Thursday, September 9, 2010

Day 1: Something You Like About Yourself

This topic is a tough one, mainly because most of us would find it hard to talk about the good we see in ourselves.  I often feel too proud or boastful about it.  How easy it is to think of all the things we would change and "fix" in ourselves if we could!  But if you ask for one thing people like about themselves, they clam up and get all twitchy.

But it's a good, healthy thing to do.  And if you can see the good in others, you should be able to see the good in yourself.

And when I think about it, there are several things that aren't too shabby about me.  I'm not a total idiot, nor a loser.  I used to be a bit of pushover, but I got over that and generally stand my ground.  I'm not a supermodel, but I'm not Ugly Betty either.  And I'm generally a nice lady.  But the thing I really like about myself is... that I'm a damn good cook!

It's funny that this post topic just so happens to tie in with food... but for me, the fact that I can rustle up a mess of something spectacular and yummy in 30 minutes is a badge of honor that I wear with pride.  And I really try to branch out in my cooking and conquer cuisines that seemed scary or complicated.  I felt that way about Thai food, and then I just up and decided to learn it.  The internet is a WONDERFUL resource for this and soon I found a gazillion websites and videos from ordinary folks that were instructing on how to prepare Thai food, and it looked EASY!  I am lucky that my grocery store stocks most ingredients for other cuisines and if they don't, there are a handful of specialty grocers in the area that I can check out.

I like the fact that 95% of the time, I can open my pantry, freezer and fridge and make a great meal out of seemingly thin air.  Yep, I'm that good.

Mainly, I love the act of cooking and preparing a meal for others to enjoy.  I love nourishing people that I care about.  I love putting a dish on the table and then digging in as we laugh or tell stories or just eat and talk about food.  Food can change your life, I believe that.  But I think it should still be accessible and casual, not stuffy, elitist and uptight.

I have learned some lessons about hosting people for dinner, and they all are cliches, but they are also true.  Keep it simple.  It's the golden rule of hosting.  I have done the fancy French meals that take forever, but taste amazing.  And I have done homemade guacamole for dinner.   Rule of thumb: it helps to select somethings that you can prep earlier and can sit in the fridge or on the counter until it's time to serve.  Then focus on a few things that can cook unattended, so you can actually talk to the people who just walked in your front door.

Last December, I heard a radio story with Nigella Lawson about how she likes to have people over several times during the holidays and serve simple things, instead of pulling out all the stops for a great big dinner party.  Genius, I thought.  So for Christmas this year, I put on a crockpot of chili, popped some tamales in the oven, and brewed some coffee.  I made some cornbread and cookies the day before, set them out.  And after opening our gifts by the tree with some delicious coffee that morning, Kendall and I set about browning the meat and dumped it in the slow-cooker.  We got dressed, had some more coffee and then shredded some cheese, opened a can of jalapenos and put sour cream in a bowl.  By the time the doorbell rang, everything was ready to go.  I actually got to sit and eat with people on Christmas Day, instead of running around the kitchen like a banshee wearing jingle bells.  And I wasn't worried about the turkey not coming out right or the pie crust being soggy or whatever.  I felt relaxed and happy.  I told jokes.  I was not a banshee.

That sunny December day taught me a lot about cooking for people, whether just my husband and myself, or for a house full of guests.  No one really cares about how impressive the dish is...  It needs to taste good and look appetizing.  People will care if you snap their head off because they aren't putting ice in the glasses the "right" way.  I have done complicated dishes for people.  It is not fun, and the kitchen we eat in looks like a hot mess.  I am usually sweaty and tired by the time I sit down to eat.  It is not a pretty picture nor a good meal.  Sure it tastes good, but what the hell good is that in that sort of situation?

If you can manage to pull off a delicious, simple meal and be jovial and not clammy, then you have hosted a successful dinner.  If you can crack a joke, smile and bottle of wine, and serve something other than store-bought vanilla ice cream for dessert, add fifteen points.  But there is NOTHING wrong with store-bought vanilla ice cream for dessert.

I like that I can usually add fifteen points to my dinners, even if it's just little ol' me at the table.  Remember that time I made out-of-this-world eggplant parmigiana and sat alone "mmm"-ing while my dog thought I was nuts?  I do.  Remember that time I made pecan crusted chicken, rice pilaf, and lemon rosemary green beans for dinner?  It was last Saturday for my family while at my parents' house.  We laughed and talked about my brother's children.

Another few truths I have encountered in the kitchen, and then I'll shut up.

1.  I do not have children, so for a long time, I worried about what to make for them, especially if they are picky eaters.  Should I try to expose them to new delights?  Nah.  Many kids like pizza, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes with gravy, and ranch dressing.  Why fight it?  If everyone likes pizza, including adults, then make some pizzas!  Pizza is amazing!  It's versatile!  Dress it up, dress it down, just like your favorite jeans.  No pizza?  Then try something like breaded baked chicken strips, served with some sauces, yummy-garlic-creamy-little cheesy mashed potatoes with gravy, a lovely vegetable and a simple salad.  You may even find that your little guests will try something new, like purple asparagus.  My friend's kids did and it was proud moment for everyone involved.

2.  Do not put hot liquids in a blender.  Ever.

3.  If the chicken goes up in flames, put out the fire and go out for Chinese.

And there you have it.  What I know about cooking.  And why I love that I'm a good cook.  And that there's definitely one thing that I like about me.

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