Anthony_Bourdain_bwI’ve heard so many people say to me “I’d love to cook, but honestly I’d set fire to my kitchen.”  And I wanted to respond because there seems to be such shame in making kitchen mistakes. 

And why? They happen to all of us, but they make us better chefs.  Although this post is similar to the one I posted a few weeks ago about salvaging a meal gone wrong, it’s got a slightly different message.  This is about pushing your limits, seeing where your cooking can take you, and not being afraid.  If you’re sitting there puzzled, just picture Sheryl Sandberg, Julia Child, and Anthony Bourdain huddling in your kitchen, giving you a pep talk, and then stepping back to cheer you on from the bleachers as you take the field.

Years ago I heard a famous chef say that the difference between a mediocre home cook, and a really good chef, is that chefs are always pushing themselves in the kitchen.  They sear the meat just a bit longer…they salt the food a little more aggressively.  We, mere home cooks, are often criticized for taking the pan off the heat a smidge too early.  We get nervous about unusual flavor combinations.  We often under season because we’re afraid of the small mountain of salt that’s often required to make food taste really good.  I know that sounds horrible, but trust me, in some cases it’s required.

Kitchen risks_FeedMeDearly

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MangosteenWhat can I say about this fruit?  It was practically a religious experience.  It was really that delicious.  Originally from the Moluccas of Indonesia, it’s now grown in South America.  I wish I’d taken a picture of the inside of the fruit – it was somewhat shocking to open it up.  For some reason I expected it to look like passion fruit, but in actuality it looked more like orange segments covered in fluffy white mold.  It was so horrifying I almost didn’t taste it, but I’m glad I did. Because it was insanely delicious. A little like banana, without the smushiness.  If that’s a word, which spell check tells me it’s not. 

ME: What is this?

LAUREN: Mangosteen!

ME: What do you think it looks like?

(No answer)

ME: A mangosteen?

LAUREN: Well the top looks like a flower.

EMMA: A fowers. (flowers)

LAUREN: And the bottom really looks like a flower.

ME: It does, because it came out of a flower. Flowers are the beginning of all fruit.

SAM: This looks like a fire ball.

ME: Is it hot?

LAUREN: Well, you can always imagine with your mind that there’s a big tractor and it has a line, and there’s a fruit on the bottom that’s a bomb.

ME: Interesting. 

ME: If you shake it does it make a sound?

ME: Lauren let Emma shake it.  Emma, what do you say?

EMMA: Tank goo.

ME: What is the sound?

LAUREN: The sound is like….

SAM: Mermaids!

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Road trips provide ample opportunity to teach them how to deal with an embarrassing mother

Road trips provide ample opportunity to teach them how to deal with an embarrassing mother.

Woohoo, up at the lake for a week, with a weekend on each side, so 9 days total. In celebration of vacation this week, we’re doing the lake house version of Wordless Wednesday. We shop the Farmers’ Market, discuss anatomy, and spend way too much time on the water. If that’s possible.

First stop, farmers' market.  I swore I'd never make another vegetarian lasagna, but I think that's where I'm heading with this.

First stop, farmers’ market. I swore I’d never make another vegetarian lasagna, but I think that’s where I’m heading with this.

Not only did she insist on wearing her gymnastics outfit to the farmers' market, she showed us all a few tricks.

Not only did she insist on wearing her gymnastics outfit to the farmers’ market, but she also showed us a few tricks.

Back at the house, we start dancing.  Spiderman busts out some serious yoga moves.

Back at the house, we start dancing. Unbeknownst to us, Spiderman is a yoga ninja.

Although it's 90 degrees, Santa hats are dug out of the Christmas box, bubbles are blown

Although it’s 90 degrees, Santa hats are dug out of the Christmas box, bubbles are blown.

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NachosSerious, serious subject here: nachos.  They’re the topic of big debate in our household.  And it’s not like we kick back on the couch eating nachos and drinking beer every night, but on the odd occasion they’re required.  Like Oscar night, The Bachelor After The Final Rose, or Friday night Ultimate Fighting (which is clearly not my preference, but as we all know, marriage occasionally involves compromise).

Like the Gestalt notion that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, nachos can be transcendental, but only when the piece parts are systematically thought through.

And here’s where Rodney and I argue. I won’t go into detail about our nacho discussions, but a few major categories we tackle on a regular basis include:

1. Fake cheese or real cheese (you will be very surprised to find out which side of the debate I fall on there).  OK, I won’t hold out on you.  FAKE!  Yes, I love it, in certain situations.  Not all the time.  In fact I’m disgusted by it most of the time, but in the case of nachos, it’s essential. 

Fake cheese works best here because it melts, and stays melted. So, long after the nachos have cooled off, the cheese is still gooey.  Unlike shredded cheddar, which tends to clump.  And we all know the result here.  Several highly covetable compound nachos that are stuck together with the bulk of the toppings.  You pretend that you’re not interested, you play hard to get, but really, you only have eyes for those welded clumps and silently curse your nacho eating partner when he (and it’s always a he) takes those first.  Leaving the dry chip fragments at the bottom whose only hope is to be scraped against the salsa/sour cream blob that is now starting to harden on the side of the platter.

2. Style of tortilla chip, again critical.  I prefer to buy organic white corn (they somehow go best with aforementioned fake cheese), but Rodney likes the big GMO-based restaurant-style Tostitos.  He thinks they’re a perfect match for his favorite Tostitos salsa.  To me that stuff tastes like chunky tomato sauce and would make my post-nacho digestion experience even more nauseating than usual.  I generally try to convince him that the jar in the fridge is unuseable.  Like I found a shard of glass in it.  Or it’s got some kind of spore growing on the surface.  Usually that’s enough to convince him, although ever since he came home drunk 10 years ago and ate a full jar of moldy salsa without consequence, he’s been less deterred by the second reason.


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Cuke-asaurusThis was a total experiment, but I just had to pick it up because I had a hunch my kids would go for a fruit that looked like (and is named after) a dinosaur.  It was so spiky that even after digging around online, I still have no idea how you’re supposed to eat it.  If you go to the Cuke-asaurus website, most of the pictures show it hollowed out as a vehicle for alcoholic drinks and vegetable dips.  Seems like a potential gold mine for the farmers – a $4 vegetable that has very few practical applications.  Or maybe it was a stroke of genius to create something that looks like a dinosaur.  Because the kids are still hounding me to get another one.

ME: Apparently this is called a Cuke-asaurus. Maybe because it looks like a dinosaur cucumber.

SAM: (Gasp)

ME: What do you think it looks like?

LAUREN: A blow up fish and a spiky dinosaur’s body.

ME: Yes. Great description.  What do you think Sam?

SAM: Uh, the dinosaur’s fire.

ME: That’s a really good one too.

ME: What do you think it feels like?

LAUREN: It’s pretty sharp, and it feels like kind of knife-ish.

ME: Ok, now give it to Sam. Sam’s turn.  OK, Sam’s starting to breath fire because you won’t let him touch it. He’s like a real dinosaur.

(Lauren finally passes)

SAM: It feels like, uh, prickly fire.

ME: What do you think it looks like on the inside?

LAUREN: A smooth plate-ish. A smooth circlish thing.

ME: When you shake it does it make a sound?

EMMA: (grabs it) Waaaaah (crying), hurt the finger!!

ME: I know, it has spikes, it hurts when you touch it. 

ME: OK, let me cut it open.  What does it look like?

LAUREN: It looks like a yellow cucumber inside.

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