Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The dreaded Crock-Pot

My mom owned a toy store for 10 years. She opened it when I was in the third grade and sold it my senior year of high school. Needless to say, a lot of my childhood memories are connected to the toy store. 

Now that I look back on it, I am amazed by my mom’s ability to balance owning a small business while raising four children — ages 5 (times two), 8 and 11 when it opened. But she designed it that way, working while we were at school and often going back after we went to bed to do some of the administrative work.

She was so good at it that we didn’t consider her to be a “working mom.” When teachers needed parents to help in the classroom and would ask whose mom didn’t work, my siblings and I all raised our hands. When asked about the toy store, we would just say, “Oh, that’s not really work.”

But there was one time of year that it often hit home that mom worked — Christmas. From Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve, things were more hectic than usual, and as another child of a retail storeowner described it, it was crock-pot season.

I have already established that I am a picky eater, and there was little that I hated more than the crock-pot. I think my hatred lies in the fact that I didn’t particularly like pot roast, which was what came out of the crock-pot more often than not. And beef stew wasn’t high on my list either. In fact, the only thing I remember coming out of the crock-pot that I liked was baked beans, but that was usually a summer cookout thing, not a December dinner solution.

So as an adult, I have accumulated a number of kitchen gadgets and small appliances, but a crock-pot has never been on the list of things I would like. But as I started planning this experiment with the co-op, I started to realize a crock-pot might just be a necessary evil. 

When one was put up for sale on what I call my company’s inner-office Craigslist, I actually purchased it.

Let’s just say that the first night I came home to a meal completely ready to eat as soon as I walked in the door from work, I called my mom to apologize for refusing to eat crock-pot dinners as a child.

Now I am actually excited about using my crock-pot. I have discovered an entire section in one of my cookbooks dedicated to slow cooker recipes and even downloaded the Crock-Pot iPhone application.

So yes, the appliance that I once dreaded has changed my cooking and made it possible to eat when I walk in the door at 7 p.m., rather than coming home and searching for something to eat.

And I am hopeful that between my crock-pot and my iPhone I will find a way to deal with this whole chicken I’ll be getting. Now if only I liked leftovers…

Monday, March 29, 2010

Picky eater

I say that I’m a picky eater, but when people ask me what I don’t like, it’s hard to explain it exactly but here’s my attempt.

I don’t like spicy foods and could be just fine without ethnic foods. But I can find something on a menu at a Mexican or Chinese restaurant. The perfect sandwich for me is bread, deli meat and cheese (much to the dismay of employees at sandwich shops). I like sauces and dressings “on the side” like in “When Harry Met Sally.” And I avoid gravy all together.

I eat carrots and broccoli but only raw, not steamed. I love peas from a can but despise frozen ones. I won’t go anywhere near mushrooms and avoid peppers of any color. Tomatoes are fine for salad and in soup but leave them off my sandwich.

I like fresh fruit, but I don’t really liked fruit pies, although cooked apples and apple pies are growing on me. I like yogurt but don’t eat any chunks of fruit in it. I like bananas but never buy them because there is too much pressure to eat them quickly.

I like shrimp, lobster and crab but would rather not eat fish, scallops or oysters. But I do like fried calamari.

I don’t like my food to get mixed together and casseroles and lasagna make me nervous unless I’ve made them myself. I think I'm afraid of biting into a mushroom or some other unidentified vegetable.

Typically, I don’t like chili, but I had some recently that I actually liked. I don’t eat black beans or black-eyed peas. I eat salsa but only dipping a chip and bringing it out without any chunks.

I love breakfast foods, but I only eat my eggs scrambled, never fried, boiled or deviled.

Does that explain it? I know I probably sound crazy, and some of it doesn’t even make sense. I realize that part of my problem is that I’m not willing to try many new things. That's why I think the challenge of the co-op will force me to try new things and maybe discover that things like turnips aren't so bad after all.

What are you picky about?

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Back in high school, I took the Myers-Briggs test at school as part of preparing for college or deciding what I should do with my life, or something like that. But considering I had known since I was 11 that I wanted to be a journalist and already knew my top school, I paid very little attention to my results and couldn’t tell you what I was then.

But I’ve made some friends in my town that love Myers-Briggs, and at almost every social gathering, the conversation ultimately turns to personality types. After listening on the sideline several times, I decided I was going to have to retake the test and figure out what I am. I can now say that I am an INFP (although borderline P/J). In English, that’s introvert (I), intuitive (N), feeling (F) and perceiving (P).

As I’ve spent more time talking about it with friends and reading about my personality type on my own, I’ve learned a lot more about the way I think, why I do things a certain way and why I clash with certain personalities.

As an INFP, I am an idealist. I am sensitive to others, tend to make decisions based on what I know intuitively and not logic, and need time alone to recharge. I can be a perfectionist in some ways because I get an idea in my head and that’s what I have to do.

I figured my personality type also expressed itself in the kitchen, and I found this “Recipe for Pumpkin Soup” that describes how the different personality types cook.

I am somewhere between intuitive and feeling on this scale. I do like to start with a recipe, but I start making it up when I don’t have what I need or decide I don’t like something that is called for. I do usually multitask in the kitchen, and if what I’m making involves other people, what they like and how they feel about food definitely impacts my decisions.

I like to please people, so all of the things that I make are tried and true recipes that I know everyone will eat. A New York Times article categorizes cooking personalities a little differently. In this one, I clearly fall into the “giving” category:
  • Giving: Friendly, well-liked and enthusiastic, giving cooks seldom experiment, love baking and like to serve tried-and-true family favorites, although that sometimes means serving less healthful foods.
I think this pretty sums up my cooking philosophy. I like to cook when it involves other people, and I stick to the things I know how to make and know people will like. But that doesn’t really help me with this project. What I need to be is this one:
  • Healthy: Optimistic, book-loving, nature enthusiasts, healthy cooks experiment with fish, fresh produce and herbs. Health comes first, even if it means sometimes sacrificing taste.
So what’s your cooking personality? Or Myers-Briggs?

Monday, March 22, 2010

But you can cook...

That may be what some (or maybe just a few) of you are thinking. 

Yes, a certain newsroom would tell you that I made the best brownies and cookies ever to enter the newsroom that day. My new co-workers are a little harder to please, but I never take any cake balls home. I’ve won a prize for my garlic cheese grits at a potluck, and my cheeseball is usually quite popular. But there’s a trend here, if you think I can cook, you’ve probably only eaten something I've made involving chocolate or cheese.

You see, I’m great at making a side dish for a potluck or a dessert that will be a hit with everyone, but I’m terrible at the day-to-day cooking for myself. If I were to make all of my best recipes, I still wouldn’t come up with an actual meal.

I’ve lived alone for four years, which I absolutely love, but instead of getting better at making dinner, I think I’ve actually digressed quite a bit from the anxious new college grad in my own apartment. And these days I’m pretty convinced I can survive on Cheerios and Bagel Bites. 

So you can see where I need some motivation. My hope is that this project will force me to try new things and find a way to enjoy cooking for myself. Recipes and suggestions are welcome.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A new challenge

If my Christmas gifts are any indication, I need some help when it comes to cooking. I was given measuring spoons, measuring cups, dish towels and two cookbooks, one of which is entitled “What is a Cook to do?” that provides the very basics. But I don’t take offense to the gifts; my family gave them to me knowing I was about to take on a challenge in the kitchen.

My life has changed quite a bit in the last eight months. I’ve moved to a beautiful part of the country that is just a short drive away from working farms, orchards and wineries. I have one of those normal jobs where I actually come home for dinner. Let’s just say working from 2 p.m. to midnight does not encourage me to cook, but the 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. gig has changed my eating habits. Rather than eating whatever, whenever, I actually eat lunch and find something for dinner when I get home.

So with all of this change I have decided to change my habits completely. I have joined a local co-op where I will pick up fresh produce and chicken twice a month starting in April. The produce is based off what is in season at the local farms, and I get what is there. I have three main goals: to cook more, eat healthier and get over some of my pickiness about food. An added bonus is cutting back on trips to the grocery store.

Considering my experience (or lack of) in the kitchen, I’ve decided it is worth documenting, if only for the enjoyment of my mom and sisters. So I’m planning to use this blog for that purpose, and you can all laugh with me as I attempt to cook a whole chicken for the first time and maybe learn something because hopefully I will have some successful recipes to share.