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Archive for Sunday, October 12, 2003

The JOY of cooking? Yeah, whatever!

October 12, 2003

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If your favorite restaurant has gone belly-up, you may place the blame squarely on me. I, who, like my friend Beth, used to alphabetically organize meal planning -- Applebee's, Bambino's, Chili's -- am now COOKING!

In the two months since we returned from vacation, husband Ray and I have dined out only once, shattering a record set decades ago when we were in the poverty-stricken stage of life known as young-married-with-kids.

If the image of Marsha in the kitchen preparing dinner is scary, consider this: Ray actually has to EAT it! One can't help but admire his courage and also his new trim physique.

His slimmer form has resulted not only from my cooking skill -- or rather lack thereof -- but because we decided to jump on the Atkins Diet bandwagon while our girth would still allow us to jump. The diet itself is fairly simple: Don't eat ANYTHING that is fast and easy. No bread, no potato chips, no candy, not even -- GASP! -- ice cream.

That last prohibition is killing Ray! He's a guy who thinks Rocky Road is an entree and a Georgia Mud Fudge Blizzard is one of life's essentials. Still, he's managed to do a better job avoiding those goodies than I have done trying to shun my twin vices of peanuts and Snickers. The great thing about Snickers is that no cooking is required; just unwrap and eat, skills I have mastered.

I missed the opportunity to learn culinary competence from my mother, world's greatest cook, because she was even more reluctant to have me in the kitchen than I was to be there. Consequently, most of my cooking knowledge is obtained by reading the newspaper's food section.

The problem with cooking columnists is that they presume I know things I don't ... like recipe ingredients I've never heard of and some that I have heard of but never considered edible. Bok choy, for example.

One stir-fry recipe I tried listed that vegetable (NOW I know it is a vegetable) as an ingredient. I first asked for it in the meat department.

The butcher was clueless except he was pretty sure it wasn't meat. The kid in canned goods wasn't any more helpful than the butcher.

Still unclear whether I was looking for animal (I didn't fully trust the butcher), vegetable or mineral, I wandered into the produce section. For the record, bok choy is a cabbage-like vegetable. Ray -- who once refused to eat a carrot because it had been in close proximity with celery -- thought bok choy looked suspiciously like the vegetable that heads his most-hated list.

I embraced stir-fry cooking with the enthusiasm of a woman who wants to be out of the kitchen in 7 to 10 minutes. That's all the time it takes to stir-fry; what they don't tell you is that preparation time is about 12 hours, especially when you discover that the sharpest cutting tool in your kitchen is a butter knife.

While experts extol the use of a garlic press, my experience with that gadget is that garlic juice in the eye really stings, and garlic juice on the counter STINKS! In fact, it takes a good three days to rid the house of the commingled smells of garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, curry paste and shrimp; no air freshener will obliterate that odor!

Another ingredient that puzzled me is orange zest. I admit I am soooo blond that my initial thought was, "Zest is aqua." Except, of course, in Mexico, where you can purchase yellow Zest (Ahora Citrus Sport Zest, Frescura y Limpieza). Two years of high school Spanish and the fact Mr. Clean is labeled Maestro Limpio in Mexico enable me to understand that Limpieza has something to do with clean.

Another word on the yellow Zest wrapper -- yes, I brought a bar home -- is dermolimpiador, which I think means skin-clean-soap. But that's just a guess. Similarly, barra de tocador probably translates as bar of soap; on the other hand, tocador may actually be the Spanish word for bok choy.

When I couldn't find a definition for orange zest in the dictionary, I called Mom. "What's orange zest?"

"The skin of an orange, the rind."

Well, why didn't they just say so? I personally think that cooking experts use esoteric language because they want to feel superior.

If you are considering trying the Atkins Diet, let me assure you the best thing about it is that you can eat almost everything you've been told is BAD for you: bacon, eggs, ham, steak. Sure works for us!

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