No “Kaboom!” required

This is not a cooking blog. You may have noticed the distinct lack of recipes and cooking tips. I try to focus on discussing things that I discover in pursuit of the most joyful life possible, and there are lots of great places to find cooking tips.

This is true, but cooking can also be a part of the joyful life. It’s good to be able to make things as you want them to be, tailored to your own whims. It’s healthier, and less expensive, and both of those benefits lead to greater happiness. I find I am more cheerful when I do a lot of cooking (and I don’t mean sweets–that way lies madness for myself and perhaps some of you).

As I cook, I experiment, and this is my theme today–experimentation. We grow up being told what to do. We learn from friends and we learn from books, but we can also learn from ourselves. I tend to think of something that might be tasty and just go for it. I’ve definitely made some things that I wouldn’t want to foist on guests, but I make more predictable meals when expecting company. I’ve also stumbled upon these fun recipes, which are inexpensive and which I make all the time:

  • Easy Indian mock-paneer: I love paneer and peas which comes in a rich spicy red sauce. Paneer is cheese, and I can’t eat that anymore, so now I throw in cubes of tofu. All you have to do is take inexpensive bottled spaghetti sauce and keep throwing in curry powder until it tastes good to you. Add peas and tofu and you are set to serve over rice. Fantastic!
  • Smoky rice & mushrooms: I have a rice cooker, so one day I threw in pieces of dried shiitake mushrooms with the rice and water (I added a little extra water) and a couple of lapsang souchong tea bags on top. This is awesome by itself, but can become an ingredient in another recipe, too. Mandarin Orange Spice teabags give the rice a good taste for pilaf. Yummy!
  • Savory oatmeal: I eat a lot of hot cereal, but I gave up sugar a few years ago so I wanted some breakfast ideas that didn’t contain honey or sweetness. I realized that you can flavor oatmeal in many savory ways. Sometimes I make it with broth and mushrooms, sometimes I season it like stuffing, sometimes I put in garlic and peas. I keep trying new things–my next favorite is waiting to be created. So good!

You may rush to try these, or they may sound horrible to you. That is not the point. I created these as a thrifty cook who wants to try new things, and I made things that taste good to me. Your recipes may contain chicken and pickles. Cook what appeals, but I encourage you to experiment, in cooking and in life. Your mom probably said it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true–if you don’t try new things, how will you know what you like? You may be pleasantly surprised. I know I have been. Just don’t blow up the kitchen–it wakes the neighbors.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
270. This week do a little experimenting inside the kitchen or in some other way. What would you do again? What will you never repeat? How does the process of creation feel to you?

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To the kitchen!

I have out-of-town guests this weekend, so I’ve been cooking even more than usual. This morning we had oatmeal with raisins and apples. My friend loves oatmeal and always requests it, and taught me to put in pumpkin pie spice. It’s a tasty variation. I eat hot cereal almost every day, so I’m happy to oblige. She could crave something far more complex, and I’m just not equipped to function much first thing in the morning. I think she knows this. Most people learn this pretty early on in our friendship.

I made some pasta for lunch, wilting some spinach in amongst the whole wheat spirals. Yum! My mother was a good cook, and so am I, although my culinary legacy has veered from hers. I don’t spend my afternoons wrapping bacon around oysters and water chestnuts, and you won’t find me making a tender steak teriyaki. I’m a vegan, so those foods don’t appear on my menu. I do love to cook for people, and that’s where we have a lot in common.

I also enjoy cooking for myself. At the moment, I’m a single person. Sometimes I get busy and since there’s no one to complain I’ll occasionally eat cold cereal and toast all day. It’s okay as a variation, but I think it’s important to cook. Cooking is cheaper than eating out, and it’s far easier to control the results. Just as I love to show my friendship by preparing meals for the people I care about, I think it’s good to show myself that I’m worth the nurturing that a hot meal can provide. Today I even baked.

I don’t eat sugar anymore, so I made myself a loaf of Irish soda bread. It’s quick, easy, and the recipe I use is healthy. Soda bread doesn’t require yeast, and doesn’t need to sit or rise, and it’s delicious with a nice cup of tea. Eating fresh baked bread makes me feel like I’m surrounded by family and friends, even when I’m all alone in my apartment. Buddha said that giving to the self is also giving. We remember to take care of others, but it’s so hard to treat ourselves with the same kind of attention. It’s time to fire up the oven and fix that.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
243. How do you like to show your friends you care? What makes you feel loved and cherished? Do that thing for yourself this week. How does it make you feel?  If you’d like to try your hand at soda bread, here’s my favorite recipe:
http://happyherbivore.com/2010/03/irish-soda-bread/

I like to add 2 tbsp. of caraway seed to the recipe, and I always add yellow raisins. If you want something more savory, you can leave those out. I’ve also tried making it by soaking the raisins in brandy and/or whiskey first (YUM) and one day when I was out of caraway I put in 1 tbsp. of anise (I may have increased the sugar slightly–I can’t remember). It was a nice breakfast bread that reminded me of the yellow anise biscotti I grew up with in New York.

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I had a great weekend, full of dancing and writing and pie. Today I wanted to tell you about the pie, because it was part of what made the weekend special. Pie is special by its very nature, a tasty mélange of fruit and goodness which is hardly ever pretentious. I love it, but I don’t make it very often. This weekend I made pie with about thirty other people, and it was some of the best fun I’ve had all year.

My friend and her partner have a pie making party every fall. I’ve heard that the party started because they were trying to use up some of the fruit on the very productive trees from their back yard. This year the trees didn’t produce much, but the cooks did. The hosts provided the pie shells, the pastry tops, and the mixture of sugar, flour and spices. They also had snacks and drinks. The guests brought fruit and aprons, and we took turns sitting at the table, eight or so at a time, chopping fruit into our pie shells.

It’s really fun to socialize with people while cooking, which is probably one of the reasons that people tend to gravitate towards the kitchen at most gatherings. Everyone was putting different combinations of fruit in the pies. I ended up with apples, pears, plums and craisins with a small shake of five spice powder that someone had brought. The licorice in the spice gave the pie an interesting twist.

Another couple brought a brimming bucket of blackberries that they’d picked in their own yard that morning. Blackberries grow very well in Seattle, and most of the people who have them are overrun. Everyone brought too much fruit, so we were all urged to bring some home. I’ve got a container of blackberries in my fridge, waiting for my decision on what to cook with them.

At the end of the night, we took our pies home to bake. I threw mine in the oven the next morning, and had warm fruit pie for breakfast. What could be better?

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

175. Have a cooking party at your house. My brother gets together with his friends every year to make tamales, my family makes pierogis, and my friend has everyone over to create pies. What could you make?