Well, I say “cooking,” but the truth is that most of what I’ve been doing should be classified as baking rather than cooking. After last week’s carrot cake debacle (okay, it wasn’t that bad, but I have very high expectations in the baking department), I felt the need to redeem myself, and I did so by baking cornbread on Thursday (which I made good use of by eating it for four meals on the days that Stelian was in the UK); a batch of cookies to take to a friend’s party on Saturday night; and a loaf of banana nut bread on Sunday morning. Apologies to those of you on low carb diets, but I have to share a picture of this bread, because I think it’s simply one of the most beautiful things to ever emerge from one of my ovens.
Also, Stelian returned from the UK sans brown sugar, because he didn’t have time to visit a grocery store. I was disappointed. But then, as a result of my bringing cookies to the party on Saturday night, an American expat whom I hadn’t yet met struck up a conversation about baking, and wanted to know which North American ingredients I was missing. I had just launched into my brown sugar diatribe when she said, “Oh, brown sugar’s easy. I make my own, using molasses. The ratio is one tablespoon of molasses per cup of white sugar.” And molasses, she told me, is easily obtained at a Reformhaus (this is what natural food stores are called here, and we happen to have one across the street from us). I think this may be one of the most useful baking tips ever, and I’m so pleased to have found it out. I figured I’d share it with you, too, just in case you have an emergency need for brown sugar or don’t feel like buying it anymore! This seems to me an eminently practical thing to do — keep white sugar and molasses in your house, mix when needed and in quantities that suit you (by the way, the ratio given to me by this newfound friend is substantiated on several cooking websites and yields a lighter brown sugar; you can add more molasses if it’s the dark brown stuff that you seek), and avoid developing brown sugar bricks of neglect.
Okay, on to cooking now. Oh, cooking. I don’t hate all of it, but I find it difficult. Mostly because the things that I like to cook — rice and vegetable dishes, mainly — are classified by other people as “side dishes,” or not good enough to be the star of the show. (Other things that I love to cook, like pancakes, eggs, and toast, are sadly classified as “breakfast,” or not good enough to be eaten at certain times of day. I hate that!). In order to cook, the conventional wisdom still goes, you have to be serving up a hunk of dead animal. I’m sorry if that offends anyone’s sensibilities, but I have a hard time processing meat in its raw form. Last weekend, for example, Stelian and I thought it would be lovely to roast a chicken for Sunday dinner. As we prepared it, I learned a horrible, disgusting truth about chickens: they have claws on their wings. “Like cats!” I fairly shrieked at Stelian in disgust, as he hastened to assure me, “no, not like cats — more like reptiles.” I guess he’s right, but even now, I’m having to suppress my gag reflex at the thought of those sharp (reptilian) claws that poked through the chicken’s flabby skin. My Joy of Cooking, which was walking me through the roasting of the chicken, had advice for the chicken’s neck and giblets, but said nothing about the claws, or how to handle my traumatic response to them (in the end, Stelian had to declaw the chicken before I could continue).
So, while I’d happily never again witness a piece of raw meat, I’m married to a staunch carniphile (why yes — I did just make up that word, according to my fruitless dictionary search), so I probably haven’t seen my last chicken claw. I sense that the road to culinary splendor will be a long and winding one for me.