Happy New Year!! :-D

Now that this irritatingly wince-inducing semester of comps is over, I've been very much getting into relaxing. As a consequence I've also had a few interesting experiences and idle thoughts which I thought I'd write down here. For example, I had two weirdly amusing things happen to me the other day. First, I stumbled across my old high school yearbook on line. Much to my startlement, I discovered I didn't look anywhere near as hideous as I'd thought at the time. Funny how harshly we judge ourselves — and usually without need or any real validity. Secondly, I ate lunch at Dickey's BBQ, where they have country music playing… and was startled to realize I was listening to, first: Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys… followed immediately by a countrified version of Pink Floyd's The Wall! That was… rather surreal sounding.

panera chicken sandwich

Fresh food makes a sandwich taste so much better!

panera fruit torte

-and Panera's fresh desserts are *so* good!

I live in a country which legislates often concerning dangerous things, sort of: alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, driving a car, stuff like that. I've also recently read of the increasing calls for men to watch less porn, due to its desensitizing nature and how it warps its victims' beliefs regarding what real women are like. I found myself wondering if TV is the same way: does a steady diet of disasters and bad news and people screaming at each other warp our view of reality?

Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, I suspect a major function of this society and civilization is to effectively separate us from being comfortable and grounded in our bodies. Watching TV is almost purely mental, not a physical activity. For that matter, why don't we have a recommended maximum daily allowance of advertising? If there was anything deliberately designed to make everyone feel anxious and insecure about their bodies, that would have to be it. I'd think advertising is eventually just as bad for our heads as over-drinking or overdosing, even if it takes longer to drive its victims to kill themselves.

eggplant

Eggplant is the most wonderful glowing purple!

cabbage

…as is red cabbage — yum!

Speaking of advertising: since I decided to start cooking at least two dinners a week, one of my housemates has been reading up about the convenience food industry as opposed to home cooking. A fascinating quote from that article:

The convenience food industry that's so powerful and entrenched today was just taking root in the 1950s. And as it began to aggressively market its products to a growing US middle class, it faced "one real obstacle," Moss writes: the "army of school teachers and federal outreach workers who insisted on promoting home-cooked meals, prepared the old fashioned way." … Home-ec teachers also schooled their charges in frugal shopping, teaching them to "avoid buying things they didn't need."

I did not take Home Ec in high school; I was, in fact, internally disdainful of the class as merely housewife training — though in retrospect I think it would have been very good for me. My self-righteous attitude regarding my never being a housewife was not aided by the deeply unwanted cooking and sewing class I was required to take in Spain, during my very early schooling. I was not interested in the least in learning about those subjects — I wanted to learn wood-working! Alas, only boys were allowed to take that class, and I was stuck with the other girls. Since I was angry about being forced to take the class, I therefore did as little and as badly as I could, and still pass.

spices

A wonderful variety of spice textures, scents, and colors!

Somewhat to my surprise, the cooking was mildly interesting — I still make scrambled eggs the way I was taught, for example — but my sewing was deliberately and angrily abysmal. Things were not helped by the doubtless well-meaning Christmas gift that year of a little sewing kit. I've never been that gracious, I fear, regarding gifts that were to hopefully guide me in a particular direction, and I hated the tiny, fussy stitching that was required. I remained unapologetically hopeless with sewing, in fact, until I worked for a veterinarian — and then I was utterly fascinated by surgery, and sewing (or at least very basic sewing) became interesting to me.

alien cauliflower

From Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom: The alien squid wraps its leafy tentacles about the human brain preparatory to eating it.

I think this is at least partly why I'm enjoying cooking so much, in fact: I now have a reason of my own for trying it out. When I'm struggling with overwhelming amounts of reading, conflicting classes, and persnickety professors that make me want to strangle either them or myself… there's a real pleasure to be found in the calm certainty of following a good recipe. Cooking good food and serving it to appreciative friends helps me feel like I'm in control of my life again.

peppers

They're so bright they almost look plastic.

This has had a few unexpected side effects as well. For example, I've started actually paying attention to what I eat, even when in restaurants — such as the food from Panera's pictured above. Also, I had never really registered how weirdly odd and beautiful fresh food is. How can we eat from boxes when there are so many colorful and tasty — and healthier — options available? I'm still startled, for example, at how incredibly delicious the roots are: butternut and acorn squashes, or sweet potato, or even rutabagas and beets… how odd. :)

more peppers

SO! MUCH! COLOR!

Also unexpected is the pleasure I derive from planning the week's dinners. I used to hate shopping, to the point that a friend once laughingly called what I did "combat shopping" — I rushed in with my list, grabbed only what I needed, and got out as swiftly as possible! Now, though, drifting in thoughtful perusal through the grocery store, picking and choosing what I want to work with, is almost meditative. It's curiously interesting how much my attitude has changed.

moar peppers

OMG, pepper rainbow! :)

Here's a recent recipe that sort of epitomizes what I'm talking about. I made it in the crockpot, so it's very simple — and yet, it still startled me with the delicious subtleties of its flavors:

Chicken and Butternut Squash
Serves 6

Ingredients:
6 boneless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Ground pepper (pinch or to taste)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1-1/4 to 2 lb whole butternut squash
6 fresh sage leaves

Directions:

  • In a 6 quart slow cooker, place chicken in one layer on the bottom. Add 1 tablespoon balsamic, salt, pepper and garlic.
  • Peel the butternut squash, cut in half, and remove seeds and membranes. Cube in approximately 1" squares.
  • Place cubed butternut squash on the chicken. Splash with the remaining tablespoon of balsamic and add the sage leaves. Cover and let cook for 7 to 8 hours on low.

The butternut squash may be served cubed or mashed with cream. I left mine cubed, since I wanted to see how it tasted — and it was really excellent with the chicken. If you try it with the cream, let me know how it tastes?

 

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