State of the Kitchen: week four

Milestone #1: I made it through one month without using takeout as a crutch for my laziness!

Money spent on food: $130 or so

People fed: 25?

Times I ate out: 1

Alcohol consumed: infinite

At first it was all fun and games. Now the real work of making food, the constant dishes, and the endless trips to the grocery store are no longer novelties. It’s not a cool resolution, anymore; it’s just my oddball “lifestyle.” I’ve noticed that people in my city use going out to eat as an excuse to spend time together, and when that excuse is gone, so is the company. I’ve had to very actively work at roping together friends to come over and eat with me or choose alternate activities. I feel so much better — minus overdoing it on the alcohol — and I look so much healthier. I’ve lost about eight pounds and it’s stayed off easily, without a fight. Even though I was happy with my weight and shape before, knowing that the extra birth-control-fueled weight gain came off while I ate whatever I wanted was reassuring, and gave me an extra boost of pride. I can see the muscles I’ve worked hard over the last several years to build and maintain.

I drove past an Applebee’s last night, and could hardly believe how packed it was. Cars were parking in two adjoining parking lots, and driving around in circles and circles trying to find spots close to the door. I love a good restaurant meal and a real treat out, but holy crap, Applebee’s food isn’t very tasty at all! Why are people driving around in circles trying to get that food? My perspective is surely changing.

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I think even more than the outside observation of an Applebee’s at dinner rush on a Friday was the takeaway that having a body is hard fucking work. Caring for a body well is really, really time-consuming, all-encompassing work. I spend all of these hours every week working out, cooking, cleaning the kitchen (except for when I don’t want to…), grocery shopping, buying new kitchen gadgets, taking vitamins, allotting time for sleep (sometimes), making the cash as a sort of athlete to pay for all of those things, going to the chiropractor and doctor, and recently, even going into a sensory deprivation tank to control pain. That’s before any of the vain stuff — having my nails painted, my hair cut and dyed, tanning, shaving, plucking, flat-ironing, putting clothes on this body. In fact, I feel like I spend most of my time doing something to, for, or with my physical body. It’s exhausting, frankly. Sometimes I don’t have any time to stretch out my brain.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I never want to live in a body filled with junk food, or a body that can’t move and work and bend and stretch and run and play and rest. I never want to drive around an Applebee’s parking lot looking for one single slot closer to the door so I can eat their wilted lettuces and be waited on by the most incompetent staff I’ve ever seen. Food should taste good. And food should be hard to prepare.

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Miniature frittatas

After last night’s party, I really, really needed some protein and water in my life. My poor liver hates me and needs a vacation. I woke up just four hours after going to sleep to get to the barn in time to meet the horse chiropractor. My off-the-track Thoroughbred’s shoulders and hip are out…again. I knew I couldn’t let him suffer, even if I totally didn’t want to go stand in the 30-degree weather at the barn after a long night of drinking and dancing. I slept as long as I could, skipped breakfast, and took off.

When I got home, I didn’t feel like cooking one bit. Beyond that, nearly every single dish I own is dirty and stacked precariously on pretty much every surface in the kitchen. Why can’t there be a dishes fairy that comes while I sleep? I feel like I spend my life doing dishes, now. I have a new appreciation for the lowest-paid guy in the kitchen, now. That shit sucks. And at least he gets a sprayer and a heated mechanical dishwasher. I’m too feral for this eating-in thing, sometimes.

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Guess what wasn’t dirty? My muffin pan! It made my breakfast decision easy. I’d seen the idea online “somewhere at some point” and figured it couldn’t be too hard to just wing it. It’s like scrambled eggs in a muffin tin, right? This was such an easy creation, I can’t believe I haven’t lazily made it before. It took me 5 minutes to prep and 20 minutes to bake.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Since I live alone, I only made three of these and the recipe reflects that.

Dice desired vegetables and/or fungi. I used about two lady-sized handfuls total of onion, yellow pepper, and portobella mushroom. That’s two handfuls including all three ingredients, not two of each ingredient. Eyeball it. While I sauteed those in some olive oil (mushrooms last, remember — they cook fast), I whisked together three eggs, three tablespoons or so of almond milk (your milk of choice goes here), salt, pepper, a pinch of garlic powder, and about a half cup or more of shredded cheese in a separate bowl. When the veggies were soft, I stirred them into the eggs/cheese, too.

I filled each of my muffin cups (no paper liners) to about two-thirds full, and I used one of those gigantic muffin tins. I let them bake for 20 minutes total, but started checking after about 15 minutes to make sure they weren’t overdone. No one likes crappy eggs, and this was my very last clean cooking pan. When the knife came out clean, they were done.

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On the side: cottage cheese and tomato slices; frittata topped with cilantro. Every once in awhile, I have a meal that just “feels” fresh, light, filling, tasty, and good for me, and today, that was this meal. I could feel my stomach just sucking the nutrients out of my food, gulping and gasping for more vitamins and minerals. Now that I’ve eaten, it’s time for a nap!

Party: Iowa sushi

I was invited to a beach party, and yesterday, I unleashed the summer potluck snack of my childhood on an unsuspecting group of acquaintances: pickle roll-ups. My mom used to make these when I was a kid for just about every single potluck-style family gathering, and I loved them. Mostly, I loved the flavor of the cream cheese and the corned beef and only tolerated the pickle, so I tried to get all of the end pieces as she rolled and chopped these.

My parents cooked quite a bit when I was little, but other than a few family recipes, it wasn’t gourmet stuff. I was a meat-and-potatoes, Lunchables, Kraft mac-and-cheese, Spaghettio’s-lovin’, hot-dog-eatin’ true Midwestern child. Save for thick homemade chicken noodle soup, pickle roll-ups, “Spanish” rice (it just had tomato soup in it), deviled eggs, no-bake cookies, and a few other family treasures, my parents just didn’t have many specialties. But these gems, these pickle roll-ups, were special to me growing up. When they were made, I knew that there was something special coming up, like a family picnic or a holiday, and that I’d get to see my extended family.

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So when I was invited to this party, I tried to figure out what to bring. It occurred to me at the last second that pickle roll-ups would be fast to prepare and require only cheap ingredients, and I needed groceries, anyway. But as I made these, I started to remember. She let the real cream cheese warm up on the counter instead of using Philadelphia’s “whipped-style” and the glue it became held together much better. The cheap Buddig packets of corned beef used to be slightly thicker, and square-shaped, which meant the pickle roll-ups of my childhood didn’t tear quite as easily. She spread the cream cheese on the meat, rolled the pickle, and then let the uncut rolls chill in the fridge, helping the whole thing stick together before she cut them the next morning. I begged her to cut one or two the night before any potluck, and I’d forgotten all about that until I started cutting these rolls and they just started falling apart in my hands.

Needless to say, it was a pickle disaster. I actually gave up on the last half dozen pickles and just threw the unsheathed suckers on the plate because I was ready to be done with the mess! I made two trays of these suckers, and only used up almost two large jars of pickles, one cream cheese tub, and five Buddig packets. I still have to figure out how I’ll use two more tubs of “whipped” cream cheese, one large jar of pickles, and three packets of cheap corned beef sometime in the next hundred years.

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I made the rolls sitting in front of the television for something to do, and forgot to put them up high before I jumped in the shower for a quick rinse. I jumped out of the shower, and it hit me…shit. Sure enough, this little piggy had eaten the cream cheese and corned beef off of about 30-40 pickle slices. My eight-pound dog was so bloated and apologetic after I caught her binge-eating the skins of the finger food, just like when I was a kid. I think I actually hurt her dog feelings when I yelled at her and she crinkled her little forehead.

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The second pan was left untouched, and subsequently made it to the party. I also took three pounds of bacon and spent about an hour cooking it in the hosts’ kitchen — so we could “roast a pig” at the beach party. I had a total blast and danced the night away, drinking and making out with strangers, wearing tiny sunglasses and kicking around tiny beach balls, flipping through a book of pictures gay men drew of vaginas. I learned a new phrase for the potluck dish of my childhood last night from the host: Iowa sushi. It’s perfect.

Buffalo bagel

This one was something I just dreamt up at the last second before heading out the door to work on Thursday. It kept me full and satisfied for something like eight hours. It was so simple: gluten-free bagel, cream cheese, feta, green onions, raw spiralized yellow sweet pepper, and the second of the special bison ribeyes I’d cooked a few days prior. The spiralizer is a new gadget I’ve never used before and still don’t know how to use. The instructions are mostly in Swedish, and I’ve never seen anyone use a spiralizer. I think I’ll just have to experiment and see what goes through it and what doesn’t.

I’m pleased with my creativity and the flavor was just fucking awesome on this one, but I ate it just as fast as I made it — in the five minutes it took me to figure out from the foreign language directions how to put the spiralizer together, wind the pepper through it, and reheat the ribeye in a skillet to keep the nice rare/medium rare temperature.

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Party: bison meatballs and beer cheese soup

I only wish I’d taken better photos of the food my friends and I worked for so long to make! This stuff really tasted like a gourmet, fancy-fancy meal. It took us nearly an hour and a half to make, but it was worth every bit of time spent drinking wine in the kitchen. We laughed and made joke after handjob joke about our pal’s ability to grate a huge block of cheese like a champ.

I was so nervous to have these ladies over to my house, as I am with letting anyone in my space, but moreso because I’m just getting to know these coworkers a little bit more outside of work. I have a hard time letting people into my space and wondering what they’ll think of my house. Will they like it? Will they notice that the trim along the baseboards isn’t yet the same paint color as the baseboards? Are my floors too dirty? Will they like my dogs, or think I’m utterly feral? What if I overcook the food, or it just sucks, or I forget something integral to the meal? My anxiety kicks into high gear when I let people into my very private space. It’s an intimacy with other people that I have a hard time creating.

I didn’t do any shoving-stuff-into-the-closet-at-the-last-minute maneuvers, but I do still get the tail-end of the “I just moved three months ago” excuse. I made my bed…what more could anyone hope for?

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I found the recipe for these meatballs and the Greek yogurt-based sauce at the last second, thirty minutes before my pals were supposed to be at my house and I was still at the grocery store. I’m forever running late because I’m at the grocery store, now. We only made a few modifications to the recipe, as follows:

  • Instead of using cumin seeds and coriander seeds, I used the ground spices and whole fennel seeds without grinding them. It didn’t matter and the flavors blended nicely.
  • In the sauce, I used about a cup of cilantro instead of a cup and a half. I just didn’t have any more than that.
  • I used shredded-up gluten-free bread. It worked fine, but I wish I’d used a little more bread to hold the meatballs together a little better. I also used almond milk instead of cow milk, per the usual.
  • Instead of a jalapeno, I used a portion of an anaheim chile, because that’s what I had on hand.
  • I didn’t use extra cilantro or allspice in the meatballs, because there just wasn’t any.

And, of course, everything came out perfect. I’d highly recommend doubling or tripling the sauce recipe — I couldn’t get enough of it — and using it on salads, or as a dipping sauce for veggies. It was a cool, creamy, herby sauce and I can’t wait to make it again.

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Remember when I said I accidentally learned to make beer cheese soup from Martha Stewart? Yeah, I just made a bigger pot of the stuff. It was just so rich, creamy, and beer-y. I barely made it through my bowl, and was happy that one of my pals took the rest home to her boyfriend. There was no way I could handle that dense of a soup twice within a few days.

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Even my dog, Tiger Tail, got a meatball to celebrate her graduation from Pre-Agility and Performance Prep at her dog school. Isn’t she adorable? No more pinch collars for us! I feed my dogs high-quality dog food and give them mostly vegetable scraps as treats, but this time she deserved a little something special. 🙂

Bison ribeye sandwich

If there’s anything that should make me feel like a grown-up, it’s paying for and cooking $13/lb bison ribeyes in the house I just bought, in the kitchen I’m remodeling. And yet, I mostly don’t feel like an adult. When does that part of adulthood happen, where we all feel like we’re actually grown up now? Ever? When we get wrinkles?

I thawed the meat, but forgot that the blood drips out of paper-wrapped cuts of meat and wound up with runny blood all over my fridge. Fortunately, it only touched things in jars and didn’t ruin any other food. As I moved the bloody mess from the fridge to the pan, I giggled a little when I dripped blood on the floor, the stovetop, and my dog. I felt like Dexter.

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This was too easy to make. I just cooked the ribeye to my favorite beef temperature — rare, and as raw as is safe — and pulled it from the heat. I sauteed some sliced baby portobella mushrooms in butter, toasted the bread, added greens, and topped it with a new chipotle mayonnaise I found at the grocery store.

That particular mayonnaise wasn’t a great combination with such an awesome, rich, flavorful cut of meat because it was overpowering, but I’ll surely save it to dress up the occasional boring turkey sandwich.

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