Monthly Archives: May 2016

(question): in the kitchen…

How about another reader question? Nancy asked me to write about dirt – kidding, although I appreciated the compliment. There are several Nancys that read and comment here, but this Nancy has known me since we were roommates in college. I’m pretty sure neither of us ever cooked in our senior year apartment – the only real memory I have of that kitchen is that another roommate used to leave typewritten notes of warning about relocating the dish drying rack to an unapproved location. There was a definite passive-aggressive vibe in that room; Nancy and I survived it by fleeing to Copenhagen and Genoa, respectively, and we don’t regret those decisions one bit.

Backing up in time just a little – back to my freshman year of college, the only other time I had a kitchen at my disposal. These were the olden days, when college students were stuck into shoebox size dorm rooms with roommates and you had to “loft” your bed on cinder blocks to fit your rubbermaid clothes storage beneath it. None of these elaborate suites with full kitchens and laundry rooms and private bedrooms and bathrooms for each student that kids get these days!

clemsonhouse

I did get lucky as a freshman, and scored a choice room on an honors floor in a dorm on a hill that had formerly been faculty housing in the fifties and sixties. (I thought that black and white photo of Clemson House I found online really drives home how old I am!) The suites weren’t large, especially with three girls in one room, but we had a tiny galley kitchen with ancient appliances, a pass thru closet area that held a couple of dressers, and our own bathroom! So it seemed super plush. The dorm was co-ed, and mostly upperclassmen (smart upperclassmen), and we had our own smaller dining hall restaurant on the first floor. It felt like a small community on a larger campus, and I’m completely grateful for that setting. It was like instant-belonging, without having to seek it out in other social groups or party scenes.

My dad worked for Procter & Gamble, and we seemed to always have an endless supply of Duncan Hines mixes on hand at home. My parents would bring me a case of them when they would visit, and I’d buy eggs and vegetable oil at the grocery store (Bi-Lo, I think? There used to be a Piggly Wiggly there too). Most evenings I’d stir up a batch of chocolate chunk brownies or cinnamon swirl coffee cake, and the wide, carpeted hallways would fill up with students studying and talking. The smell would fill the floor, and it only took a week or two before our snacks became legendary. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in the building that dared to use the oven, outside of the unsuccessful grilled cheese smoke-offs that forced building evacuations at least twice a month.

P1010024

(I also managed to find a photo of a typical kitchen in my dorm online! Although that oven ^^ looks a lot cleaner than ours did.)

There was very little skill involved in these baking sessions, outside of vigilance on the bake times – the thermostat was busted, and the timer only rattled a bit instead of buzzing or dinging. I became very skilled at judging doneness by smell; to this day, I equate comfort and belonging with the smell of fresh baked brownies. I’ve upped my game a bit on the recipes, but the end result is just as rewarding.

…..

So Nancy asked me about my strengths and weaknesses in the kitchen. I think my strengths list has grown over the years from constant practice. I’m very comfortable with a knife – and love my really large chef knife, the sharper the better. With my contacts in, onion slicing doesn’t bother me too much, and I’ve gotten pretty efficient at slicing and dicing. We have a mandolin and a food processor with slicing attachments. We even have an apple slicer. I never use any of those. I much prefer a knife and a cutting board – easy to use and easy to clean.

I don’t enjoy peeling the papery skins off garlic, but I just got something similar to this and it works pretty well. I love my garlic press, so I never have to mince garlic and smell like it for days.

The biggest change I’ve made to my kitchen habits is to thoroughly read through recipes multiple times before buying ingredients and again before starting the prep work. I often reread them the night before, just to make sure I’m not missing some “make ahead” step, like overnight soaking or marinating. I prep absolutely everything in advance, and it makes all the difference in the world. No matter how much faster I think I can be if I start the cooking process while still prepping ingredients – it always comes back to bite me. I’m not a great under-pressure cook. I like organization and calm in the kitchen. I’ve found this also makes the cleanup process much simpler too. If I start with a clean countertop, everything prepped and ready, then I can place the used bowls and tools directly into the dishwasher as I go. It’s so much nicer than working around an overflowing sink.

Something I’m terrible at is making conversation while cooking. I have trouble focusing on two things at one time, and I always make mistakes. I’d like to be better at this – when family comes to visit they like to hang out while I’m cooking, and I’m notorious for losing track of where I am in a recipe. (Or losing the thread of conversation completely.)

Also related to focus – I’d like to get better at coordinating larger dinners with multiple dishes. The thought is completely intimidating to me, and as a result, we typically have one dish dinners versus a main dish and a bunch of sides. I would also like to find the time to do more cooking and baking – but for now I’ll have to be content with putting a good dinner on the table 6-7 nights a week.

Weird things? I don’t like looking at recipes on devices, like tablets or my phone. I like cookbooks or printed recipes. I love zesting things. I despise having to peel off the skins of roasted peppers, gross. (Although I love roasted peppers.) I get frustrated with my current appliances – my limitations on high heat for browning, and the cold spots in my refrigerator that do mean things to my produce. I’m past ready for a kitchen makeover, but I’m having a hard time getting out of the kitchen and into the studio to make it happen. I’m a pretty neat cook – I rarely wear an apron, and rarely make a mess of myself. We only use cloth napkins and towels, and now I don’t like using paper products other places. I read Cook’s Illustrated from cover to cover, even the recipes I know I’ll never make. My kids do not enjoy everything I make, and there are still complaints. But no one is starving, and pushing them out of their comfort zone is a good thing, and a healthy one. I’m 100% convinced that eating real food makes a tremendous difference in all aspects of our lives, and I’d rather cook dinner (and clean up after it) than go out to dinner. That’s a seismic shift for me over the past seven-eight years.

I owe a lot to those box brownies, I think.

summer plans

Summer

Summer is finally here, and this three day weekend was not enough of a taste. It’s time to wrap up things and head to bed, and I just want another day at home.

I thought I’d try and distract myself from the impending work week by thinking of some of the fun things we have planned for the summer here in the Lou. We’re creatures of habit, for the most part, but our habits are pretty fun.

The Tower Grove Farmers Market is in full swing, and we try to make it there most Saturday mornings. The photo above is from our visit last Saturday – F found beets the size of Ellen Tebbits’ beet in the book we are currently reading. (We made beet sliders with them, and we’re STILL eating them.) The girls’ have new Keens, so we’re ready for the fountains and the Whisk popsicles and the live music and the great people watching.

We still try to visit the garden (officially MoBot, but we only call it “the garden”) every Wednesday and Saturday morning during their early morning walking hours from 7-9. We beat the heat and the crowds and the light is just so much better. And in the summer, E can join us on Wednesdays! Most Saturdays, it’s just me.

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is on deck this week – I love to run by the set as they build it in the park. It starts on June 1st and runs through the 26th, except Tuesdays. This year they are doing A Midsummer Night’s Dreamand we usually meet up with the same friends each year for a picnic and the play. It’s such a terrific community event.

Summer 4

Speaking of theater – this year we purchased season tickets for the MUNY performances. Those start in a few weeks, and our tickets are on Tuesday nights. I think it will be fun to meet up in the park, maybe have a picnic dinner, and stay up late watching the shows. Sometimes it’s hard to make summer feel like summer when we’re still working our normal schedules. I hope this adds some excitement to our summer weeks.

It wouldn’t be summer without Circus Flora! We go every year on Father’s Day weekend – but this year we’re also joining some of F’s Girl Scout Troop for a backstage visit and tour. The theme of the show is baseball this year – perfect for this Cardinals town. I love this circus. I can’t imagine summer without it.

On the subject of baseball, we’ve already made it to our first game of the season. We don’t typically attend too many games, but we tend to purchase tickets when various groups we’re involved with offer them. I do love to go to the park a few times each season, but I also love the sound of the game on the radio and the sound of the homerun fireworks we can hear from inside our house!

We purchased tickets from Left Bank Books for the release party for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts I and II. It’s a pretty late event, but I think that will be a blast – something the girls will really get into. It’s right between their two birthdays, so we’re keeping it a surprise for now. If you think you might go, let me know. We might plan a meet up an hour earlier at Jeni’s next door! Talking about birthdays reminds me that we’ll also have two summer birthdays to plan. No definitive decisions on those. Some talk of laser tag and animal themes. (Not related.)

Summer 3

What else? We don’t belong to any outdoor pool, but M takes the girls swimming at various spots around town when we find the time. Last summer, he and E tried to go for a bike ride once a week on some of the park trails around here. I continue to sweat it out, running at the hottest point of the day – character building. The girls go to various summer camps around town, and E spends several weeks of the summer as a counselor at one of them.

Although we love amusement parks, we’ve never taken the girls to Six Flags here. Maybe one day. We’re kind of spoiled now to Cedar Point, and the girls are already plotting our next visit there. We’ve got a beach vacation coming up soon, but not soon enough! I’m ready for sand in my toes and the smell of salty air.

We’ve also got to really buckle down on our house projects, and we’re hoping the end of the school activities will help this some. We have three weekends at home – in a row! – it’s something we haven’t had in ages. We need some concentrated blocks of time to work, and maybe we’ll finally get some of those.

Last (I think), but not least – our Thursday night gatherings in the front yard. We haven’t officially kicked off the season yet, but everyone’s been asking. It’s always nice to open up the gate and welcome neighbors and friends over once a week to listen to the blues across the street, chat and catch up. It just feels like summer

admiring: verso latsu baskets

verso-lastu-baskets-remodelista-2

The current state of the master bathroom is unusable, but it’s getting sooo close. I’m excited to photograph it soon and share it here. In the meantime, I’m thinking about storage options a lot – both for that room and for the new spaces in our addition and garage apartment. The pegs that we’re installing in the bathroom are likely going to work their way into some of these newer areas. I love the simplicity and the flexibility of them – especially paired with simple storage baskets like this one from Verso.