Saturday, January 14, 2012

Kitchen quirks

It's no secret that cooking has never been amongst my top favorite activities. My amazingly patient mother managed to get me away from my books enough times during my growing up years that I entered marriage armed with enough basic kitchen knowledge to keep my husband well-fed (too well fed, some might argue...but I digress). I'm grateful for all she taught me, and for the fact that I can host dinner guests with few qualms: nothing's fancy, but it's edible and hearty, and hopefully plenty to go around.

Having my own kitchen to work in is certainly easier than sharing the area with my mom and sisters, but cooking is still "work" to me. It is something necessary for life, and certainly an important and major part of my God-given role of homemaker, but not what I voluntarily do for fun.

I have a funny dichotomy when it comes to cooking (and a lot of things in life, now that I think of it). On the one hand, I like to keep things super fast and easy, minimizing the time and effort needed. Once I find a recipe that meets this criteria - and is economical and tasty - I generally make it over and over...and over.

But on the other hand, variety and experimentation is vital to keeping me from getting bored in the kitchen. I almost never follow a recipe exactly, to Joe's consternation - there are always improvements and substitutions to be made. I don't like to feel tied down to recipe cards, though I do usually pull them out and use them as a general guideline.

And have I mentioned that cookbooks and recipe magazines have a terrible way of giving me brain freeze? Not sure why, but I avoid using them whenever possible. has been an incredible resource, and is the source of some of my all-time favorites. I keep a Safari bookmark folder of recipes that look like possibilities, and try to incorporate one into my menus every week or so.

My usual MO is to grab a piece of scratch paper and write out the recipe by hand, translating it as I go along with the changes I have in mind (and usually also rewriting the instructions a bit, since most recipes are very poorly of my pet peeves). Then if the recipe turns out to be a success, I'll make it a few times and then copy it off neatly onto a regular recipe card, incorporating my adaptations. Then it's slipped into a clear plastic sleeve and filed in my recipe card box by category. This system works really well for me, and I like knowing that all my tried-and-true recipes are together, uncluttered by duds or newbies.

Oh, and another example of my oddly divided mind shows up in my menu planning. I learned very early on in marriage that if I wait until meal time to decide what to make, I'll completely space out and have no ideas. But then, on the other hand, if I feel constricted if I have a tight list of meals that I must follow. What has ended up working out well for me is to once a week (usually on Mondays) sketch out a list of meal ideas, choosing recipes based on the ingredients I currently have on hand. These are jotted down on my mini magnetic white board, with slots for each day of the week...but just because baked potatoes are listed for Tuesday doesn't mean I'll make them on Tuesday, or even at any point during the week. I'll usually end up switching the days around depending on how much time I have to cook - or I'll substitute different recipes entirely. But having the menu to springboard off of makes a huge difference. Don't ask me to explain why...I've just learned I have to cater to my quirks sometimes. ;)

One of my most recent kitchen adventures has been trying out Amish Friendship Bread starter - or "Herman," as my old piano teacher used to fondly refer to the goopy stuff. :) Herman has now been living in a plastic bowl on my kitchen counter for 17 days, and in that time Joe and I have enjoyed some delicious Apple Raisin Bread, biscuits (twice - they were that good!), and pancakes. Before I discovered this website I didn't realize that the starter could be used for anything besides sweet breads - they have a huge selection of recipes there, plus instructions for starting your very own "Herman". Sourdough bread is next on my to-try list. I've always enjoyed sourdough bread from the store, and am curious to see what a homemade version would taste like.

Just wait...maybe one of these days I'll trick myself into actually enjoying cooking after all. :)


  1. Those Friendship Bread recipes sound scrumptious! A friend gave me a starter several years ago, but I never knew you could make anything other than the sweet bread with vanilla pudding in it. :)
    And I tend to do my menu planning the same way (only I use Google calendar). Make a plan, but completely rearange and revise it as the week progresses... You have to do what works for you! :) Enjoyed this post!

  2. Yes, same here, Amber - we had a starter years ago and thought we could only make the sweet bread with it. That was yummy, but one gets tired of it after a while. :)

    Using Google calendar for menu planning sounds like a good idea! I guess one of the advantages there would be that you could look back over previous weeks and see ideas for meals made in the past? With my white board I have to erase it and start fresh every week and sometimes I've wished I had more of a record to look back on for inspiration.

  3. It sounds like you are having some fun in the kitchen! I love Tammy's recipes :)