Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My "'"Culinary Background"'"

My experience in the kitchen really does deserve not just one, but three sets of quotation marks, and because I'm a writer and a terminal grammarian, they are formatted correctly (double-single-double). Anything else would be sacrilege.

Up until about August of this year - eek, last year! Curse you, 2011 - I didn't cook. I lived on microwaved meals with the occasional helping of boil-and-serve pasta. Weekends usually involved fast food or random blitzkriegs on the IHOP. (Come on, haven't you had irresistible cravings for sugary pancakes?)

True confession: I watch some skill-based reality TV, and I've always loved FoodNetwork's shows for their general entertainment value and wholesomeness. I've watched them even when I'm dieting, apparently to excise sundry masochistic impulses. So I followed last season's Next FoodNetwork Star, and (like many people, I'm sure) I adored eventual victor Aarti. I decided to watch her show for fun. Then I decided, in a leap of crazed ambition, to try and make her first dessert, with the eye - if I didn't manage to implode my kitchen and permanently traumatize my dog - to trying dinner.

One batch of pistachio pops later, I was off.

Google is my friend. I have Googled everything from what, precisely, constitutes a simmer (while frantically babysitting a frying pan and trying to determine whether or not it was doing said) to whether or not honey goes bad to where you measure a pan to figure out what its dimensions are anyway.

I had carpal tunnel surgery on both wrists a few years ago. This means that my wrists currently are subpar for any twisting, turning or pivoting action. I have already had more incidents than I care to think about where I am flying frantically around the kitchen needing to add an ingredient to an already heated pan and I cannot get the jar open. I have run it under hot water. I have slammed it with a knife. It still will not open. Holding jars over the floor threatening to shatter them and orphan their countless baby jar-lets meets with mixed results.

My mise en place setup currently includes "open the bloody jars first." (By this stage in the game, they may, in fact, be bloody.)

My mother is a great cook, and she provided me with a lot of helpful hints which I am only now starting to remember. Or misremember, as the case may be. Through various complex circumstances, I currently have access to a massive stock of ingredients and supplies which are not my own, which leads to intriguing discoveries like the fact that I have garam masala (more on that later), twenty flavors of extract, turbinado sugar and no rice.

I am left-handed and will cheerfully blame any number of my kitchen shortcomings on the fact that kitchen implements are designed with right-handed people in mind. But sometimes, I have a point. Take something as basic as the square spice containers that have a half-circle opening. The flat part is meant for leveling. Ever tried to do that left-handed?

I've always had somewhat of a knack for desserts and cookies. I think this may be because it involves less chopping. Knives are not my friend. Except in fiction. And then really they don't have enough reach. Don't bring a knife to a sword-fight, folks.

As a musician and a writer (for which I get paid) and occasionally an artist / photographer (for which I do not), I have an overabundance of creative impulses and am likely at some point to jump ship from recipes entirely. This will undoubtably happen before I have enough generalized know-how not to make something that tastes like paste.

Stay tuned ...

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