Narcissit? Who me?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Culinary Experimentin'

As we all know, stories about cooking food are hilarious. I think mostly because of all the props. There is flour to smear on our faces, little gadgets to fiddle with. There is danger, and there are risks. There is something to do, and something to think about. That is what makes cooking suck a dramatic event. It is also why I typically stay out of my kitchen, unless to get water, play cards, and to check that the toy Indian in my cabinet has not come to life. It is a space that I avoid mostly because I don't know what the hell I am doing in there. For this I blame my parents. I had a mother, that although she hates to cook, placed supper before me every evening she was home to do so; and a father who's culinary concoctions taught me that Dalman men were better suited outside of the kitchen. When I was forced to fend for myself, I had three sisters, and two brothers who saw to it that something was put down my gullet. My tummy never rumbled at night time, and thus I never really thought much about food or its preparation. I took home ec in high school, and passed because I am pretty sure the teacher was frequently "riding the white dragon." If you know what I mean.

Even after I moved out on my own I never gave food much thought. I was always referred to as a "starving student" so I never really ate. Apparently I took this a little too serious because in my first year after I had gained the freshmen fifteen I had only to watch it melt off of me, along with 20 other pounds. I remember my first year I tried making little meals, and I was pretty fond of a type of salad that I would put together and eat over an entire week. Now the thought of eating vegetables is ludicrous! But that was three years ago, when I hadn't been sufficiently weaned off of produce, meat, and anything that cannot be prepared by sticking it, package and all, into the microwave, and eating it piping hot 2 minutes later.

My second year of higher education, I remember making smaller meals. Maybe a sandwich, maybe a can of soup. Maybe I would cook pasta, and make a sauce, and maybe I would have an appetizer, and then a cookie for dessert if I was feeling celebratory.

By third year I don't know what I was eating. I cannot remember making a single meal. I probably have Savannah, my roommate to blame for this. She is fascinated by the kitchen, transfixed with its "goings on" and was constantly taking my spoon away from me and stirring the food herself. Since I had no talent or interest in food preparation, I gladly relinquished the whisk to her, and left everything culinary up to her. I was in charge of pointing and laughing at her. Even though she was busy, and three assignments behind in our art history class, she always had time to venture into the kitchen whenever she heard the turning of a burner dial. Always willing to insert herself between me and certain disaster. She usually ended up staying in the kitchen until she had either finished preparing the meal for me, or had watched cautiously until I was finished, and she was satisfied that the house was in no danger of burning down. While I thank her for ensuring that I didn't starve to death, she was my enabler. I was fine with it, until she packed up her things and became an adult with a live in boyfriend and business cards, and left me high and dry ( although I can find the tap and give myself water) to fend for myself.

Since I now live with a 19 year old boy and since he has no interest in what I put in my mouth, the mantle falls to me. Usually this means that I go to restaurants. I have enough friends that if I spread it out right, and insist that we go to dinner "just the two of us" I can usually get by for about two weeks every month eating out every other day. Eating small portions at the restaurant, and eating the rest the next day. After that I usually don't eat or get take out.

It occurred to me the other day that I am no spring chicken, and that maybe this is about as grown up as I am going to get. Grown up, I realized may not be how you feel, but instead how you act. Since I act like I am an eleven year old girl most of the time, I thought I should try and make something of myself, by making something for myself: Stir fry.

(Authors Note: While most of you may believe that all tales of food preparation are factual, be aware that not all are. This one is true. It takes a particularly sadistic, albeit hilarious, imaginative, and genius mind to create a story about kitchen mishaps from thin air. I don't have one of those)

No part of making a stir fry is hard. Not when you buy the package of all the vegetables pre-cut from the store, and when you don't include meat because you're taking "baby steps" and haven't worked your way up to animal by products. Making a seasoning isn't hard when you have a packet, also store bought, to which all you have to add is water, and soya sauce. What is hard is emptying the little packets of soya sauce you get when you order take out Chinese food, into a table spoon because you never realized that although you have never bought soya sauce, there isn't some just lazing about in your refrigerator door.

What is not hard, again, is stir frying vegetables. You add a little oil, and talk on the phone to your friend Cheri, till you think the little carrot bits are sufficiently bendy. What is hard is knowing what to do with the Asian noodles you want to add. Being a WASP, you have no idea how to go about cooking the noodles that you have eaten a thousand times, in various restaurants. You add your seasoning sauce to you veggies, and think that has bought you enough time to figure this thing out. You pick up the package of dried square Asian noodles, and consult the brief English instructions on the back. "Instant Noodles" it reads "Add to stir fry. Cook 2-3 Minutes." Sounds easy enough. It doesn't make a lot of sense to you as you read it. You are pretty sure that when you make Ichiban noodles, they require a lot more moisture to soften than they two table spoons of soya sauce seasoning slowly evaporating at the bottom of your frying pan. But who are you to argue with ancient Chinese wisdom. You throw three little dried squares into your pan and stir away. That is, after all, the essence of stir fry.

You think maybe you have made a mistake. You thought that even though it is probably scientifically impossible, that when the noodles that claimed to be "instant" reacted with heat, they liquefied, or softened to the nice gooey kind you eat in regular stir fries. Ideally in the 2-3 minutes. Your roommate passes by, and in a moment of weakness you confess you have no idea what you are doing. Always in competition, Roommate, apparently trained at the hand of the finest noodle cook in the orient, informs you that these noodles must be cooked first, and then "add(ed) to stir fry." Because you don't like to be proven wrong, and because you don't want the person who once spelled Jello with a 'w' to be aware that they knew something that you didn't. You continue to stir the stir fry, this time with a little more vigor, and silent prayer.

Roommate tells you to add water. That maybe with more moisture the noodles will cook. You add oil. It doesn't help, but it makes everything in the pan a lot more glossy, and you wonder if this is what they do to the food they take pictures of for restaurant menus. Stir. Stir. Stir. Place vegetables on top on noodles, hoping that whatever juices you haven't already sauteed out of them will leak on the noodles and soften them. It works, and the noodle squares become congealed blobs. Roommate is distracted for a second, probably by a piece of lint, or a penny, and you dash to the sink, fill a cup with water and add it to the pan. Apparently the moth Roommate was playing with hadn't transfixed him fully, and the sound of rushing water, catches his attention. He gloats when you admit it helped. You add more, but only when you want to, not when he says.

After about an hour, far longer than the promised "2-3 minutes" You are able to enjoy the fruits (although they are actually veggies) of you labour: overcooked onions, carrots, peas, and mushrooms, and a bowl full of Asian noodles that are a little el dente.

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