Evolution of a blackeyed pea stew (thanks to Serious Eats for the recipe inspiration.) The little plastic container with a green lid is homemade chicken stock thawing from the freezer. Score!
A few years back, I sat down to interview my mom and asked her about my childhood food life. Her answer: "Well, this will be a short discussion. You didn't eat anything."
OK, so she exaggerated, but not by much. I probably ate five things growing up: cereal; peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; noodles of all kinds; pizza; and...well, I can't think of a fifth thing. I'm stumped.
Family legend has it that at age three I ate shrimp by the handful. My parents would take me to Arthur Treacher's and treat me to shrimp dinners. I don't have any recollection of this. I do have memories of going to Arthur Treacher's, but my dinner of choice was a Krunch Pup (Mr. Treacher's version of a corn dog) and fried chips soaked in malt vinegar.
I had no interest in food nor learning how to cook. I didn't want to try anything new. I did have a little play kitchen, but I enjoyed that because I got to pretend, not because I wanted to make a meal. My mom collected recipes, tried new dishes. There was a drawer in the kitchen that held recipe cards, categorized, neatly typed out and in little plastic sleeves.
Our kitchen cupboards were stocked with canned vegetables and fruits, boxes of macaroni and cheese Rice-a-Roni, scalloped potatoes, Lawry's seasoning mixes, Betty Crocker mixes for muffins and brownies. The fridge always contained some kind of deli meat, hard salami, bologna, or ham. Mom always stocked refrigerator dinner rolls and cylinders of Pillsbury products, like orange danish and cinnamon rolls. In the freezer, she kept Sara Lee pound cake, Stouffer's French bread pizza and spinach souffle, and Steak-Umm's. We had a junk food drawer filled at all times with at least two types of potato chips, pretzels, crackers, and Dots or red licorice. I remember that my mom liked Lay's and dad liked Ruffles. Typical that they were on opposite sides.
For breakfast, I ate cereal. Being a mature and responsible forty-year old even at age eight, I always chose a "healthy" cereal to start my day, Cheerios or Corn Flakes or Life. I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and one banana in my bagged lunch throughout my school years. I picked at whatever Mom made for dinner. For my bedtime snack, I had cereal again, but this time, something fun like Fruity Pebbles or Lucky Charms.
By eighth grade, I had to take Home Economics. That or shop, and I wasn't about to take shop. I knew my lack of gracefulness by then. I liked playing piano and enjoyed having all my fingers. I left home ec. with the knowledge that, as my favorite bumper sticker of all time said, the only thing domestic about me was that I lived in a house. Oh, and I left with a recipe for something called a Tuesday Pancake that turned into a family favorite. (Instructions: Crack eggs into a blender and add flour, sugar, milk. Press the blend button. Pour into hot skillet. Bake in the oven for fifteen-twenty minutes.) Later I discovered that I had been making a Dutch Baby pancake since age thirteen.
Even with my pickiness, I had some peccadillos as a kid. At family get togethers, if there was a relish tray, you could find me snacking on black olives placed on each of my ten fingers. (Don't even suggest the green ones. Ugh!) If there was a bucket of KFC, I would eat the breading and leave the chicken on my plate. Somehow, Mom decided to serve us lamb patties and they were a big hit. I made no sense at all.
As I grew up, signature meals appeared. Mom's regular rotation consisted of chicken paprikas (I ate the dumplings, but passed on the chicken), steak and ketchup noodles, ravioli casserole, and chicken Tetrazzini/Divan/Kiev. By high school, besides pizza night on Fridays, my favorites were Campbell's tomato soup topped with croutons, served with grilled cheese and sweet pickles, chili with Jiffy cornbread muffins, breakfast for dinner, and salads (no tomatoes, yuck) that had to include croutons again and jarred bacon bits, with enough salad dressing for a family of four.
By eighteen, I'd graduated to helping in the kitchen by setting and clearing the table and washing dishes. Still no cooking. Then, I cut open my hand while washing a glass and experienced stitches for the first time. This mishap easily became another excuse to excuse myself from the kitchen.
I joined an online cookbook club via food52.
Each month the communinty cooks from a certain cookbook. July's book was My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz . He's one of my favorite food bloggers and cookbook writers. I think I discovered him years ago when he published an ice cream cookbook, The Perfect Scoop. (Do yourself a favor and check it out while it's still summer. I just made frozen strawberry yogurt and Vietnamese coffee ice cream last week.)
I have a autographed copy of My Paris Kitchen. While living in San Francisco, I would visit Omnivore Books, a neighborhood bookstore dedicated to cookbooks. Various chefs and food writers popped in on their book tours. I headed over there when Lebovitz stopped by in 2014.
He used to live and work in nearby Oakland, then moved to Paris. As a lover of food, SF and wine country, and Paris, you can understand why I follow this guy.
I discovered the online cookbook club late in July, so I made three recipes last weekend. I had everything I needed for a few vegetable side dishes:
A French lentil salad that has been a tasty lunch the last few days.
A simple, but delicious green bean dish (garlic-centric!).
Roasted root vegetables. Still the best way to prepare and eat any vegetable, hands down.
I'd never made a pasta with brie so I decided to try this recipe from food52. This dish has some of my favorite things: summer tomatoes, fresh basil, lots of garlic and melty cheese.
The biggest challenge I had was making sure G didn't just eat the tomatoes while they sat on the table all day getting happy.
In this week's version of In the Fridge, I have some brie sitting in there that needs attention.
What should I make with it?
First of all, when I google brie, Brie Larson pops up. Um, no, not that Brie. (My apologies for still not seeing Room.)
My brie making options include:
Good ol' fashioned baked brie, topped with fruit, nuts, and/or honey. Or brie wrapped in puff pastry or phyllo dough (in France, en croute).
In scrambled eggs or an omelet.
Grilled because, summertime.
On a sandwich.
Today marks the start of one of my favorite weekends of the year. Oscar weekend.
Oscar and I go way back.
When I was a kid, I would anxiously await the hour-long special where Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert wore tuxes and stood behind podiums to announce their own Oscar picks.
In college, I would camp out in the TV room around 4PM and "save" the TV for Oscar night.
In my thirties, I started to watch the televised red carpet with my fashionable friend, Sarika. We still do that to this day via texts, both admiring and snarky.
My loved ones have known for years that I am unavailable on Oscar Sunday. Talk to me on Monday.
So this year I've done the requisite homework as I've done for most of my adult life. Started collecting the results of the critics' awards in early December. Watched the Golden Globe awards. The SAG awards. Tomorrow I'll watch the Independent Spirit Awards and then it's time for the Big Day.
I've seen five of this year's nine Best Picture nominees. One of my favorite Oscar memories is when G and I attended an Oscar Showcase Day at AMC Theaters where we watched the best picture nominees from 2009: Slumdog Millionaire; Frost/Nixon; The Reader; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Milk. I was in heaven. That was the last year the Academy chose only five nominees so we could watch all the films in one glorious day.
We live in Naples, FL now and the closest participating theater is an hour and half away. I am bummed but I think G is secretly relieved.
G has picked up the bubbly. I'm in charge of snacks.
I usually make some popcorn. Obviously a great pairing for night about the movies, but also a favorite pairing of ours with sparkling wine.
I make a couple deviled eggs topped with bacon and chives for myself. Not G's thing.
The current trend in the Nichols' kitchen is looking at what's in the pantry, fridge, and freezer and creating something on the fly. I have some shrimp in the freezer and some dumpling wrappers so I think potstickers will make an appearance on our Oscar menu.
If I feel ambitious on Sunday, I'll throw together some stuffed mushrooms as well. My mom had a fanastic recipe for stuffed mushrooms that she only made at Christmas or New Year's so I associate them with major festivities. You know, like Oscar Night.
Here's a fun link for your own Oscar snacks: epicurious