Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Nouns: Trial & Error (I 💓 Food!)

It continues to be "soup weather" here in what I call the "Freezer Belt", so this past Friday night, I decided to create a delicious lentil soup. Many know that one of my passions is cooking, and I rarely, if ever, use a recipe. Sometimes I watch cooking shows, sometimes I scroll through Facebook or Google certain cuisines, and if any particular dish catches my eye, I'll study it and do what I do with most things in my life: Experiment.

During the work week, I get pretty focused on what I'm doing - I'm up early, coffee in hand, updating Amador Community News, and then it's off to the day job at AMR. I'll occasionally have a meal with the crews, but more often than not, they get called out right as the pan hits the stove, or before they can get even get a bite into their mouths. So on the weekends, especially during the Winter months, when the weather puts my road-tripping on ice (literally)....my kitchen becomes a foodie lab. 

My relationship with food has quite a history. When I was little, I always wanted an Easy Bake Oven; several of my friends had them, and I have to admit, I was jealous. One day, an EBO TV commercial came on, and I once again begged my Mom (who was standing in the kitchen, washing dishes) for the coveted Noun. She replied: "Why would you want a toy like that when we have a real oven right here?" My eyes widened and a smile slowly grew on my face, like it was Christmas morning. I jumped up and down with glee...and that was the day my Mom began to teach me how to cook.

She taught me the essentials...how to read recipes, gather the ingredients, settings on the oven/stove, and put it all together. She taught me the basic vocabulary - sift, grind, blend, saute, mince, dice, baste. Then, as Mom always did, she'd eventually step back, assume a more management-type role and let me try it on my own.

My first experiment was Snickerdoodle cookies. I was so excited, watching them bake in the real oven, counting nearly every tick of the timer, the aroma of cinnamon wafting through the air. When they were done, I squealed with delight. I was so excited that I didn't care that they didn't "look" quite right (not like the photo)...they tasted great to me. Proud of my first batch, I was eager to share my little nuggets of happiness with the mailman. He took a bite, and his reaction was priceless: "These are, um...yeah, um...really...good."  Satisfied with his response, I went skipping back into the house, happy as a clam. Several batches of cookies later, I learned about texture, and the mailman became my official taster of my baking ventures. He was always tactfully kind, but I wouldn't have been surprised if he eventually got a garbage can in his mail truck. 

I eventually became a master of the chocolate chip cookie, to which my kids can attest. They were so good, I was lucky to even get a batch into the oven before the dough was gone. If a batch did happen to make it to the oven, they were gone before they even had a chance to cool.

My Mom and Grandma Lund were my first "culinary" mentors. Being from the Depression Era, most of the dishes they cooked were for big families, so they would cook en masse - big pots of soup, stew, chili, chowder, etc. Large casseroles and pies. Mom made the best chili in the world; haven't had better to date. My grandmother taught me how to make the tastiest, fluffiest, butter-basted biscuits ever.  I loved that they would teach me through trial and error....step back and let me try. Each time, I'd do it a little bit better than before. That's not to say I didn't have several disasters along the way, but I learned from each one until I had it mastered, and the results were delicious.

On my journey throughout my Lives - First, Second and now, in my Third - I've developed a taste for the exotic. I always explore as many different cuisines as I can, learn about different herbs, spices and blends, observe different cooking methods and techniques. My senses of taste, smell and "feel" have keenly developed over time, so I try to take advantage of international grocery stores and local markets that carry ethnic foods and spices. I could spend hours in those stores. I have everything I need for my kitchen lab...core ingredients, cookware, tools and utensils...but most of all, the love of cooking. I love to achieve the balance of herbs and spices. I love to smell the aromas that come through as I anticipate the final presentation. I don't claim to be a professional, in any sense of the word. I simply have a passion that makes me happy.

I've learned a lot more from cooking than just the mere enjoyment of it. I've put a lot into my own Recipe of Life, and still have a lot to learn and discover. I have many talented friends who have a wealth of wisdom and knowledge, and I thoroughly enjoy spending time with them, getting to know them better. I've also had Nouns in my Lives where the lessons learned have definitely been a matter of trial and error. I've had a few disasters along the way; so many times I've been caught up in the "fast-food" of the here and now, that I have to step back and remember said lessons. Now, I try to always keep those important core ingredients in my "recipe" file: Love, kindness, patience, honor, integrity, truth. From there, hey...what can I say?
I improvise!

It was very difficult when my Mom passed away...singing at her funeral was the most difficult thing I ever had to do in my life. The emptiness I felt was as if a huge chunk of my life just disappeared. I know that I probably wasn't the easiest child to raise, but I will always remember and appreciate when she'd step back and let me succeed...or fail...on my own. She reappears every time I hear her words ring through my mind when I try something new and different: "Do it better. Do things better than we did..."...and I try again.

And then she steps back.
_____________________________________________________

Carol's Friday Night Lentil Soup Experiment
Without taking a trip to the store, I simply added what I already had on hand, in my cupboards and refrigerator.

1 medium yellow onion, chopped (a core ingredient I always have on hand)
3-4 cloves of fresh garlic (another core ingredient)
1 to 1 1/2 cup chopped celery
Saute above ingredients in about 2 Tbps of butter, olive oil or coconut oil. I used a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of coconut oil. Add a little salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste. Cook on medium heat until you can smell the onion, celery and garlic meld. Then...

Add 1 pound rinsed lentils.
1 large potato, sliced.
Stir together for about 30 seconds or so, then add about 6-8 cups of water and reduce the heat to low
(A word about lentils:  Always rinse beans and legumes before cooking, as there can sometimes be natural fibers, sticks, even pebbles left behind in sorting/processing. You can also pre-soak the lentils if you have a difficult time digesting them. Lentils have a thin "shell" that contain trace anti-nutrients that can affect digestion for some folks. I don't seem to have that problem, so I didn't soak them. )

Let this base soup cook on low heat for about 30-40 minutes; check on it occasionally. The lentils will swell as they cook, so if the ratio of lentils to water become unbalanced, add a little more water to make it more "soupy".

Add:
2 Tablespoons Garam Masala
I love [East] Indian spices! Garam Masala is a staple spice blend. No, it is not curry. Cumin, coriander and cardamom are the most prominent tones.

Add:
1 can mixed vegetables
I would normally use fresh vegetables, but like I said, I didn't have a chance to go to the store, so I used canned vegetables this time. Always rinse canned vegetables well, as they usually contain a lot of sodium, which can affect the balance of flavors you're trying to achieve (the garlic, onion, celery, etc...even the butter and coconut oil lend their own to the mix.)

Now...taste, taste, taste!
Add salt, to taste. Add fresh pepper, to taste. If the Garam Masala isn't quite coming through, add in pinches until it's to your liking. This is where you make it your own! 😊









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