Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Culinary Creations

I briefly mentioned before that I have had a plethora of jobs. Right now, I am an adjunct English teacher at a community college, and I love it. I get to teach and find new ways to make writing interesting and relevant. I also have an awesome schedule that allows me to indulge my passions: writing, reading, and BAKING!

I have a stack of recipes known as the "Will Make One Day" stack. Well, that will make day is now! With more time, I get to make more dirty dishes. I have conquered two recipes that I feared tremendously in my "one day" stack: homemade caramel sauce and homemade marshmallows.

 Caramel sauce is a fairly easy thing to make. I used this recipe from BakedBree.com (a great food website): http://bakedbree.com/caramel-sauce

I even propped the laptop on the bar so I could look at the pictures for reference. Doing that provided to be extremely helpful, because when the mixture of sugar and water started to turn into amber bubbles, I knew not to get nervous. Mine did, however, turn out a little darker than hers, but still delightful!

The sauce was the perfect topping for the leftover Bailey's Irish Cream cake, which I turned into bread pudding. (I guess it would be cake pudding in this case!)

Homemade marshmallows were not as easy as caramel sauce. The recipes I used were on the Food Network website, and they were on a mixture of an Alton Brown (Good Eats) recipe and an Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) recipe.

Somehow after finishing the marshmallows, the kitchen had an oil-coated sheen. My original pot was the right size to contain the expanding bubbles made during caramel sauce, but it almost over flowed during marshmallow making. During mid-boiling, I had to change pots, causing some sugar mixture to hit the stove eye and catch fire. Oops. Also, my old Sunbeam stand mixer did not like being left on high for so long. I had to say sweet and tender words to the old girl so she wouldn't riot on me and throw half thickened marshmallow goo all over the kitchen.

Anyways, the marshmallows after all the oil, pondering, fire, and fear, turned out great. I couldn't, however, successfully scrape the entire marshmallow mixture out of the bowl, and I turned my back on the left over goop.

By the time I had finished smoothing out the mixture on to a greased cookie sheet, husband had graham crackers crumbled in the bowl and was asking for melted chocolate. A quick whisk with the mixer and we had smores on a stick! Best thing EVER! Homemade marshmallows are great, but homemade smores on a stick are blissful.

Enjoying his creation!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ordinary Day

My husband and I are very blessed by having loving friends and family. I was humbled and overwhelmed when the outpouring of love started to come in material formats, known as wedding gifts. One day a mysterious box appeared and it was filled with delightful pasta, a wedding gift from the lovely woman who did a reading at our wedding. The box contained chocolate linguine (wonderfully delicious with a raspberry sauce and home-made whip cream) and lime, mango, chili shells.

For our one month anniversary, we made lamb ragu and finished the meal by watching the wedding video as we slurped down chocolate linguine Lady and the Tramp style. The other pasta was going to be consumed on another special occasion. The occasion, however, never came. Six month anniversary brought steak and a mini-wedding cake dessert.

A Tuesday came along and I came home hungry and happy. The husband was already home; however, when he left for work that morning, he had not started a crock pot meal. (He is a wonderful husband; on Tuesday and Thursdays, he starts crock pot meals because I get home late!) We had left over chicken in the fridge and salsa in the pantry. The lime, mango, chili shells pasta was in a pot of boiling water in a matter of moments.

Sitting at the table with my husband made me realize we cannot wait for the special moments, because even the ordinary moments are extraordinary. I know I sound like a sappy Hallmark card from the 99 cent rack, but it is true. That delicious meal would have gone unmade; the pasta still sitting in our pantry. Who knows when we would have deemed it a "special day;" instead, an ordinary Tuesday ended up being the perfect day.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Role of Food: Part Two

Not all of the creations to come out of our kitchen are sugar laced; however, I have already gone through two small bottles of vanilla extract in the last month.

When we first started dating, my husband knew very little about kitchens and how they operated. He had cooked some, yet he was predominately a microwave man. My apartment at the time was stuck in at time warp from the 1950s/ 1960s. The push buttons, which controlled the eyes on the stove, did not encourage a fondness for cooking in him.

(The buttons did even bring down cooking enthusiasts with simple tasks such as making tea!)

"It has buttons!" was all we could hear from the living room!

I had lovely green sinks and gold speckled counter tops in that apartment as well as brown/ sparkly gold plaid wallpaper in the living room. It was my first single abode apartment and I loved ever out-dated, cheap-rent square inch of it!

With that stove, I woo'ed and won my husband....bacon, pasta, a Death Star cake. Now, I live in an apartment with nice kitchen that has proper stove and my husband has discovered Alton Brown. I thank Alton Brown, the Mr. Wizard of food, for introducing my husband to cooking. Together we have bonded over dishes; dishes, to us, that have been culinary masterpieces. Each meal has caused us to talk, laugh, and learn.

From our one month anniversary dinner!

A dinner is a lot like a relationship. Not every relationship is the same even though all relationships uphold the same titles: boyfriend/ girlfriend, serious, causal, dating, married. My ragu is not going to taste the same as my other married friends; my ingredients will be different, yet when all the sauces are done, they all going to be classified at ragu. Even if we all followed the same recipe, our ragus would still taste different. A pinch of salt? How much is really a pinch? Therefore, we are all married, but each marriage is going to be different.

I will admit, I have trouble at times accepting this. A lot of our friends have houses, take vacations, and have job provided insurance. I wish we had all of those things; however, when I am in the kitchen with him with the cats hoping we drop something on the floor, our three bedroom apartment is home. I do not need a house or a vacation. I can make a wonderful dinner, turn off my phone, and be taken away with a movie or reading silently together. One day we will have those things, but if I keep focusing on those, I will miss what today offers us.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Role of Food: Part One

I promised pictures of our six month wedding anniversary feast; however, I got distracted and have not yet. One reason for this was that I have been hauling around two full memory sticks for my camera with no way to get the pictures off. The great hubby then found a pic. remover thingie for me to use and I have spent a better part of an hour organizing pictures.

I noticed a trend in these pictures: My relationship with my husband has revolved around food. Now spare me if I start to sound like Julie Powell, whose writing I cannot stand, but I do feel a bond with my husband that comes only from spending hours in the kitchen working on a masterpiece just for him. Since the beginning of our relationship, food has been at the heart of it.

My first try at "woo-ing" my husband came in a surprise dinner with lamb and wonderful side fixings. The next morning: fat slabs of bacon, eggs, the works. I remember spending my whole paycheck at Whole Foods in order to make the meal worthy of the saying "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach." I remember walking up to the meat counter and asking the butcher, "What is the best bacon to make a man fall in love with me?" Upon hearing this, an older African American gentleman turned to his wife, and said, "Now there is a woman who knows what she is doing!" And by golly, one and half years later along with 15 added pounds from my cooking, he asked me to marry him.

Despite being an English major who is good with words, I found food a way to visually show how I felt. After one of our first fights, which came after the exchanging of "I love you" statements, I made him a cake. I decorated it very simply, but I did color the cake batter and the icing blue, his favorite color.

I drove to his house that night, which was on a dark back road. Called when I got close to his house, asking him what he was doing, and told him how I had baked. I then let the car idle into his drive, lights off. As I let the car slide into the drive, I asked him if he wanted some of the cake I baked. He said yeah, I will get some tomorrow. I responded, "What about now?" then knocked on his door, handed him the cake, kissed him, and left. That cake did more to ease the pain of hurtful words than numerous apologizes would have. Not only was it a tangible (and tasty) sign of sorry, it represented the time I wanted to spend on this relationship. I did not want to slap icing on the cracks; I wanted to fix it bottom up. Mix up those feelings, let them cool, icing the hurt, and decorate it with love.

Many cakes have followed that simple cake, as well as wonderful meals, and each one holds a special memory.

When my husband graduated from his Master's Program, sadly, his parents did not have time to congratulate him properly. I arranged a very small surprise party for him at coffee house where our church is held. I spent three plus hours making a special cake for the party. Since he graduated with a degree in digital production, I figured an appropriate character cake was in order (We also have a soft spot for all things Pixar, especially Up and Wall-E).

While not made by me, our wedding cake was the culmination of everything that is us. Our cake was a partnership. It showed a secret story of our love as well as our goals in life all wrapped up in an Italian cathedral inspired cake.

We were suppose to go on the same study aboard trip to Italy, with the home-base in Orvieto, Italy. The art students went on the trip, whereas the English half of the trip was canceled. I ended up going a year later on the trip. The first time my husband came to my apartment, he saw all my pictures hanging up, and with one question, he won my heart, "Is that Orvieto?" ...A week later I was in Whole Foods buying bacon. We started off separate with the same ideas, hopes, values (represented by the cathedral) and we want to work together (the cake) in order to have a successful marriage full of adventure (Italy).

I never thought that food would help me define my marriage, but I am grateful for our shared love of not only the taste of food, but the preparation that goes into a good dish. Maybe by being aware of all the time and effort that goes into that artful dish of food will help us realize what all goes into a stable marriage.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Six Months Later...

On January 31, my husband and I had been married for six months. Now, that day landed on a Monday, but that did not stop us from having an at-home celebration! Note written after I finished typing: I promise to blog about our celebration tomorrow (complete with pictures)!

Marriage, in just six months, has been life changing: an adventure everyday. From each snore he grunts out to each passionate kiss we share, I am thankful for our premarital counseling. Counseling can heed negative thoughts and bad mojo feelings, yet, we had nothing but wonderful guidance and honest conversation. Maybe people also shy away from religious counseling thinking that God will hinder them from speaking bluntly, but religion can lead to more honesty. Yes, talking about sex with the man who is going to marry you, his wife, and your future husband can be weird....down right uncomfortable even; however, it was most likely the only place I would feel safe talking about sex, money, in-laws, etc. 

I am not an overly religious person, but throughout my relationship and now marriage to my husband, I have become closer to God. I am not about to go out in the bar area of town and hand out tracts that are later going to be trampled on by high heals and loafers.

This Halloween while dressed as the cute version of the Stay Puft Marshmallow with a Ghostbuster husband by my side, I got the best look. Two men were handing out tracts and the younger one looked at me and asked, "Do you need to know Jesus?" The poor little man looked so lost when a Marshmallow said, "I'm a Christian and I went to church today!" as she continued on her way to the sushi bar for a yummy glass of Plum Wine.
I think people put a lot of pressure on a religious person to act a certain way; yet, I have found no problem in beginning myself and also being a Christian. I go downtown (granted not like I use to when I was an under graduate student) to have a drink or two. I watch R rated movies. I watch secular TV shows (Dr. Who, Star Trek, Sex and the City). Overall, I am still myself and I think that is the key of religion. Religion is not meant to warp you into humaniod carbon copy of Moses or Mary.

Yet, I have changed in small ways. I cuss less, which makes me feel happier. Prayer comes easier not only in toilsome times, but also in the moments of joyous happiness. I have come to realize that recognizing both extremes helps stabilize a marriage. I am less likely to get aggravated when I feel overwhelmed by work or marriage (aka sharing space for the first time with someone with only two legs since 2006!)I find myself more willing to work through problems, because not only do I have my husband by my side, but also my God. I also find disappointment easier to overcome because I can honestly tell myself, "Ok, this was not meant to be; however I know something better will come." When I changed jobs, the encouragement of my husband and the comfort from God made losing money easier to bear, and I have found myself so much happier because I trusted God to help us through the transition. I smile more, remind myself of the small joys in life, and am truly happy.

Overall, I have rediscovered real comfort in going to church, holding my partner's hand during prayer and sermons, and sharing coffee with conversation on Sundays. I know that without my husband encouraging me to return to my childhood religious roots, I would not have refound this inherent peace.