First, you should know, I am the youngest of three, with an older brother and sister. By the time my sister was 12 she towered over me at 5.11′. Meanwhile, I was a feeble 4.9′ and just 18 months younger than her (people, genetics are unfair). My height did allow me several advantages, though. It was a hassle to have me in the kitchen; I could not reach the cupboards and I needed a step stool to work on the stove. Since Alysa was so darn tall, and just so interested in the domestic arts she got the long end of the stick and I got the short end. It didn’t matter to me anyway, I preferred hanging out in the yard turning over rocks and pouring salt on slugs – the salt that Alysa would hand to me from the cupboard beyond my reach.
Secondly, from the time I was 13 my family lived in a Christian community where everyone shared their meals together . There was a communal kitchen with a proper cook and kitchen staff and that staff did NOT include awkward pre-pubescent 13 year olds. Again, I luck out and get to stay out of the kitchen.
Thirdly, as if to follow in the steps of my childhood, in 1999 I move abroad and live in a Christian community where most meals are shared in a communal setting. Unfortunately, there is no designated cook in this community. Everyone must share in the cooking responsibilities. Twice a week I am required to prepare a meal for 30+/- people. (UGH, UGH, UGH times quadrillion billion pleadings of please God NO. Sweet baby Jesus you know I would rather watch slugs die!) Cooking was no easy task on that small Mediterranean island. Chickens came whole with all their bloody guts still in place, not to mention the large portion of slimy feathers still clinging to their naked skin. Potatoes were caked in heavy black mud and it took FOREVER to clean each one – especially enough potatoes for 30 people. Heads of lettuce always had little tiny bugs and worms hiding in between the leaves, which required vigorous rinsing and intense inspection. There was no pre-made sauces or bagged anything. I disliked cooking to begin with but this only intensified my feelings about it, especially because I didn’t have a clue how to do it. I remember walking into the tiny kitchen with my “cooking team” staring at me wide-eyed asking what’s the best way to cut up that garlic and how small should those potatoes be and how much tomatoes did we need for the sauce. I didn’t have the foggiest idea. This is where I learned the delicate science of pretend like you know and others will follow (and how to read a recipe).
I credit my cooking abilities to a woman named Nancy. I lived with her and her husband for about 6 months when I moved back to the states in 2004. She cooked a simple healthy meal every night, and usually did it in about 30 minutes or less. I was amazed at how easy she made it seem. No slaving away in the kitchen scrubbing muddy potatoes in buckets of water? No hungry masses to feed? No complicated recipes that required tools from the hardware store to complete? Only sweet cooking simplicity! It was bliss and it knocked my “I hate cooking,may it burn in hell forever I would rather watch slugs die” socks off. Most of the time Nancy’s meals were a steamed veggie with a baked fish or beautiful dark green salad with lean meat and a lovely side vegetable. I loved it. So easy, so simply, so healthy, so approachable. So me.
Which leads me to today, and my cooking adventures. I’ve had a few people ask me what I’ve cooked recently in regards to this post. In response, here are a few things I’ve whipped up in my kitchen over the past few days.
Salmon patties and steamed asparagus. (I steam all my vegetables with a veggie steamer like this one.) I use canned salmon, not the large cans but the cans that look like tuna cans. The large canned salmon tends be complete with bones and skin and that’s just a lot of work. I like simple.
- Three cans of salmon – drain the water (if you have a dog, may I recommend you drain the water on their dry dog food – though you may need to prepare yourself for the lethal combination of dog fish-breath with dog fish-farts. No matter how much you love your dog, this may briefly induce temporary feelings of iwillcutyouifyoudon’tgetthatdisgustingbeastoutofmyhouse insanity, but at least your dog’s coat will be shiny. )
- A couple of eggs- enough to make the salmon stick together.
- A handful of crushed saltine crackers
- A generous splash of olive oil
- salt, pepper etc.
Mold the salmon into a small ball, then press down to make a pattie. Place it in the pan with a generous amount of olive oil to fry. I like to serve the salmon with hot sauce.
Sautéed Veggie Medley: Slice zucchini and squash, sauté with olive oil, salt, pepper garlic and onions. You can add spaghetti sauce for variety. Serve on a bed of whole wheat couscous with sliced almonds. Add a spinach salad or steamed sweat potatoes for a side.
Noodle free spaghetti: Baked spaghetti squash is a perfect replacement for noodles and much tastier in my book. I like to cut the squash in half (leave the seeds for now) and place the squash face down in a pan with about an inch and a half of water. Cook for about 30 minutes in the oven at 375 then turn them over and cook for another 15. Let them cool for about 5-10 minutes, scoop out the seeds, then with a large fork rake out the squash. Place them into a pan and sauté with olive oil and your choice of spices. I serve this with my favorite spaghetti sauce and a green salad.
I make lentil soup a lot. It’s quick, easy and full of protein. Also, I love, LOVE, love cooking with a crock pot – there’s nothing as easy, and it’s almost impossible to screw up a meal with this doohicky. I enjoy cooking stews in mine, especially when the weather is like this. (Yikes – 9 degrees in TEXAS!) Yesterday, I made a delicious chicken curry in the crock pot, complete with coconut milk. It was out of this world and so easy! I also made corned beef, which is not so healthy, but prevents my husband from feeling less manly because of the veggie overload.
Well, there ya have it. My journey through the valley of cooking. What are your quick and easy dinner favorites?