Monday, September 10, 2007

Re-building the Pantry

Of course, by "pantry" I mean the one cupboard in my kitchen I'm now setting aside for spices and ingredients to things I haven't cooked in a while but used to really enjoy making. The frozen pizzas and cans of soup are getting demoted, to make way for more "real food".

I've had phases where I'd cook every night, and make pretty elaborate dishes, intersperse with phases of going out for lunch every day and just being satisfied with a sandwich or something small in the evenings.

I basically taught myself to cook ever so slowly in the first Summer I lived by myself when I was 18 and living in Saint John doing my first co-op term at the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant. It wasn't a choice then, since NB Power paid its junior student workers, even fancy-shmancy computer science co-op students, rather little. Adding to that having to pay all my bills and also save up for school in the Fall and I can count on my fingers the number of times I ate out and picked up the bill.

Back then I didn't know much more about cooking than what I gathered by osmosis from eating what my mother made for us growing up. Now, this is nothing against her, she fed us well to be sure, but I was not overly eager to just cook the same things she always made during the first 18 years of my life. So on top of having to learn to cook with no real guidance, I also had to figure out just what kind of food it was I actually wanted to make.

So that Summer I figured out what cuts of meat were good (and / or cheap but still decent), how spices worked, which ones went with which ingredients well, all that.

Then it was back to University and the worst era of Beaver Foods crimes against human nutrition I've ever lived through. I still loved having someone do the cooking and cleaning, though. Making ood food was a pleasure, to be sure, but not an addiciton, I could live without it.

Then the Winter term was my next Co-op term at Lepreau. I had a roommate this time (what ever happened to that Greg fellow, anyway?) and an unfortunate couple of Role Playing Games I was determined to finish, just to see that 2 minutes of video I can go on Youtube and watch right now with zero effort. But I still cooked most days.

Unfortunately, with having to share the kitchen, and going to Fredericton or home to see the girlfriend most weekends instead of spending them in the city by myself, I only had a window in the evenings to cook. So I'd get home at around 5:00pm, after the 45 minute trek home from the isolated wasteland where they built the plant, muck about on the Internet for a while if I could get there before Greg decided to play Need for Speed III, then cook when it was my turn in the kitchen. But by the time the cooking and eating and cleaning was all finished it would sometimes end up being 8:30 or 9:00pm. Which left me about an hour to walk through caves and fight random battles with the same silly RPG monsters over and over until I got sleepy and went to bed for the night to get up stupidly early the next day and go to work again.

So this sort of turned me off of spending much time in the kitchen, when I didn't have a lot of time to begin with. My next work term was when I was making more decent money and could afford to eat at the Regent Mall food court (when you work in the Fredericton Knowledge Park you don't have a lot of options) and I was never hungry in the evenings so I'd just have somehting small. This has mostly been my habit when employed ever since.

The exception to this was the year or so I spent in Fredericton. I was working a lot, and going through some pretty hard times emotionally that I've never quite straightened out or really talked about, and won't go into now, but I felt like the only pleasure I really allowed myself was when I'd get home in the evenings and make a meal. I was experimenting with making different kinds of curries and pasta dishes, and loved spending a lot of time in the kitchen, because I didn't have to talk to my roommates - the air of pre-occupied urgency I took on in the kitchen kept them from expecting small-talk, and I just forgot about everything that was stressing me out and making me miserable that whole time.

Now I am not feeling particularly stressed, can't say I have anything of substance to be unhappy about, but I do have more time now, at least I have the opportunity to make the time, and I'd like to start cooking and exploring doing interesting things with food again. Charlottetown has a lot of great places to eat out, and most are pretty reasonably priced, but I now have the pleasure of a kitchen with enough cupboard space that I can call my own and a good grocery store within walking distance so I can get inspired to try something right now and just go and get what I need and make it.

I'm excited.

As a side-tidbit, if you haven't tried it. Oishi sauce tastes so good you're basically cheating.


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By al - 6:40 p.m. |

Loved this post. I've definitely gone through different phases. Right now, I'm in the cooking phase as well. We should cook together some evening. What say?
That sounds grand.
Oishii is how you say 'delicious' in Japanese, how fitting.
great post al. i go though phases that feel like cooking phases but mostly i'm just reading cookbooks (this makes me feel strangely productive). it's really hard to find some ingredients here, one simple recipe often requires a trip to three different grocery stores. this means i have to stick to cooking with relatively commen ingredients. another frustrating thing is needing a certain cut of meat and not knowing how to say it in spanish, my little dictionary doesn't cover it. but i learn as i go and i think i've given the butchers around town a few laughs. also just checked out ur link to 101 10 min recipes...this is awesome! u should remind everyone reading ur most recent post of this link. i enjoy baking more than cooking because i can putter and take my time. cooking requires organization and usually just makes me feel stressed but i know i just need more practice to build my confidence. if u have any fairly simple fave recipes i'd love to get them from u. i have a recipe for the most killer banana muffins i'll send u if u ever need to take food anywhere (eg. sick friend, work). one of my favorite tricks to make life simpler is to spend a few hours making a huge batch of really good psghetti sauce. (3 jars of ur fave bought stuff eg classico,hunts etc) try to use a couple different flavors (eg. four cheese, traditional) brown beef and tons of veggies (mushrooms, tomatoes, fresh and stewed, peppers, garlic, olives, just whatever u like to make it super chunky and yummy) lots of spices and a tsp of sugar. the longer u can simmer it the better. when it tastes perfect and ur house smells like italy, have some psghetti (remember when we were little and we would eat it in handfuls teehee). put ur leftover sauce in the three sauce jars and let them cool for a long time (overnight) then freeze them. u then have a great sauce all ready (just defrost under hot water) to make lasagna (it's all u need for lasagna filler and if u use the no cook noodles all u need is cheese and it's so easy). or just add beans and a few more spices and u have chili that tastes like u spent days on it. or u can just have more psghetti. a great all purpose sauce like this does take a while to make but is well worth it esp. if u do a huge batch. and it's fun to make because it's a simmerer and u can just add stuff as u go and experiment without worrying about time. now u owe me a good long email with ur kitchen tricks.
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