Okra is Gross.

So I’m trying to get healthy. And by that, I mean both my counselor and my physician said I should be exercising. Poop. But they’re probably right, because ever since I started working out in the mornings, I’ve been less depressed, less anxious, more self-confident, and much less likely to bite my husband’s head off around certain times of the month.

The really hard part of being healthy, though, is eating well. It’s not that I don’t like healthy food, or anything—it’s that I like all food, and I just can’t stand to think of myself as the type to discriminate. Or limit myself.

I digress. What this blog post is really about is okra. Do you know what okra is? Neither did I, because I didn’t grow up in the South. Okra is some kind of pod vegetable. It looks like a spiky, sliced jalapeño. Okay, it probably doesn’t look like that in the wild. It looked like that in the frozen foods aisle, where it was already sliced and bagged for me.

Anyways. I steamed that stuff up and put it next to my chicken and mashed potatoes and congratulated myself on making a homemade meal with some good, healthy cooked greens in it. And then I tried the okra.

It’s not that it’s terrible. It’s just that it’s not really any good. The smell was the first real turn-off; before I even steamed them, I could tell they were going to taste a little like jalapeños—which wouldn’t be so bad if they had any spice to them at all. It was like eating bland peppers.

And then there’s the texture: slimy. Not slimy like spinach, where I guess you could consider it slimy if you touched it with your finger. No, these things were actually leaving strings of slime behind whenever I separated them. (Shudder…)

I did not force my 2-year-old to eat this stuff. I let my upstairs neighbor taste one, and she gagged on it. Then she took the challenge (and the rest of the uncooked okra) and decided to find a way to cook these things properly. The entire Southern half of the United States can’t be eating this slimy mess; I can only assume I cooked it wrong.

Has anyone had a positive experience with okra? Can this stuff taste good? ♦

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The Most Horrible Soup In the World

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Prior to pregnancy, I was a really good cook. I was the kind of cook who could take a look in the fridge and pantry, discover that we had absolutely no food to speak of, and somehow end up making chicken and dumplings. I could throw together the most random of ingredients, add some spice and simmer, and people would ask for the recipe.

Apparently, the baby boy swimming around in my abdomen has sucked the chef right out of me. Yesterday, I got hungry and started making myself some lunch. I decided to make some soup. I found an old onion in the fridge, said to myself, “It doesn’t smell that bad,” and fried it up. I told myself it only smelled funny because I was pregnant, and onions have smelled bad for the last 5 months (which is true).

Then some sick little shoulder-devil inspired me to combine cream of mushroom soup with a can of pork and beans. I don’t think I need to tell you how badly that went.

After the bad onion mixed with the canned abomination, a part of my brain realized I was doomed – but I just kept thinking, “We need to save money. I shouldn’t throw this out.” Something evil in my mind whispered, “I can still save it.”

Have you ever told a small lie, and then had to cover it up with bigger lies, until you found yourself claiming you were a foreign exchange student from Tanzania, or that you were born in a log cabin you built with your own two hands? When food lies, the lies only get bigger and more desperate. I tried to cover up the failed soup, but the harder I tried, the worse it got.

I added taco seasoning, of all things. This is a testament to my broken pregnancy brain. Taco seasoning is like the plastic surgery of the food pyramid. It’s what you add when you feel like your food is never going to be good enough on its own, and it usually ends with your food tasting more suspicious than it already did. Mine ended up tasting like bad, canned, gringo enchilada sauce.

I tried to embrace the gringo enchilada, and I added cheese and sour milk. “Sour milk is great in baking,” I thought (and the baby laughed with glee at the havoc he had done to my brain). So I added bad milk to the bad onions and the bad ideas. And a little more taco seasoning. Also some chopped carrots, a handful of lentils, and some desperate prayers to the Goddess of the Gringo Enchilada.

At this point, I decided I was done. It smelled like death. Sour, cheesy death. It was either going to save itself, or it was just going to die an ignominious death on the stove. I let it simmer for a while, thinking the carrots and lentils would need some time to work their magic. After about 30 minutes, I decided the lentils were not Jack’s magic beans, this soup could not possibly end in a goose that laid golden eggs, and I turned off the stove. I opened the front door to let the house air out, and I lay on the bed, trying not to think what a horrible cook I was. While I waited for my husband to come home and discover the reek, I fantasized about Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Thankfully, the baby-hormones that made me think cream of mushroom might go well with pork and beans chose not to work overtime on my emotional center. When  Ethan came home, I was still at peace with myself, though marveling a bit at how badly I had failed. Ethan also marveled, then took the soup outside to cool while he aired out the house some more.

“Maybe this is a good opportunity for you to learn how to follow a recipe,” he said gently, sporting his I’m-trying-so-hard-to-be-tactful-about-this face. He’s been holding my hair and cleaning out the vomit-bucket since I hit morning sickness, and I think this was nearly as bad. I joked about selling it as a tonic or a witch’s brew. It would probably kill toenail fungus. Neither of us was willing to taste the finished product. After it had cooled for a few minutes, Ethan took the soup out with the trash, and we went to KFC to eat something much less dangerous. ♥

A Perfect Potato

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I just felt the need to post about one of my successes today. Today, I baked a potato in the microwave. (So I guess it wasn’t technically “baked.” Whatever.) And I cut the thing open, pushed it in on the ends, and ended up with a perfectly plumped, restaurant-style potato.

The picture is a stock photo. Please, people. My phone has no camera. My camera barely has any camera.

I digress. The point is, I made a perfect baked potato. Not one of those mash-it-into-submission-with-a-fork variety. It was plump. It was beautiful. It was delicious with butter and sour cream.

That is all. Thank you for humoring me here. ♥

Crying Over Spoiled Pork

Since morning sickness is finally in its last death throes, I’ve been able to accomplish a lot more these past few weeks. I can get off the couch, make myself a sandwich, even wash the dishes or do laundry! On rare occasions, I might even (gasp!) tidy up the living room. We’re still not exactly back to normal life, since we don’t have any air conditioning and it’s too hot to sleep in the bedroom, but we’re doing alright in the front room with a fan, a couch, and a futon.

Of course, I can’t really say I expect life to ever be normal again, now that we’re having a child.

Of course, I can’t really say we were ever normal people in the first place.

I digress. The point is, the other night, I decided to be functional. I decided to be bold, and daring, and domestic. I decided to make dinner. And since I didn’t want to use my energy to go shopping, I opened the freezer to see what options we had.

The freezer was dark, cold, and barren. It reminded me of Siberia.

I found the only meat in the house – a bag of frozen pork ribs – and put it in the crock pot with some potatoes and peas. We were out of butter, so my normal make-things-taste-fantastic trick was kaput. So I just put some water in there and called it soup. I went to brag to Ethan, and he suddenly looked alarmed. “That pork was still in the freezer?” ….

Yeah, apparently that pork has been in the freezer about as long as we’ve been married. Which is nearly a year. Good sign for our marriage… bad sign for that soup. Especially considering how many times we’ve thawed out the freezer in the past year. I just sat on the couch and cried. Ethan gently reminded me that I was crying over spoiled pork, kissed me, and left for work. I continued to sit on the couch and cry. Then I lay on the couch and cried. Then, somewhere within me, a tiny spark fanned into an angry flame, and I determined to make dinner, one way or another.

I drained out the water and threw away the “soup.” I cleaned the crock pot, then I put on a backpack and headed to campus, where there is occasionally a hidden basement stash of free vegetables from the BYU farm. (Basement of the Widtsoe building, people. We got a whole burlap sack of corn last year.) Unfortunately, there was no such free produce on this occasion. At this point, my angry energy was gone, and I couldn’t think of any food we had I wanted to eat. But hey – it was raining, which is great weather in Utah. So I just sat in the rain for a bit.

Somewhere between the absent zucchini and the existential rain watching, my dad called. He had a hankering for pasta, so my family was going to the Old Spaghetti Factory. He was wondering whether Ethan and I would care to join. Sadly, Ethan was still going to be at work for a few hours – but Dad just said, “Well, I guess we’ll have to buy him an entree on the way out. We’ll come down.” So I just sat and watched the rain some more before I came home. Ate some crackers to hold me over. And then went out for pasta.

I give myself an A for effort, but some days, cooking just isn’t in the cards. Some days, the Old Spaghetti Factory is what’s in the cards. I highly recommend the ravioli or the chicken penne. ♦

My Toaster Has a Mind of Its Own.

And now, for my next trick, I’ll need an ordinary toaster oven…

We’ve got this barbecue sauce I made a week ago in the Dutch oven. And it’s good. But you know, you get sick of eating the same thing over and over again. So I turned it into sloppy joe sauce! Score!

So yesterday, I made myself a sloppy joe. Stuff, cheese, delicious dinner roll… oh, it’s cold. I’ll warm it up. Into the toaster oven, set to a medium-rare toast setting, and walk away.

In the time it took me to use the bathroom and wash my hands, I emerged to discover that the toaster oven had developed a mind of its own, and was well on its way to creating synthetic diamonds. As I coughed and fanned the black smoke away from my face, I opened the back door and turned off the toaster oven, which was still chugging merrily away at its new-found alchemy. The dinner roll was like a charcoal briquette.

I dropped it into the garbage can, where it clunked at the bottom and lay like a rock. And the whole time, I keep thinking, “I can invent a recipe for barbecue, make biscuits and gravy out of thin air, and make a pie out of just about anything. I can pull a dinner for six out of a hat – but I can’t use a toaster without filling the house with acrid smoke.

Back to the basics. ♦

Waffles, Waffles Everywhere

Perhaps you have never been poor. If you haven’t, bless your soul, and may it stay that way. If you have, you’ve probably learned some good cooking skills. I’m considering writing a cookbook entitled, “How to Make Food Out of Nothing.” I learned this skill from my mother, who learned it from her mother, who learned it from her mother. The skills my mother didn’t have – like the proper care and maintenance of gravy – came from my father, who learned it from his parents, who learned it from theirs, etc.

To illustrate: my mother’s breakfast as a child was often cocoa and toast. It was a cheap way to make milk and bread seem like a fun way to start the day.

My parents once found Grandpa Frank in the kitchen at 10pm, with cooked chicken meat all over the kitchen table. He probably had the equivalent of half a dozen chickens cooling, putting it all into bags for later use. He’d gotten it on crazy sale somewhere. “Want some chicken? I just thought I’d cook some up…”

I don’t remember whether it was my great-aunt Fern or my great-aunt Melba, but somewhere in the annals of my ancestry, the term “blender spread” came into use. The said great-aunt (and respective great-uncle) had about 9 kids and little money. Every morning, they would make whole-wheat pancakes for breakfast. Every night, for dinner, they would make whatever casserole or what-have-you they could pull together. And every afternoon, for lunch, they would put the leftovers of dinner in the blender and spread it on the leftover pancakes from breakfast. Lunch. Yum.

We’re not poor enough to be using “blender spread” yet, but you know, when the milk goes a little sour, I still drink it. When it goes a lot sour, I start thinking of good uses for buttermilk, because I don’t want to waste a dollar’s worth of milk. So when about a quart of milk took a buttery persuasion this week, I got out the waffle iron and got to work.

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Waffles are a really cheap food, when you think about it. A little butter, a little flour, a couple eggs, some sour milk, and a dash of salt and sodas. Nothing to it, really. And when you stop to consider that waffles are way tastier in almost any bread capacity than sliced bread is, it’s an easy decision to make. I could spend a few dollars on a loaf of bread, or I could spend a few dimes on a triple batch of waffles.

We have approximately 42 waffles in the fridge right now, with some extra batter I didn’t have time to cook last night. Combine that with some gravy I whipped up (out of nothing, of course), and dinner was fantastic, filling, and about the same price as a package of ramen noodles. And we’ve got enough leftover waffles to feed the personal guard of Attila the Hun. I’m a genius, people. A freaking genius. ♦

Death by Chocolate

My mom sent me a recipe for hot chocolate a few days ago, with the understanding that it was the greatest cocoa ever tasted by humankind. It looked like a pretty standard cocoa recipe to me, just with a little coconut milk in it. Today I made it.

I don’t follow recipes well. I follow ingredient lists well – I just don’t measure anything. I just kind of add stuff until I think it’s done. Well, today, I made the richest, most delicious, possibly deadliest hot chocolate ever. Ever. Like, this-stuff-is-so-rich-I-think-I’m-going-to-keel-over hot chocolate.I think next time, I’m adding about three times as much milk. As it was, though, I think I’ve killed us. We’re just lying here, dying. Oh, heavens. So much chocolate. ♦

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