Monday, June 24, 2013

A Return... Not Necessarily Triumphant

I've been absent for awhile.  And I don't just mean since my last blog post, but since I was really here, engaged, inspired.  There have been a lot of things going on: busyness at work, school taking my time, and a little bit of soul crushing depression.  But I would be passing the buck if I blamed my absence on any of those things.  No, none of that is the problem.  Something has been missing.  Inspiration.  What am I here to say?

I watch a lot of Food Network, and right now the big show is Next Food Network Star.  Each time I sit down to write, I hear Alton Brown's voice in my head asking "What is your POV?"

Great question, voices inside my head.  What is my Point of View?  What makes me special?  What do I have to offer?  Why should you read my blog over any of the other thousands of food blog choices that you have available to you?  Yeah, I'm a locavore, but frankly that's less interesting to me than those people who make everything out of bacon.  I mean, being a locavore is awesome, but I can't keep saying it over and over without getting preachy and/or boring.  I thought, for a few weeks there, that I was going to buy a farm.  That would have been fun.  Then "Home Grown, Home Made" could have been more than just a good tag line.  But, after a faulty basement to snap me back into reality, and some serious conversation, I think I've got other things I need to do before a farm can happen.

So, what do I have?  What is my Point of View?

The answer actually came to me in my other, other job.  When I'm not here, and when I'm not at my "real" job, and when I'm not in school, I'm a teacher.  And I'm a really good teacher.  But that's not my POV either.  Here's what happened:

I was teaching a class on how to be a successful college student, and it was made very clear to me that I couldn't let the students go early because they needed so many hours in the classrom for accreditation.  This was my first time teaching the course, and I guess I underestimated how long things would take, because, on the last day, there were two full hours and absolutely no content left.

And that was when it hit me: I'm a good teacher, I'm a good cook, I'm a good gardener, I'm a good advocate.

But I'm an excellent bull-shitter.

You want to talk about nothing?  I'll talk to you about nothing.  You want to talk about something I know nothing about?  I'll talk to you about that too.  One thing that annoys my husband about me is that I will answer questions that I don't know the answer to.  Not big important questions, not meaning of life questions, or which exit do I take, or is this fish still good questions, but the type of question that you can usually just reason your way through:

Him: Where did you learn that?
Me: I didn't.  But it makes sense, right?

He's actually taking to asking me: "Is that true, or are you just assuming?"  9 out of 10 times I'm assuming, but 7 of those 9 times I'm also right.

Bullshitting, and being able to make (marginally accurate) shit up, is a fairly useful skill to have.  Not all the time, of course, and I hope that I'm not coming off as an enormous d-bag right now.  I'm not talking about the kind of BSing that belittles people, hurts their feelings, or gets someone hurt.  I'm just talking about a little mental improvisation.  For instance, back to my classroom example, I played Joss Whedon's Weslean University commencement address and, in the 13 minutes that it played, I figured out how it related to the class.

BSing is also a very important skill to have in the kitchen.

When people tell me that they don't cook, it's often because it's too expensive.  This makes almost no sense to me - eating out is what's expensive.  It was this Oatmeal comic that helped push me, again, towards finding this particular POV.  If you're not reading The Oatmeal, you probably should be.

Cooking is absolutely expensive if that's how you do it - if you  go out and buy the  ten or more expensive ingredients you need for that one recipe, in much greater quantities than you need, and then let the remainder sit in your refrigerator or on your shelf until they rot. Statistics say that Americans throw out half of the food they come in contact with, and that the average family of four throws away $2275 each year in wasted food. 

So you've basically got three choices: eat out every meal, figure out how to use up what you've got left after making your recipe, or figure out how to make that recipe with what you've already got. 

And that, my friends, is my new POV.  Not the first, the second two!  How to BS your refrigerator to make what you want and use what you've got.  Because, if you can do that, cooking becomes a lot easier, a lot cheaper, and eating locally is just a matter of where you shop. 

Here's a recipe that I BSed a few months ago, and that I promised a friend I would post for him. I had three goals in this recipe:

-use up as much in my freezer as possible,
- get as many vegetables on the dinner table as possible (which, honestly, is the hardest part of being a WI locavore in the winter and early spring), and 
-serve beets to people who I suspected didn't eat beets because I'm kind of an ass like that; I think making people eat and like a stereotypically hated food is fun. 

My favorite part about this was that it died the pasta pink.
And everything is better pink!
Super Beet Pasta

  • 1 lb pasta (your choice of what kind. Preferably something textured like rotini or bow-tie, but a spaghetti, fettuccine, etc would also work.)
  • 2 lb beets, roasted (I used beets that I had roasted and frozen in the fall. You could really use any kind of vegetable you wanted here, or a combination I vegetables, but that would mean changing the name. Cook the vegetables first to your preferred doneness. You'll be cooking the final pasta just briefly, so of it's something you don't want to overcook you may want to under-cook it slightly. )
  • 8 oz beet greens (I again used frozen greens here. You could really use any type of hardy green here, but I was going for a theme with the original recipe.)
  • 1/2 cup beet green pesto (or any kind of pesto you want. If you want to make beet green pesto, use my base pesto recipe here and substitute beet greens for the basil. 
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan or Romano cheese (or whatever kind of cheese you like in your pasta)
  • Salt and pepper as needed

Cook the pasta according to package directions until it is just under-done. Drain and rinse.

While the pasta is cooking, thinly slice the beet greens and then drop them in boiling water for about a minute. Drain, then transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. (Because I was using frozen greens, which were already cooked, I skipped this step and just sliced the greens thinly.). Cut the beets into bite sized cubes. Combine pasta, beets, greens, pesto, and 1/2 of cheese and toss until well combined. Top with remaining cheese and bake in a 375 degree oven until heated through and cheese is melty. 

There's not a lot to this dish, so it's flavor really depends on what you're putting into it. Make sure the pasta water is well salted, and that the pesto is flavorful and well balanced. Taste it before it goes into the oven, and add salt and pepper as needed. Make sure you're taking the saltiness of your cheese into account when you're tasting. 

As with most pasta, you can really add anything you want to this. Mushrooms would be a nice addition if you had some. You could also add a splash of heavy cream, or some tomato sauce. 

So that's it. Pasta is pretty easy to BS, which is why you'll see it so often on chopped. I love comments, so if you have any questions please ask them below. 


  1. I completely agree on all your bullshitery. Being a former high school teacher taught me, among many things, how to make content from next to norhing... sometimes out of necessity. Now I am assuming this (Bullshit Bullshit), but Americans are buying food, then throwing it out because they are not in threat of starving and presuppose there will always be more food. Tossing food rather than adapting it to your culinary exploration is easier. I have found myself in the past being upset with the amount of cilantro I have wasted, or buying too many bananas (how are those things green in the store and the next morning in my apartment they are yellow and spotted brown?! The funk...) and composting them. Yes, yes, yes. Do something with what you have. And, like exercise, cooking takes self motivation, but when you are done it is fulfilling, usually tastes better than the same dish in a restaurant, is cheaper, gives you ownership, and allows you to critique your meal and next time add something, subtract something, change quantities. Cooking is a soft science and one worth exploring. Also, if you are single (male, female or other) potential partners get pretty damn melty when you can make a meal out of a bunch of cilantro, ginger, some canned corn, tomatoes about to turn, quinoa, and a couple of shitty bananas. And, well, anything else living in that BS fridge.

  2. "And, like exercise, cooking takes self motivation, but when you are done it is fulfilling, usually tastes better than the same dish in a restaurant, is cheaper, gives you ownership, and allows you to critique your meal and next time add something, subtract something, change quantities."

    <----- I like this!