Wednesday, January 16, 2013

cooking, eyes mostly open

© 2013 Amber Schley Iragui, cabbage noodles recipe
P O T A T O   S O U P
Daniel Nyikos

I set up my computer and webcam in the kitchen
so I can ask my mother’s and aunt’s advice
as I cook soup for the first time alone.
My mother is in Utah. My aunt is in Hungary.
I show the onions to my mother with the webcam.
“Cut them smaller,” she advises.
“You only need a taste.”
I chop potatoes as the onions fry in my pan.
When I say I have no paprika to add to the broth,
they argue whether it can be called potato soup.
My mother says it will be white potato soup,
my aunt says potato soup must be red.
When I add sliced peppers, I ask many times
if I should put the water in now,
but they both say to wait until I add the potatoes.
I add Polish sausage because I can’t find Hungarian,
and I cook it so long the potatoes fall apart.
“You’ve made stew,” my mother says
when I hold up the whole pot to the camera.
They laugh and say I must get married soon.
I turn off the computer and eat alone.

Poem copyright ©2010 by Daniel Nyikos.

This is a big subject—food, cooking, eating—it could command its own blog. I imagine I could write about it endlessly, annoyed it was taking up so much time, but still able to find things to say. But I would rather write about cooking than cook. It isn't easy for me to think about food directly. I use a slantwise relationship; yes, we must eat, and eating that means some sort of cooking. But it is is something to get through, in a hurry to eat, in a hurry to clean up and be done with it. The less I deal with food, some part of me seems to be saying, the better. Yet I have everything to say about the subject.

But let's not start in infancy, or in childhood either—with my preschool's lukewarm tomato soup that sat in the styrofoam bowls so long it developed a film on top. Lets start in Hudson Heights with two toddlers and a kitchen size of most people's bedroom closet.

And with a husband who wants to arrive home at 7 PM and have a meal with his family. After four years of wretched meal-making—with grumpy, children flapping around me, trying to make something I want to eat and the kids want to eat that won't take too long or be too complicated and doesn't make too much of a mess, while more often than not the children fill up on goldfish crackers and raisins—and after a long fight with said husband, the children now eat at 6:00 without us. Whew. I know the research shows this will drive them to drugs and drinking, but I could not take it any longer. I cannot eat another meal with tired children who don't want what is on their plates (or prefer to mash it in their hair) while trying to make a stab at conversation with the husband. I was the one driven to drinking, threatening to go out for a drink by myself from 7 to 8 o'clock every night. Skip dinner entirely.

My alumni magazine (the much-loved Portland Magazine) recently published an article by the famed Michael Pollan. It was titled The End of Cooking (you can read it, too) and for someone who wants to avoid the subject, I devoured the article with a curious intensity. I kept hoping he had a solution. The problem was well-trodden ground. I don't want to serve my family only pre-made foods, pizza (or sushi) delivery, or Annie's mac-n-cheese every night. But I certainly don't have the time or the interest (or the space in my kitchen-closet) to make beef bourguignon.

But his solution was cooking, plain and simple. Home-cooking, Julia Child style cooking (not, however, Food Network style). No more looking at food out of the corner of my eye, rolling into the kitchen at 6:45 and asking "so what can we make?" and pulling out the bread for sandwiches.

I buy it, but I can't take it home with me. I can't do what he's asking, partially because I don't like cooking, and partially because it would take up far too much time. But I am trying one thing: to look directly at food. To accept that what I want to eat and what I want to cook do not correspond. I am trying to come up with some solutions. Like more slow-cooker meals. I pulled out all the recipes that I actually use from my little tin recipe box and put them up on flickr and linked them to my recipes on pinterest so that I can find them quickly on the ipad. I ordered ingredients for two meals this week and have already made one of the two (slow cooker corned beef—it turned out surprisingly well). And I'm asking Isaiah to try to taste one new food a week.

The kids now have "dessert" with Charles and I when he gets home, I don't care if they eat it or not. I focus on cooking (or concocting from leftovers) something that will please at least Charles and myself, without hungry children flailing on the kitchen floor begging for goldfish crackers. And I am accepting that while I appreciate all the foodies out there who can really get into (and photograph their progress through) a recipe, I would far rather photograph my way through a dress pattern or a walk in the park. And I still can try to feed my children home-cooked meals, at least most of the time.

{ p o e t r y   w e d n e s d a y }


Manuela said...

This is hilarious, the poem and your post, and it makes me feel better.
I don't like to cook either, and I finally admitted it to myself a year ago or so. I don't meet a lot of people that don't like to cook, so I always felt like I had to like it. I am, however, quite concerned about healthy eating, and that's not easy to combine.
I am going to take a look at your recipes on Pinterest. I need more simple recipes. Simple, little mess, and healthy, that' what I want.
Generally I want to escape those hours from 6-8 as well, and I sometimes only get through it with a small glass of wine around 5.

heidiannie said...

I have been trying to find a way around cooking,too- I am tired of menus, recipes, and the seemingly endlessness of MAKING and EATING and CLEANING of food and its aftermath. Baking, however is still a possibility. Sometimes you can get by with just making a loaf of homemade bread. And some sort of meat- Frank has to have meat. I wish it got easier over time. But it doesn't seem to.

Mark Janssen said...

I love the crock pot solution to cooking. Minimal prep, no attention to detail, and VOILA, an often wonderful meal. My current favorite is crock pot Coq au vin

Remember that in the recipe below the exact amounts don't matter. The only essentials are chicken, bacon, and wine.

5 slices of bacon, diced
2/3 cup sliced green onion
3 chicken breasts cut into smaller pieces (whatever size you like) Don't buy the chicken breasts with bone; it doubles your prep time.
6 small white onions
8 small new potatoes
1 crushed clove garlic (or more if you like)
1/2 pound whole mushrooms (any non poisonous kind)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup red wine. Don't use Pinot Noir. Any other red wine will do. Spend at least $3, and no more than $7, for the bottle. If you can't take red wines, a white wine will also produce a delightful result.

1. Saute diced bacon with green onions; set aside
2. Brown chicken in bacon fat; add oil or butter if needed to brown; Use a high temp. Set aside when browned.
3. Put onions, mushrooms, potatoes, and garlic in bottom of crock pot.
4. Add chicken, bacon, green onions, salt, pepper, thyme, broth. Put in all the debris/stuff from the bottom of the pan you used for browning. If anything got burned, put it in too.
5. Cover and cook on low for 8 hr, or on high for 4 hr.
6. In last hour of cooking, add wine.

Serve right away with fresh french bread, and butter. Or put in the refrigerator and serve any time in the next two weeks.

Lynda B said...

I go through streaks. Mostly on the 'Please! Do I have cook again?' side. I'm going to look for more slow-cooker recipes too. Love Mark's recipe and helping comments. I just posted a Chilaquiles recipe to Pinterest I think Mr. Iragui would like - sooo quick I fix it quite often -lots of tweaking can be done to it.

Mark Janssen said...

Meat Loaf - Poetry in Lean Ground Beef (or Pork)

2 pounds 93% lean ground beef
2 standard commercial size hen eggs
½ cup Quaker Oats (Quick 1 Minute)
½ good size onion – chopped
4 cloves garlic – chopped
6 good size mushrooms – coarsely chopped
6 good size mushrooms - sliced

½ cup ketchup
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup Worcester Sauce (or ¼ cup dark soy sauce)
5 oz drained canned diced red tomato and green chillies (Hatch Brand)
(or small can jalapino tomato sauce)

Make sauce by combining ketchup, soy sauce, Worcester Sauce (or dark soy sauce) , and diced tomatos and chillies (or jalapeno tomato sauce).

Mix meat, eggs, oats, onion, garlic, and chopped mushrooms with half of the sauce.

Form a loaf, put in pan, put sliced mushrooms on top, then cover with remaining sauce.

Oven, 350 degrees, 1 hour, mas o menos.

Serve hot or cold.