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On food and cooking


I've been cooking a lot more than usual lately.

Which isn't saying much; "usual" is heating chili from a can, or making spaghetti and microwaving sauce from a jar. I can cook sufficiently for my own purposes, but I don't really enjoy cooking, and enough people have been less than thrilled with my cooking that I don't usually inflict it on others, especially 'cause many of my friends are actually good at it and enjoy it, so it's best to leave it to them.

But during Mary Anne's last visit, this past winter, she took me shopping at Bed, Bath, & Beyond, and among other things I bought a nonstick frying pan. I'd always been dubious about those, because I'd pretty much never seen one where the nonstick surface hadn't scratched off. But at Mary Anne's advice, I also picked up a scrubber/sponge that wouldn't damage the coating, and a plastic spatula ditto.

And it's been great. Suddenly, cleaning the frying pan is a matter of seconds of wiping rather than minutes of scrubbing. Which has inspired me to start making scrambled eggs on a regular basis, when I have time in the morning. I'm still not great at it, but getting better.

And that's gotten me occasionally cooking other things. I made some decent fried(ish) potato/onion thingies (part of my problem as a cook is not having the knack for coming up with appetizing names for stuff; somehow people aren't inspired to eat a dish called "rice & peas hodgepodge") at one point, attempting home fries but ending up with something not as crispy but still tasty. I've occasionally been picking up prepackaged yakisoba (which I first encountered last summer but had only tried once or twice since) and frying it up with various frozen veggies. A couple weeks ago, I happened across a produce stand by the side of the road and picked up some fresh corn and yams; the corn was yummy boiled, but by the time I cooked the yams, a couple days later, they'd sprouted, and they tasted terrible after I cooked them, bitter all the way through. Sigh.

But I decided to try again. Picked up more yams at the grocery store the other day, cooked 'em tonight. Also tonight, tried out a brand of prepackaged pesto I hadn't tried before, from Wildwood (I already knew I liked their Mid-Eastern Hummus). So tonight after our editor meeting—too long after; I was starving by the time I remembered to have dinner—I went and put the yams in the oven, and made some spaghetti and heated the pesto, and had some mixed greens I'd also picked up at the store. (Mmm, balsamic vinegar.) The pesto turned out to be quite tasty, and I say that as someone who almost never finds commercial pesto I like. I was spoiled by Arthur E's and Mykle H's pesto, made with fresh basil just off the plant in the back yard, and huge quantities of garlic. In my experience, most pesto in restaurants (if it even uses basil and garlic at all; plenty of pestos don't, as pesto basically just means "pounded"—as with a pestle) is a sort of cream sauce with some basil in it; fine, but not what I'm looking for. And Mary Anne had bought a jar of pesto earlier in the week that seemed to have some of the right flavors, except they were totally overwhelmed by a large quantity of vinegar.

So anyway, this Wildwood pesto is yummy. I ate while I was typing that previous entry, then started in on this one and figured I should get some more pesto to bolster myself, and went downstairs and realized right away that I was in trouble: it had been an hour and a half since the yams went in, about twice as long as they were supposed to cook.

I figured I would have to throw out the burned husks of yam and start over once again.

But no: they were only slightly overdone. Slightly crispy (but not burned) skins, fluffy orange sweet insides. A little butter and they were good to go. Mmm, yams. (I've never liked candied yams; the yams I buy are plenty sweet enough without adding any extra sweetener.)

I don't expect to ever be a great cook, or to ever really enjoy it much, or even to do a lot of it. But it's been nice to do a little now and then. Even if only spaghetti and yams.


Packaged yakisoba is what got me through college.

Aha, but that's how it starts, those experiments with making home fries and learning it's very hard to overcook yams, and all that stuff. Better be careful, it's a slippery slope. The more you learn, the easier it gets, the more likely you are to do it, and the more you learn (down and down and down it goes...).

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