a what a squirrel would learn if you set him down at a desk and tried to teach him his letters.
This has left me in a predicament. I find that I am afraid to offer to help when someone is cooking because they might ask me to do something simple that I don’t know how to do. It makes me feel like a bad guest. I worry that somehow the authorities will find out and relieve me of my gender card.
More than that though, is the fact that I have been trying to eat healthier. Last May I finally became a vegetarian, for a variety of reasons, and it’s been pretty easy. I wasn’t eating a lot of meat to begin with. But I have also wanted to reduce the amount of processed foods I was eating. This was a delightful idea. “Yes, I am going to eat whole foods and I’m going to feel awesome.” Somehow my cupboard is still full of cereal though (I LOVE cereal). The difficulty is that when the very little “cooking” I have always done has been things like boxed dinners and skillet meals, I look at vegetables and grains and don’t know how to make them taste good. I stand in my kitchen and stare blankly. Then I grab the Cheerios.
So this is my solution: I have purchased the recipe book Meatless, “from the kitchens of Martha Stewart Living.” I can already hear some of your protests. Yes, Martha Stewart can make the best of us feel incompetent. But I’ve decided it’s because she’s a witch. A very kind witch, I’m sure, but it allows me the excuse I need when my dishes don’t turn out the way her’s do. “Yes, I know my fondant Christmas tree looks like something out of a nightmare, but it’s not my fault. I’m not a witch.” Also the book got great reviews. But back to my solution.
I will be working my way through the recipes of this book, in no particular order, and I will write about my experiences. This is so that I will be accountable to the blog and won’t be able to just give up on cooking. It also gives me an excuse to write, which is where my passion lies. I know it’s been done, but so has writing vampire books and yet people keep cranking them out.
I want to make it clear that this is an experiment, and I may find that I am utterly useless in the kitchen. But whether the food turns out beautiful, hideous, delicious, or disgusting, I will tell you about it and I will post of a picture of the finished product along with the recipe.
Before I get to the dish I made last night though, I want to give you an example of how I lack that crafty touch that filters through members of the Church of Saint Martha. My birthday falls on Groundhog Day, so this year two of my best friends found a cute little food project that the three of us could make for my birthday party. I regret that I don’t know what magazine it was in. We had lots of fun doing it, but our final product was not nearly as neat and tidy as in the magazine.
They are supposed to be groundhogs, and they ended up in pudding cups. They did look quite cute, but also like they might be infected with something. One of my friends helping me pointed out that one I did looked homeless because he was so dirty. We also have uneven buck teeth, unibrows, lazy eyes, and Mr. Miyagi. This was one of two trays. You get the gist.
And now, for last night’s experiment, I give you:
Zucchini “Pasta” with Tomatoes and Walnuts (Gluten-free and Vegan)
8 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons torn fresh basil leaves, plus whole leaves for garnish
2 tablespoons torn extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1) In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, garlic, walnuts, torn basil, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt. Let stand 20 minutes.
2) Thinly slice zucchini lengthwise, then cut slices into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Add to tomato mixture and toss to combine. Garnish with whole basil leaves, and serve.
Meatless, pg 32
I opted for my first recipe to be something simple, and I’m happy to say that it really was. Very few ingredients, and no actual cooking. It couldn’t have been easier! Until I got to the zucchini. I doubled the recipe, so I had two of those green beasts to contend with. It didn’t start out too bad. I’m exceptionally clumsy so I was wearing those safety gloves to keep from cutting myself. I don’t really know how they protect you, if I’m honest. They seem to be made of thread. Maybe if the knife gets too close to your fingertip, they go into some sort of crime-fighting mode and dismantle the knife and dull the blade. I don’t know how they would manage that, but it seems exciting. It may sound like I’ve gone off topic, but the fact is that cutting that zucchini became so tedious and boring that my mind searched for some sort of stimulus. Superhero gloves seemed like a good distraction.
By then end of zucchini number two, my hand was cramped up and I was ready to throw the thing (the zucchini, not my hand). I had started out so carefully, trying to do perfect long thin strips. Before long though, my “pasta” strips were about the size of french fries, both in thickness and in length. It was a pain.
It did turn out delicious though, and was aesthetically pleasing. I’ll make it again. Tonight in fact, because my boyfriend who said, “…yay,” when I told him he would be my guinea pig, somehow wasn’t able to make it over in time for dinner last night. He’s not escaping that easily.
What I will change however, is my method of cutting the zucchini. I will use my mother’s Mandolin slicer, which I think will make it significantly easier. If you want to try this recipe and do not possess such a slicer, I suggest you use a much smaller knife than I did. I used a giant, heavy, chef’s knife, which contributed to the hand cramping. The learning process has begun.