Some of us have been stuck in our homes for upwards of two to three months. Food has become something much different than what we knew even in January of this year. Four months ago, I threw away packages of eggs when I reached their final date on the box. I didn’t worry about using milk before it went bad. I could just toss it in the garbage. The root ends of my scallions were garbage bound. I never bothered to portion out my meats. If I forgot some in the fridge, it could be thrown away.
I consider myself fortunate to be furloughed from my full time job in order to learn and adopt better habits for my time in the kitchen. These positive adjustments that I’ve gained in the kitchen are things I try to practice gratitude for when my brain goes to dark places in quarantine. Food has much more value now, both monetarily and figuratively. There are several adjustments I’ve made that have taught me to value what I have in my kitchen in new ways.
Or, Breaded Crepes with mushroom filling.
This was one of the first recipes that really stood out to me during my initial flipping through of Carpathia. I had never once made crepes, yet alone filled them with mushrooms and shallow fried them into perfect cylinders of yumminess. It had my husband’s name written all over it. He might love mushrooms as much as he loves me, in fairness, so I marked this page immediately after the book arrived in the mail.
It stands to reason that it would then be one of the first recipes I attempted when it came time to cook. We were at a surplus of eggs reaching the expiration date on the package, and the recipe could knock out the vast majority of what I had left. In a mission to keep waste in my kitchen to a minimum, I resolved pretty early in the morning that this would be our dinner. I found out that it’s a labor of love.
May has come, and in the spirit of growth, we have chosen a book that I would not normally have gravitated toward in normal times. Carpathia by Irina Georgescu came across my twitter feed in early April with the tagline ‘food from the heart of Romania’ brightly highlighted upon its cover. I have never had the pleasure of exploring this cuisine, much less eating it. As an American, I am programmed to assume that any culture previously under communist rule has birthed a cuisine from poverty, but the region has a rich history of occupation under a variety of other cultures.
The author begins by suggesting that the easiest way to learn about a culture is by enjoying their food, that this was the driving force behind writing the book. I tend to agree that a lot can be learned through a mouthful of someone else’s food. Romanian food is not a cuisine we think about when we consider the high echelons of cooking. For that matter, most American food isn’t considered that either. Taking on this cookbook is another exercise in exploration when I can’t leave my apartment.
Just from opening the book and briefly flipping through its pages, I can tell I will have some trouble choosing main course items for my household since my husband is staunchly against any tomato product. I have been able to get him to eat things with small amounts of tomato paste that mostly lend color to a dish, but when I see a recipe call for a tin of diced tomatoes, I know I have to move on to the next thing.
An ingredient I did not expect to see making such a common appearance within the recipes is rum. Sweet or savory, the author has employed it in a variety of ways I would not expect from a culture within that region of the world. This is exciting for me because rum is my all time favorite spirit. I’ve never used it in cooking. I welcome the new experience.
I found a lot of potential new experiences during my first flip through, cataloging more individual recipes that I want to try during the month of May than I have for any other cookbook so far this year. I believe a lot of that has to do with the fact that I know so little about this cuisine, and I do not know what to expect from the food in terms of flavors. With books like Nothing Fancy and even Japanese Home Cooking, I had some idea of what to expect regardless of the perceived difficulty of the recipes.
Carpathia is uncharted territory, and with Wisconsin’s stay at home order in place til late May, I intend to chart as much of that territory as I can before I return to work-- whenever that might be. Please join me for an adventure into a cuisine uncommon in American kitchens. I want to bake Romanian Breads and Romanian Desserts. I want to cook Romanian snacks and Romanian meals, and I want to share them all with you.
Nothing Fancy has survived to the end of the month with us, and while it may have been a poor choice for this moment in time where none of us are hosting dinner parties anymore, Alison Roman remains an American powerhouse of cookbookery. We did a recipe a week, and while I did not manage to cover every section of her cookbook during my time in the kitchen, I found a lot of enjoyment in her recipes.
In her first book, Roman guided the reader carefully through each of her recipes, and this method was not forgotten. Her recipes are easier to read and follow than some that we’ve covered during our cookbook of the month process. This remains true in Nothing Fancy. Most people are not going to struggle, especially if you have some previous cooking experience.
That being said, the last recipe I did encapsulates my feelings on the cookbook pretty well. I fucking love stuffed pasta anything. Lasagna, manicotti, stuffed shells, all of it. I want noodles and cheese for all things all the time forever, so when I found a recipe for ricotta stuffed shells with burrata and mushrooms in Nothing Fancy, it was one of the first I marked for testing in the Eating Normal kitchen. The introduction to the recipe gives you the option to make it however you like, as far as stuffed pastas go. I went for the shells per the title, but as I sat down to cook, I found myself wanting more.
I opened Nothing Fancy during my third week of self isolation, and I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what I wanted to cook as I flipped through the pages. It’s literally a book about entertaining, AKA having people over for dinner, and neither you nor I will be having people over for dinner anytime soon. I have so many chicken recipes that I don’t want to cook another whole fucking chicken for the rest of this quarantine thing.
One of her most famous recipes from Dining In was a dessert, and Nothing Fancy has an appropriately sized dessert section for anybody looking for something different during their quarantine baking. I stumbled upon a recipe that I had every possible ingredient I needed without needing to make my husband go pick up another grocery order, and that was her Lemon Turmeric Tea Cake.
An idea born in Normal, Illinois, Eating Normal hopes to chronicle the eating Experiences of a Red bird.
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