Cooking Blindly

Not literally, but I may as well have been.  After reading this recipe for gnocchi made with a grater (rather than a ricer or other implement I don’t own), I was determined to make it myself.  The only problem?  I’ve never had gnocchi.  I have seen them in the grocery store and been intrigued, but I’ve never actually eaten them, and I had only a vague idea of what the final product should be.

Still, the recipe could hardly have been simpler, and with relatively little effort, I ended up with a quart ziplock packed full of pasta.  For the first meal, I heated oil and butter in a pan till it was very hot, tossed in some asparagus and garlic, and then the gnocchi.  I cooked it without disturbing it much, to allow everything to brown, then added some cooked chicken and served.  Voila!  I don’t know if it’s what it was supposed to be, but holy moly, it was good.

Can’t Get No Satisfaction

I think it’s pretty well established that the great joy of cooking, and one of the biggest advantages over buying food, is the satisfaction that comes from making something with your own hands. Turning separate ingredients into one cohesive dish that is greater than the sum of its parts is certainly one of the biggest motivators in putting forth the effort to cook.  Creating – and consuming – a labor of love like this can be extremely satisfying.  Usually.  I’ll go ahead and say it, though.  Some recipes are difficult and not pleasing.  Enter the homemade pop tarts.

Gosh, I wanted to love this recipe, and I didn’t think it would be too hard to improve on the store-bought version.  Then the pastry-making began.  I know I’m in the minority here, but I really dislike butter-based pastry recipes.  I’m always hopeful, but I’ve never met one that turned out well for me.  Same with this one.  First the texture was wrong, then I thought it tasted too salty, and then I had a heck of a time cutting 18 identically-sized rectangles.  But I pressed on.

I didn’t have the corn starch that the recipe called for in order to make a jam filling, so I decided to make peanut butter and chocolate chip filling.  I was getting progressively more frustrated, especially when it came to matching up my oddly-sized pastry squares.  Finally, they were in the oven!

When the timer went off, I opened the oven door and nearly cried.  They were a lovely golden brown, but that was mostly due to the fat bubbling out of every fork hole I had poked in the top.  I double-checked the recipe to make sure that I read it correctly, and then it hit me: the peanut butter (yes, you probably foresaw this problem at least a paragraph ago).

Once they had cooled, my homemade pop tarts were actually pretty good.  That’s what my eating audience told me, anyway.  Somehow the end product had been a little tainted for me.  Will I make these again?  Probably.  But not for a while (and butter-based crust remains on my blacklist).

Social Saturday

Last night, my roommates and I hosted a little anti-February-doldrums, pre-Lent party.  That was the excuse (as if one was needed) to put on our aprons, whip up some goodness, and invite people over.  As it turned out, a few old friends ended up coming into town, and it was great to have an occasion to catch up.

My contributions included a pumpkin pie (not seasonal, but made with a specific person in mind), and a hot chocolate bar.  I made a pot of cocoa on the stove, and set out a variety of syrups and other additions (for the adults, ahem).  The idea backfired a little bit, as it ended up being a balmy 40 yesterday, but I think it was a hit anyway.

I was a little surprised that a few people brought hostess gifts – I think I’m too recently out of college parties, where showing up with your own beer is about as generous as it gets.  Last night, we ended up with a lovely bouquet of flowers, a potted hyacinth plant, and a tin of olive oil.  It sounds random, unless I explain that it was brought by a proudly Italian friend to whom I happened to have mentioned that I was out of olive oil.  Oh, it still sounds random?  In any case, I now have three liters.  I may have to get creative with this stuff.

It’s sitting on the counter, next to my Valentine’s rose from another Italian (note the label on the wine/vase).  In my mind, a party is a success if you can find yourself cheerfully loading up the dishwasher at 2 AM, and this one didn’t disappoint!

Thoughts for today (from 1922)

“In this trying time that our country is going through we Catholics and especially we students, have a serious duty to fulfill: our self-formation. […]
We, who by the grace of God are Catholics… must steel ourselves for the battle we shall certainly have to fight to fulfill our program and give our country, in the not too distant future, happier days and a morally healthy society, but to achieve this we need constant prayer to obtain from God that grace without which all our efforts are useless; organization and discipline to be ready for action at the right time; and finally, the sacrifice of our passion and of ourselves, because without that we cannot achieve our aim.”

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (1901-1925)

[source]

Fałat Julian, Popielec

Ash Wednesday is fast approaching (just two weeks from tomorrow!), and Fr. Z has issued a little reminder and some strategies for figuring out what to give up and what practices to start.  That part about not waiting until the Thursday until after Ash Wednesday?  Pretty sure that was directed at me.  I’m very prone to waiting, especially since that Wednesday itself is kind of a freebie as far as decision-making.  Given that I have already deferred New Years resolutions until Lent, it seems more than slightly pathetic to end that three-month grace period without a plan.

Despite the scriptural advice not to let your right hand know what the left is doing, I think it’s preferable to have one “sacrifice buddy” for accountability.  It’s so much easier to justify little slippages to myself – inevitably leading to a snowball of excuses and total capitulation – than it is to mumble excuses about how I didn’t get up for Mass because I was up late doing important stuff like shopping online and Pinteresting.

That said, I’m not exactly sure what I’ll be doing this year.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what St. Josemaria called the “heroic moment” (that is, the moment at which the alarm clock goes off and one must give up a warm bed to get up for the day) and thinking that I hit snooze far too many times.  I was also struck by Simcha Fisher’s column today about training ourselves.

I’m wondering what I’M in training for?  How do I spend most of my time?  What skills am I developing, and what do I hope to do with those skills?  Because the word “training” implies that there is some final contest, some ultimate test where I can show my hard-won skills.

I have a feeling that whatever I should be training for involves far less Facebook and TV, and more self-discipline and enrichment.  Exactly what form that will take, I’m not sure yet, but I promise I’ll figure it out in two weeks or less.

Some Saturday Thoughts

Note: for profundity look elsewhere. Or maybe read this post backwards – it might be more meaningful.

Sometimes in life it happens that you’re running late and don’t grab anything for lunch except a single clementine. The morning is spent in contemplation of how very lame that is. Then you find a fridge full of awesome Chinese leftovers free for the taking, and lunch is suddenly better than anything you could’ve packed for yourself.

There’s a metaphor in there; I’ll leave it to you to tease it out.

~

My pre-coffee period this morning was longer than usual (thus, the afore-mentioned pondering of clementines). I suddenly realized that I was stapling unrelated pages together and had no memory of what I had said in the email I just replied to (thankfully it was coherent, relevant, and free of the Star Wars references that seem to happen when I’m not paying attention). I decided to look up whether lack of coffee/caffeine has ever been used in the insanity defense, but all I can find so far is the opposite: over-caffeination causing temporary “insanity”. This is pejoratively called the “Red Bull defense.”

~

I’m beginning to understand just how Apple sucks people into “loyalty.” I’m convinced that it’s not because they have an easier operating system, more reliable computers, better hardware, sleeker designs, or better customer service. No, it’s because they simply take away all decisions. If you want to buy a Mac, all you really need to know is roughly what size you want it to be, and what you want to do with it. From there, they can recommend one of approximately three different products for you. That’s all there is to it.

Buying a PC, on the other hand, is like walking through a minefield while blindfolded and juggling cats. And who do you choose for your guide through that minefield? What brand should you get? What memory? How’s the display? And then, heaven forbid there are color choices! The complexity became clear to me last night as I tried to shepherd Johnny out of Appleland (with which he has become extremely disenchanted) to a PC. He was prepared to pick something and buy it right away, but the sheer number of decisions, combined with the impossibly high standards of the friend he asked for advice (“You can’t get anything good for less than a grand, and nothing at a store is acceptable”) overwhelmed him. The purchase has been put off indefinitely. Way to go, Steve Jobs.