Posts Tagged ‘Cooking’

My Cranky Kitchen

“Everything King Midas touched
Turned to gold, the lucky fellow.
Every single thing I touch
Turns to raspberry Jell-O.”
–Shel Silverstein, “Squishy Touch,” from A Light in The Attic.

I am beginning to think my kitchen is holding a grudge against me for some unknown crime I’ve committed. Perhaps it is angry that the fridge is contaminated with neglected leftovers past their due dates. Maybe it’s unhappy I left the full compost bucket on the island for too long on a hot day, or it could just be disappointed at my inability to create a decent meal at a decent hour on soccer/gymnastics nights. Whatever my transgression, the kitchen must be conspiring with the recipe books, because it’s been a bad, baaaaad week of cooking.

Scott’s birthday was last week. I originally wanted to buy him a knife skills class as a gift, but unfortunately, all classes including knives also involve some form of animal protein. So I thought, if we can’t take a knife class, perhaps I could hire someone to come to the house. That idea died quickly with the words, “$159 per person for two hours.” Sigh. We can’t afford that kind of cash. Plus, why pay that much money when I could easily surf YouTube for a B-rated, knife skills home video and set up a “class” for free? I ditched the knives idea and surfed Yelp for high-end vegetarian restaurants instead. Scott had mentioned wanting to try Ubuntu in Napa, but after much discussion, we decided a meal costing over $100 wasn’t in the budget either. SIGH!

Since we couldn’t afford an in-home chef or an expensive meal out, I naively thought, “Hey! I will bring Ubuntu to us! I, mother of two young, active children, will make the meal of a trained chef in my spare time! I can do it!” Yeah, I so could not do it. But that didn’t stop my attempt.

To celebrate Scott’s day, we invited a couple of friends over for an elaborate “adult” meal. My original menu included:

  • Tomato bisque using a recipe adapted from The Conscious Cook
  • Vegan Caesar salad with homemade croutons
  • Spanikopeta with caramelized onions, mushrooms, spinach, and a tofu “ricotta” using a recipe adapted from How to Cook Vegetarian Everything
  • Banana rum cheesecake with a spiced rum sauce from The Conscious Cook

The real menu:

  • Tomato bisque
  • Rice pilaf
  • Sauteed spinach with mushrooms and caramelized onions
  • Baked tofu
  • Twice-baked (not on purpose!), leftover, oatmeal raisin cookies

First of all, I misfired on the amount of time it takes to prepare and create a banana rum cheesecake, and by the time I was ready to start, I was four hours too late. Mistake number one. At 5:30 pm, I realized I was supposed to thaw phyllo over night before using. A bit of quick research warned that phyllo is temperamental and thawing should never be rushed–nuking it would not work either. Mistake number two. Mistake three was for ditching the salad because at that point, we were running out of time to make homemade croutons. Mistake four came from flaking on banana fosters for an alternative dessert. Mistake five came from “re-baking” the oatmeal raisin cookies I made for Lennon’s soccer team into crunchy little hockey pucks. I had stashed the cookies away from the cats and then accidentally reheated them while I was preheating the oven for the cheesecake that never happened. Sadly, Scott could see me flailing and ended up making the entire meal by himself.

One would think that after such a bad run of luck, I would have redeemed myself a few days later when I finally attempted to make the banana rum cheesecake, but the kitchen sensed my presence and my recipes turned on me. They were like the directions in the potions book from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince–only I didn’t have Harry’s book with the notes in the margins that said things like, squeeze the jumpy, beany thing with the back of your knife instead of stabbing it.

The rum sauce for the cheesecake never thickened and turned into a pot of separated, crystallized liquid. And contrary to what the directions say for how to make nut flour, frozen nuts definitely turn into nut butter in the food processor. And while graham cracker crusts are lovely for many desserts, it wasn’t a good substitution in this instance. After all the prep, I was still off on my timing and had to choose between going to bed at 1:00 am or assembling and baking the cheesecake while getting the kids ready for school the next morning. I chose the latter, but 6:00 am mental dullness prevented me from finding the corn starch, and I substituted agar powder. Bad idea. The cheesecake came out so firm, I could have stood upon it. When I finally cut into the cheesecake, the texture was tough and oozed moisture like a slowly squeezed sponge. The final insult? Lennon absolutely loved it.

Really, I just wanted to make Scott a nice meal for his birthday, and I could have done that if I had stayed within the realms of my cooking capabilities and remained realistic with my limited time. I should have known better than to experiment with new recipes and techniques on a day filled with kid birthday parties and soccer games. Perhaps, the kitchen was just trying to remind me that I am no Ubuntu chef. Indeed, everything I touched turned to Jell-O. Good thing I didn’t try to lead us in a home-schooled knife skills class.

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Food cravings have taken control of my brain. Vegan cinnamon rolls, vegan fried chicken with gravy, fried okra and mashed potatoes, veggie chicken taquitos. A random combination of flavors, I know. But ever since I discovered some new vegan restaurants, my taste buds have consumed my mind with flavor desires, and now I have food needs that won’t.go.away.

I love Davis. I could easily clog your ears with my endless list about what makes Davis great–the parks, engaged community, Farmer’s Market, trees, Delta breeze, proximity to the Bay Area and mountains, the way the hot air balloons drift across the farmlands early in the morning. I’ll stop there, because my taste buds are perturbed that I am not talking about their food cravings. They want instant gratification food, and unfortunately, I can’t always get that in Davis. If the buds want green curry or spinach and fried tofu smothered in a panang sauce, then Davis (with seven Thai restaurants to choose from and an eighth on the way) is my place. Our friendly neighbor Sacramento has a few standout vegan restaurants, including a great little vegan food cart in downtown called the Happy Go Lucky Veggie Cuisine parked on the corner of I & 8th, and my favorite Vietnamese place, Andy Nguyen’s. I do wish the options in Sac were more prolific–enough at least to tame my demanding taste buds and the beast that is my stomach. Sometimes, for self-preservation’s sake, I have to head west.

Which leads me to ask the question, when did the vegans begin the revolution to take over Bay Area dining? I know they were lurking about back in the early 2000s with a menu item here and a restaurant tucked away there. But in the last five years, the five years since we’ve moved, there has been some kind of creative vegan food explosion. VegNews magazine just reported in their July/August 2010 10th Anniversary edition that there are 15! vegan restaurants in San Francisco alone, which I don’t think even counts the fabulous recent additions in the East Bay. Thankful I am, but crazy jealous as well. Why can’t I have such a plethora of options a mere one hour east?

A trip to the Bay Area has now become a strategic event involving gastrointestinal timing and deliberate restaurant planning. The food negotiations with my hubby begin about 24 hours before we leave for the in-law’s house and commence somewhere in the middle of the Caldecott tunnel. He wants Ethiopian, always. I want tempura sushi from Cha-Ya, Indian curry pizza from Zante’s, creamy brussels sprout gratin from Gracias Madre,  and a sundae from Maggie Mudd. Do we stay in the East Bay, or do we cross the bridge into the city? There are too many meals to consume and not enough time for digestion, not to mention that I have to forgo eating at my favorite places listed above in order to try out the new places. How many calories do we get to eat in a day? Not enough to handle my Bay Area eating marathons. If you vegan chefs could just spill over into Davis, a cool college town with good eaters and a great farmer’s market, my taste buds and I would be so happy.

I still have a week to go before I get to drive to the Bay to finally try Cinnaholic’s cinnamon rolls and visit Souley Vegan for vegan fried chicken (*Sigh.* Two months later, and I still haven’t dealt with that craving.) Until then, the taste buds are just going to have to be satisfied with homemade chocolate cupcakes.

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