Friday, August 17, 2012

Adventures in Cooking

I don't cook.

That's what I tell people.

It's not that I can't. I can read a recipe, I can figure it out.

Okay, there was that time mom asked me to boil eggs and I freaked out because I'd never boiled an egg before in my life and was terrified of messing it up somehow. But that was last year a long time ago.

Anyway, I think part of the reason I don't cook a lot, is because I've never really had to do it to survive. Also because I'm lazy.

Part of it is that it's really hard to cook when you don't have your own kitchen. In college, I wanted to cook more so I got a set of pans for Christmas. It was a pain however, to haul them down to the communal dorm kitchen every time I wanted to make something and so more often than not, I just at those epic frozen meals from Amy's Kitchen.

I cooked exactly once at the apartment where I lived here in Russia. See, the thing is that I learn by watching. Especially when it comes to cooking. If I see the process that goes into making something. I can pretty much duplicate it. But here's the other thing. When I'm unsure about practicing something new, I don't like other people to be around. I guess I'm just weird like that. So part of the reason I never cooked when I rented that room was because more often than not my landlady would be sitting in the kitchen crocheting away like Madame Defarge, except instead of watching the trials of the French Revolution, she was watching the Russian News. Okay, so there's not really a difference.

So that combined with the fact that the few times I made tea there, I fumbled with turning on the gas stove's heat and my landlady reached over and just did it for me. (The worst thing she could do to someone who learns by experience because then I felt stupid) Made me decide I just wasn't going to cook there. Cue the "Ten months of eating at various cafes" montage. Okay, I did *some* cooking at the church.

It wasn't until just before coming to Russia that I realized how much I could get to enjoying cooking. Plus, since being here I've discovered more about the joys of not really following a recipe and that's fun too. Maybe I oversimplify, but I have this feeling of if you know the technique the food just kind of cooks itself. Weird, I know.

The other exciting thing is when I make something that tastes pretty decent. Okay, I've had my share of sticky noodles, or tortillas that weren't fried quite right and I definitely don't cook like my mom but I am quite proud of the results. Even if it looks a mess.

Actually, that might be the most entertaining thing. To look at me in the kitchen you'd probably think I'm insane. You know those people who are super awesome at cooking and hardly spill anything and then say they do spill salt, it's like the salt just piles right up in a nice neat little pyramid, waiting to be cleaned up. Yeah, that's not me.

Today for example (And what prompted this post in the first place) I made baked chicken. So there I am with these four boneless skinless chicken breasts that I wasn't even sure were chicken in the first place because they were just labeled "BIRD" with a word underneath that I didn't understand (Yeah, the other reason I don't always cook in Russia is because every time I do, it involves a lot more thought than it would in the states. "Wait? Is this ground beef? Why isn't it labeled ground beef? What do you mean this could be lamb?") that was definitely not the word "CHICKEN." Anyway, I'm staring at them trying to figure out the best way of coating them in mayonnaise and the breadcrumby things I bought.

After a while of staring them down, waiting for them to just do it themselves, I poured the breadcrumbs on a plate and got to working. There was mayo on the the chicken, mayo on the cutting board, breadcrumbs in the sink, me trying to figure out what exactly I'm doing, bits of chicken that needed to be cut away and me stopping every five seconds to wash my hands because I'm terrified I'm going to spread ebola e coli on to every surface of the kitchen and throughout the entire church and we're all going to die or go blind or something. (This weird quirk to my personality started when I was a young impressionable child and my mother was attempting to teach me the womanly skill of cooking. The first time I handled meat I remember her saying "Now make sure you wash your hands and everything real good after you handle raw meat because you don't want to get sick" which my brain heard as "IF YOU DON'T WASH DOWN EVERYTHING YOU HAVE TOUCHED AFTER HANDLING RAW MEAT AND EVERYTHING THE RAW MEAT HAS TOUCHED IN A CHEMICAL BATH AND BLEACH, THEN SEAL IT IN A VACUUM AND IRRADIATE IT, YOU AND THOSE YOU LOVE WILL DIE A TERRIBLE DEATH!" This was then followed by an ominous soundtrack in my head accompanied by a montage of me wandering the wilderness as a pariah after single-handedly destroying all of known civilization because of the mishandlement of a raw beef patty.)

Needless to say, the point I'm trying to make here is that I'm not exactly neat when it comes to cooking. One of my favorite things to make at home is blini which are the Russian version of crepe or pancakes. That's always an interesting endeavor because it involves flour, eggshells, milk, a blender and in the midst of the carnage, me wildly flipping blini right and left so they are cooked to golden perfection.

Add to that, the fact that chicken is one of the most difficult things for me to cook and it's always an interesting time. It's not that chicken is particularly hard to cook, it's just that it's one of those foods that I have trouble telling when it's actually done. The result is that by the time the chicken is ready to be eaten it's in about twice as many pieces as when I started and looking like it's been through the war. But my goodness, it's better for it to look like it's on the way to becoming baby food than for me to serve up anything raw, right? *Grabs the Clorox and wipes everything down once more just for good measure.* Although even with the chicken being cooked, I can still hear Gordon Ramsey screaming expletives in the back of my head because of the way the blanking chicken wouldn't even be fit to serve my blanking grandmother who has blanking Alzheimer's. Or something along those lines.

The good news in all of this is that despite the way the chicken looked, it turned out to be quite tasty and I will be eating chicken for the next several days which will hopefully satisfy the craving that started this all in the first place. 

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