Sunday, February 16, 2014

On wintertime kitchen slumping

“Ohh—ah, hello! Do you, uh, do you come here often? I come here a bit. I come here from time to time.” This little moment (brought to you by Ben Affleck in Good Will Hunting) does not sufficiently explain my blog hiatus, but I don’t really have an explanation except: 1) I haven’t been cooking so good (discussed below). And 2) My laptop kind of smells like weird overpowering cumin? And I don’t like it.
Every winter I seem to forget how to cook. Or, maybe it’s that I forget how to shop. For groceries. I’m out of practice navigating the aisles of the grocery store. Since I spend spring, summer, and fall popping in and out of farmers’ markets, everything fresh, everything good, I’m not in the habit of having to ignore the calls from chips and cookies, conveniently placed at eye level. It starts right as the markets disappear, when the complicated season known as “the holidays” arrive. And for a month we’re out to eat, inundated with leftovers, celebrating, and thus completely derailed from any semblance of grocery store routine. When I finally begin stumbling into stores, my defenses are weak, my tastes impaired, and dark times are upon us. (Except for the really excellent eating we do at the really excellent restaurants in Chicago.)
This winter has been particularly tough, in part because I’ve been reading a lot. There’s a rumor started, no doubt by those jealous of my skills, that I can tend towards competitive. If this is true (Note: I’ve just finished a Tonya Harding documentary and thus am not convinced my own level warrants notice), it is true for group activities as well as solo ventures. The problem isn’t the reading, instead, that I am tracking my reading on Goodreads. I bandwagon decided to read one book a week for 2014. Every time I finish one and input the book, my percent complete rises and Goodreads calculates how far ahead of schedule I am.
If there’s one thing I learned from that [redacted period of time] my mom obsessively played Snood for an hour every night (before she deleted the game out of self preservation), it’s that your real competition in life is your own highest scores. (I’m sure my father would have taught me this as well if I’d ever taken to running—still the term “personal best” is one that sticks with me.) Mix this with my idealization of efficiency, and you’ve got a perfect storm of needing to prove to Goodreads how much further ahead I can get.
Add in my other quirk: a compulsion to finish books the same day I start them, and you can understand why, come 5:45 pm when I realize the fish is still in the freezer, I’ve got 70 pages of the fantastic Blue Castle left, and we’re woefully low on tortillas and cheese, I ask Alex to pick something up on his way home.

Also: It’s dark and cold and I’m lying down. And dishes.

When I do get it together to cook, there is nothing blog worthy about my endeavors. We eat a shocking amount of quesadillas. It seems I have double-booked “quesadilla night” for days starting with “T.” (That’s “T” for “tired,” and so many days start that way.) Alternating with frozen Pleasant House pies, of course.
But when an urge hits to get into the kitchen and make my mark—not in the rudimentary form of Queequeg-esque quesadillas—I make ricotta. Homemade ricotta is nothing short of magical. The sweet smell of hot milk. The straining of whey. The making of cheese! before your eyes. I’m super into it.
I use Ashley Rodriguez’s recipe (I think I’ve discussed this before?), which is based on Ina Garten. Ashley uses a 3 to 1 ratio of milk to cream. Ina goes 50/50. I think this is probably amazing as Ina Garten lives life well, but I stick to the 3:1. (I’ve tried using all milk, as Ashley says is a (not as appealing) option, but found the ricotta gets kind of… squeaky? As I’m sure is the professional cheesemaker term.) No special equipment required, just cheesecloth, which we all have on hand this time of year thanks to stocking stuffers. (That’s normal, right?)
You can’t tell, but I’m eating some incredible fresh ricotta, made nary a half an hour ago, on a crusty piece of baguette right now. Only slightly off-put by the smell emanating from my keyboard. It’s warm, and so creamy, and just plain perfect.  (Except for the smell. What is that? Can you make a genius bar appointment for weird smells? I’ve digressed.)


  1. YAY! Sister intuition! So surprised by a new post.

    I just googled "why does my laptop smell like cumin" to try to help you out, buuuut... your post is the second result. So there's that.

    I was just looking at vegan ricotta recipes last night! Def appropriate. You're almost to spring. You can make it!

    P.S. Love seeing these instags photos all giant.

  2. I missed this blog entry. It almost makes me miss winter...wait, how can I miss what hasn't left?