musings, life lessons & poetry from Theresa Jarosz Alberti

Tag: cooking

How I Taught Myself to Cook

It’s two months-plus since my knee replacement and I’m finally be able to cook again — yay! In the last year, anything that involved standing or walking made me wince and have to sit down. I’d been relegated to a sous chef; I could chop things sitting at the table while Bob handled the stove and oven. I do like to cook and bake, so I missed it.

This new development has got me looking at cookbooks again. I do have quite a collection, some favorites, some I’ve never used but want to explore. Just looking at them has me remembering how I taught myself to cook decades ago. Continue reading

A Pinch of This, a Dash of That

Last night for dinner, I threw together a chicken salad, after having had a little of someone else’s at a party the night before.  Nothing so remarkable about that, really, making dinner, ho hum, but then I realized when I’d finished and it really was quite tasty– hey, I just threw this together without a recipe!  And that’s the part that amazes me when I think about it… that I’ve cooked enough over the years that I have a pretty large repertoire of things I can cook/bake/make without going to a cookbook or the Internet.

A chicken salad isn’t very difficult, but I played with it, adding halved grapes and apple chunks, celery, onions, cucumbers.  Through trial and error, I’ve learned that I don’t want just straight mayo as the dressing–  after reading labels of other deli salads I’ve liked, I discovered adding a bit of Dijon, some splashes of white vinegar, salt and pepper (I am a pepper fiend, always use it, but not overuse), and a few pinches of sugar.  Just a little sugar takes the acidity of the mustard and vinegar down a notch.  I added water to thin the dressing.  Tossed into the salad, it was great.

I started cooking when I was a kid, the oldest daughter helping mom in the kitchen.  It was the ’70s, the time of the Boxed Everything foods, so I learned to make Jell-0 and pudding and mac-n-cheese and Hamburger Helper.  Mom regularly baked cookies from scratch, so I learned to do that, graduated to baked chicken and chili.  I took some summer cooking classes and learned that I could just try out recipes on my own.  I tried a Baked Alaska that melted some in the oven, and a 3-layer butter cake with chocolate icing.

When I was newly married in my 20s and didn’t want to eat those boxed foods anymore, I started reading cookbooks and learned a lot from Jane Brody and her “Good Food Book,” a bible about cooking and nutrition.  Bulgur?  Lentils? I discovered a whole world of food that I’d never heard of or tried.  I experimented with  all sorts of new things, and wrote notes in my new cookbooks– “Great!”  “We didn’t like.”  “Needs more ___.”

I guess it’s been a long education since I’ve been cooking most of my life, and became the chief chef for my family over 20 years ago.  For the most part I like cooking, but there have been days or weeks where I can’t stand it and it feels torturous to have to think about what to make for dinner all the time.  And certainly not everything turns out–  my family likes to mention “Chard Cheese Pie” to tease me (bleah, tasted sour, despite the glowing recipe intro that said what a favorite it was– not for us!).  And there was “Swamp Soup,” a green zucchini-based kinda slimy soup that only one of us liked– my older son who was about 8 at the time and didn’t like a lot of things.  Go figure.

It feels fun and creative when I can just whip something up, throw it together, use what I’ve learned through trial and error, add a little of this or that to something to change it up.  It’s best when it works and tastes great, but even with the mistakes, at least I’ve learned something.  I still use recipes a lot of the time —  and I’ll give a big grateful shout-out to the Internet, that endless source of recipes, just search any old ingredient, woo hoo!  But sometimes I just get my groove on with my intuition, my Spidey-sense about what I could add to make this taste better, part chemist, part artist, part crazy cook.  And then we get to eat!


Makin’ Stuff

I’m not sure where I got the energy, but today was pretty productive.  One big job was getting the 17 yr old to help me clear abundant weeds and tree growth from our alley driveway.  Since we don’t put our car in the garage, it’s been nearly a forest back there.  I’d like to plant berry bushes and rhubarb there, since we don’t get full sun anywhere else on our property.  That area looks so clean now… it was worth it, despite the grumblings of my son.

More fun was making bottles of raspberry cordial and cranberry liqueur, and then 6 jars of raspberry freezer jam (we do have some raspberry bushes growing on the side of our garage in the alley).  The liqueur will be ready in 3 weeks, the cordial in 6 weeks, and the jam will be ready when it’s cool.  Seeing all those pretty red jars and bottles on the counter is just so satisfying, and it reminds me once again that I love Makin’ Stuff.

Cooking and baking is one way–  trying out new recipes, baking bread, cooking from scratch.  For years I’ve made most of our cleaning products– a “wonder spray” for cleaning surfaces, vinegar and water for shiny stuff, and I recently ran across a laundry soap recipe that would be fun to try.  In the last year or so, I’ve been exploring how to make natural body products– I took a class where I learned to make some lotions, lip balms and salves, and I’ve made my own deoderant.  And I never thought I would get into knitting–  I saw other people do it and thought it might be too hard or too boring, but then I gave it a shot, teaching myself the basics with a knitting book for kids.  I made a  l-o-n-g  red scarf, and it wasn’t boring but more meditative for me, and utterly satisfying to have made something!  And then I discovered how much fun yarn shops are… all the colors and textures.

I could go on about all the phases I’ve been through in my desire to Make Stuff, but for now I’ll just say, this is one of those things that makes me tick and thrills me.  Maybe it started with popsicle stick sculptures in first grade, I don’t know, but for now, I’m grateful for the library (all kinds of books on Makin’ Stuff!) and the Internet (where you can find out how to make anything so easily). Oh, and my family, who put up with my experiments, even the ones that don’t turn out quite so well!

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