The Lit Maven

Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

After all the hype (including those magazine covers featuring an endless bounty of Olympic hopefuls), the Summer Olympics are finally here.  My family treats the Olympics like a treasure – we get emotional, sad, surprised, angered and proud.  We not only cheer for our American athletes, but those from our ancestors’ birthplaces as well.  We remember countries we have visited or have read about, and we cheer them on as well.  We have thrown parties for all kinds of events – babies’ christenings, engagements, the Eagles home opener,  graduations, Halloween, and, these days, for a Phillies win – any Phillies win.  This year, the Olympics has given us a really great excuse to not only celebrate the Olympic athletes, but to celebrate countries of the world.  My husband and I decided, on a whim, to invite a bunch of people over to the house for an Olympic party.  We had 23 people – friends from various paths of our life and some family members.  I asked each person/couple to bring a food dish from a country (other than the US).  This could be a country that was visited and loved; that the ancestors lived in and loved; that has some kind of a special meaning; that you read about, researched or have wanted to visit.  We offered the American fare – hamburgers, hot dogs, pulled pork bbq – along with wines from Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Argentina.  The Margueritas were representative of Mexico. The cheeses?  Denmark, Switzerland, France, England and Greece.  What did people bring?  Italy – a magnificent Antipasta; Greece – cucumber and feta dip to die for; Germany – potato salad that was dreamed about by all, I’m sure; France – eclair pudding; Ancient Rome – Caesar Salad (is that stretching it a bit?  Were the Romans even invited to the Ancient Greek games?  Who cares?); US – apple pie; England – blueberry muffin cake – yum!  To add some Olympic clout, I made small flags attached to toothpicks and laid them around the tables.  Not every one of the 200 countries participating in the Olympics had flags in my house, but I tried to get as close as I could.  There was a slight downside:  some people could not decide what to bring – so many countries, so much delicious food, so much interesting culture – and only one dish!  Everyone made an effort, though, and it was well worth it.  There is another Olympic weekend coming up:  instead of following the Olympics by yourself on your SmartPhone, invite some friends over and watch with them.  You will be warmed by a lot of happy faces!

There is a lot written these days about how to get the “zing” back in your marriage, the “pow” back in your career and the “bam” back in your exercise routine. But, what if your interest in cooking has waned to the point that a peanut butter and bacon sandwich sounds like a dream meal?  Food is an important, albeit necessary, part of any living creature’s day.  There is the nutrition factor, of course:  eating a balanced diet is good for you and wards off disease.  There is also the social angle of eating.  Throughout history, food has been a bridge to bring people together culturally, spiritually and physically (we all know the heart-warming story of the first Thanksgiving).  Yes, you can jaw about the weather or about the awful dress that your nemesis wore to the last party, but talking about food is even better!  So, what happens – suddenly or not – when you feel that cooking is no longer fun, rewarding or social? What happens when cooking becomes a dull chore that needs to be done instead of a creative process that you want to do for your family and yourself?  First, let’s take a look at the symptoms of lackadaisical cooking:

1) you come home from work and gawk at the contents of your fridge hoping that something awesome and interesting appeared magically in there while you were gone.  There are half empty jars of yellowish mayo, muddied olives with their pimento tongues sticking out at you along with the leftover chili (from when??) that has a furry pile of grayish bacteria waving at you (what my husband calls, “a science experiment”) and meat that has been frozen since last fall.  In fact, all the meat in your house is frozen almost to the point of pushing diamonds out of the way as  the hardest substances on earth.

2) you put  a load of laundry in the washer, feed the fish, play with the cats, balance your checkbook, exercise on the treadmill, fill out all the FAFSA forms for every college kid in your neighborhood – anything to avoid the kitchen.

3) you shake not stir yourself a luscious martini before you begin cooking then forget what you were going to cook.

4) you ask your husband and/or your kids what they want for dinner and they say, “Not kielbasa again!!”

If you are nodding your head and thinking that you have done one or more of these things, you have the cooking doldrums.  What to do?  There’s always the Food Network, but if you work all day, disdain perky people doing something that you want to avoid, are on a diet or just don’t have the hours to give to Rachel Ray that she so justly deserves, then maybe you need alternatives.

Here we go:

Try or other internet sites (including,,, :  Most of these will send you a recipe a day right in your email.  If you’re not interested in what is pictured, you click delete and it goes away – no sloppy kitchen, no dirty dishes, no lingering fishy smell.  If you do like what you see and MAYBE would like to cook it, you can save it to your recipe library, print it out in small (under age 25), medium (ages 26-40) or large (aged 40 and older) format, or just leave it in your email for another day.  I like AllRecipes because the recipes aren’t terribly far-fetched nor do they need crazy ingredients:  you don’t need a bank loan to buy a single strand of saffron or travel to the netherworld to find an African horned melon.

Try a different supermarket:  I am lucky to have a Fresh Market near me, but my friends swear by Produce Junction and other specialty grocery stores.  Visit when you have a little time to wander around – list in hand or not.  You may buy an item that will force you to experiment.  Case in point:  a butternut squash is not, by itself, a very interesting vegetable. It’s pale, pastel orangey-beigy, hard skinned.  No two are alike. They are odd, bumpy – sometimes suggestive – things.  But…it’s the possibilities that, if you are open to, can make an ugly, unassuming butternut squash into a fascinating and delicious entree, side dish or soup.

Try a different style:  Are you one of the billions of people who received a crock pot for your wedding and never used it?  Well, there’s a wealth of slow-cooker recipes out there for you to prepare.  I have a crock that even has recipes built right into the cooker!!  Just think:  you arrive home from work to a meal that’s ready in minutes and you didn’t have to beg, pander or bribe anyone to do it.  The wonders of modern technology did it for you! Yay!!

Read books on the subject:  Sure, there is the usual fair which you should check out – Joy of Cooking, anything by Julia Child, and Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (my fav) – but you can find very more specific fare  as well.  How about The Pleasures of Cooking for One (Jones), Healthy Cooking for Two (Price), Cooking for Geeks (Potter) and cookbooks by the televised masters (The Frugal Gourmet, The Barefoot Contessa).  Go ahead and browse online bookstores for titles on specific cooking ingredients and methods:  Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making (Peterson), Camp Cooking (O’Dea) and Slow-Cooking: 57 essential recipes (Cooking Light Magazine editors).  If they are not specific enough, check out Cooking from China’s Fujian Province (Newman).  Are you a super newbie?  then try Cooking Basics for Dummies (Miller, Rama, Adamson).  Like fiction?  What could be better than Diane Mott Davidson’s wonderful cooking sleuth mysteries featuring Goldy Schulz?  Find more by searching “cooking fiction”. In the mood for a movie about cooking?  Whip up a batch of brownies and try Ratatouille or Julie and Julia one evening.

Good start?  That’s the key – a start.  The rest is up to you.  Happy Cooking!!