Monday, April 30, 2007

Pack Rat, part 2

I finished packing the kitchen, and in doing so found a couple more things not unlike the Liquid Smoke (which, excuse me, was $1.19, not 89 cents), and the Molly McButter (which I actually have two of, as it turns out—“What? You were afraid the one would be lonely?” my husband asked. Also interesting to note—in a dull sort of way—is that one bottle claims that it has 4 calories per serving, and one claims it has 5). I found a bag of fenugreek seeds that I think we’ve owned for about nine years, and two small tubs of colored sugar that appear to have been purchased during the Carter administration (red and green, if you’re wondering).

I thought about why I didn’t just throw this stuff out. The Liquid Smoke and the Molly McButter are clearly candidates for the garbage, and the fenugreek is probably totally flavorless by now. I guess I don’t throw them out because they don’t really go bad, per se. They’re not like milk or meat, which actually spoil. They’re not even like canned goods, which have an expiration date on them. They don’t instruct you—either through printed dates or just by stinking—that they’ve outlived their usefulness. And by the time I realize it should probably go out, I've kind of gotten used to seeing it in my cabinet and can't bear to part with it. I believe I have mentioned before that I am very weird.

When I do find something with an expiration on it, even if it’s something that clearly doesn’t deteriorate over time, I will toss it. Jello pudding, canned pumpkin, baked beans—if the date has passed, I get rid of it. And really, how could Jello deteriorate? I’ve read before that often the dates on things like canned goods are “best before” dates, and you can use them after that date with no risk to your health, but their quality won’t be what it was prior to that date.

But I know I’m not alone in this apparent unwillingness to toss things that are useless and/or past their prime. Not everyone may have the colored sugar from 1977, but I’d bet everyone has a jar or two of spices that they bought for one recipe, never found another use for, and just haven’t gotten around to tossing. In fact, I often read letters to the editor in cooking magazines that complain about recipes that use an unusual spice—people complain that they’ll spend the money on a whole jar of something they’ll never use again.

But I have a plan for all these culinary artifacts that I’m clearly so reluctant to get rid of. As a decorative element in the kitchen of our new house, which will be ready sometime the end of this year, I’m going to make a shadowbox and feature a couple of these gems. After so many years I just can’t bring myself to throw out that Liquid Smoke. I’ve clearly got a mental block against using it (and not just because the idea of Liquid Smoke is completely revolting), but the trash isn’t an option either. They’ll be forever immortalized as decorative elements. If nothing else, they’ll be a conversation piece. So that, as someone else once said, people can come into my kitchen and say “Why do you have a bottle of Liquid Smoke and a shaker of Molly McButter in a box on the wall?” and I can reply “So I can have this conversation over and over.” At least it keeps me from having to throw the stuff away.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Rats & Weevils

We just moved yesterday, which is why I haven’t been posting much lately. Too busy packing. We still have most of the kitchen left to pack. Mostly the food. The pots and pans are all moved.

Two things came out of this move—first, we discovered we had a weevil infestation. We’d had one, but thought we’d cleared it out. Then I started finding things with little weevils in them, and pasta dust here and there (that’s a sure sign). I read something once about how if you had flour that was weevil infested, you could freeze it for some amount of time, and then sift the weevils out of it and use it. I find the idea of that to be so disgusting that I can’t even fathom doing it. Anything we found that was even remotely suspect went in the trash. After about three shelves of icky little black bugs and packages with little teeny bullet holes in them, I was so creeped out I had to ask Alex to finish the job. I’m not usually girly like that, but this was just too much.

The second (and relatively less disgusting, although as I say, it’s relative) thing is that I realize I keep certain foods for a very long time. Mostly for no good reason. I knew I had a container of Liquid Smoke from about 1971. We’ve been toting that thing around for years. My mother bought it, and she’s been dead for 14 years, so that gives you some idea of just how old this stuff is. And I would never use it. Never. Even if I had a recipe that called for Liquid Smoke (and I’ve seen some lately, which makes me wonder what’s coming back next—dehydrated minced onions? MSG? *Shudder*) I’d go out and buy a new bottle of it. So why, I wonder, do I keep this thing?

The same question occurred to me when I found a little shaker of Molly McButter. That would have been from my early 90s low fat days. So again, we’re talking about something that’s pretty darned old. And because I have this major aversion to using chemicals for cooking (except for Diet Coke cake), I would never use Molly McButter. So why not throw it away? Why have I moved it from East coast to West, and between three houses in the East, and two houses (and counting) in the West? WHY? This is something I can’t fathom about myself.

I’m not particularly frugal, I don’t have sentimental attachment to these things (OK, maybe to the Liquid Smoke with its 89 cent price sticker on it, but definitely not the Molly McButter), and I know I’ll never use them. So why not bite the bullet and get rid of them? Can’t answer that.

Since I have to go over and clean out the rest of our former house, I’m going to end here, but I’m sure I’ll find several other things that we’ve been dragging around for years that I’ll never use. But I still won’t throw them out. Maybe I’ll spend the time packing thinking about why it is that I'm such a culinary pack rat, and have an actual answer for another post.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

My Addiction

I have a confession to make. I am an addict. Yes, I admit it. It’s a recent development, but one that I wouldn’t have expected, so I didn’t have any defenses prepared against it. It just snuck up on me. I have this (somewhat) new job, and everyone here is into it, so I naturally got dragged along once or twice, and I figured I’d go, but it would be harmless. I’d just be enduring this, not really participating.

Boy, was I wrong. I’m hooked.

If you’d told me two years ago, or even a year ago, that one day I would have to admit this addiction, I’ve have laughed in your face. But now I have to confront it.

I love Japanese food. There, I said it.

And I don’t mean sushi either. I’m still not caving to the call of sushi. It doesn’t call that loudly to me, and it doesn’t appeal. I love the idea of those delicate little rice roll things, but frankly there are just too many things in there that I’m not really interested in. My weakness is the bento box.

It started innocently enough. Some coworkers were going out for “all you can eat sushi” at the local Benihana. I was assured I could order from the menu, so I agreed to go. I got a salad and tempura scallops. The dressing on the salad was a wonderful slightly creamy (in texture, not in content) ginger flavored one. “Not bad,” I thought. Of course, the scallops were great—hey, deep fried anything, right?

A couple of weeks later, a friend suggested a Japanese place up the street. Only what she suggested was “a curry.” I had visions of Indian, which I adore. It turned out to be a Japanese place that serves a curry noodle soup (I had no idea the Japanese used curry powder), so I figured I’d just deal. I got a bento box with chicken yakisoba, and tempura. Of course it came with all the usual accompaniments: miso soup (I’m still not a huge fan of this), a salad (again, tasty dressing), rice. It was surprisingly satisfying for what seemed like not a ton of food (there’s plenty of rice, but I try to stay away from rice, and the primary offerings are in somewhat delicate portions).

Last week, after a lunchtime trip to get my hair cut, my husband suggested that, in the interest of speed, we just order take out from the Japanese place on the ground floor of our office building. I got a chicken and a beef component in my bento box. I couldn’t tell you what they were called (the beef sounds something like kohlrabi beef, but that’s not it). The chicken was a sautéed dish with lots of cabbage (I love cabbage), and the beef was grilled short ribs. The salad had a slightly sweet dressing on it that was more vinegar-and-oil like than the one at Benihana, but was still wonderful. These boxes come with six pieces of sushi (I just ignore it), and the ubiquitous miso soup.

Since then I’ve had two more bento boxes from the place in the lobby. I’m sadly hooked. The worst thing about it is that a bento box costs a minimum of ten bucks, and that’s $50 a week for lunch, minimum. Really, I can’t afford that (my monthly daycare costs are somewhere in the range of the national debt, so eating out every day really isn’t an option for me).

What’s an addict to do?

I suppose I could do the other thing that would have caused me to laugh in the face of anyone who suggested it a year ago: I could buy a Japanese cookbook and learn to make the beef, the chicken, and the salad dressing myself. This is what I normally do when I find a new kind of food I like, although I wouldn’t have ever expected to be actually mulling over the idea of buying Japanese cookbook.

I guess the cookbook option is probably the best way to go. It’s a single expense (minus the cost of the ingredients, which I don’t really count, because we have to buy food anyway, so to buy a Japanese ingredient, instead of a can of enchilada sauce or some other ingredient, is negligible), plus I enjoy the thrill of the hunt in finding the cookbook that has the majority of what I want in it, and then I make a mental list of other cookbooks that I might pick up at a later date that also look good.

This really took me by surprise. I’m still a little shaken and having trouble accepting the truth. There must be a support group for people like me. There seems to be for everyone else, after all. And just wait—in another year, I’ll have to confess to being a sushi addict. Where will it all end?