COOK90 Food Log: Week 1
Originally Posted January 8, 2020 in the Archive
Day 0: December 31, 2019
Made a big frittata in the morning to serve as breakfast for at least one more day. COOK90 rules say that leftovers count for a max of two meals after the fact. Cheating a bit, I know, but breakfast is my least favorite meal of the day. I gotta get out ahead of it.
Did my grocery run. Focused on the ‘sustainability’ aspect of this year’s COOK90 challenge and only bought two meat products. Whole chicken from a previous shopping trip will supplement protein this week.
In the middle of festivities preparations with my husband, I roasted off a whole chicken to have access to cooked chicken throughout the first week of COOK90. I drank too much and ate too much. I was greatly looking forward to a new start when my head hit the pillow at 12:01 AM, Jan 1, 2020.
Day 1: Jan 1, 2020
Coffee first and always. During my last week as an unemployed woman, I have had my coffee around 6:00 am and haven’t ate breakfast until around 8. Won’t be able to do that next week, so I’m going to move my breakfast time earlier and earlier into the day. Day 1, though? Let’s just go for like, 7:45. Mornings are for coffee and contemplation. Coffee, contemplation, and writing.
Breakfast: that frittata I made yesterday. It counts. Ask Epicurious.
11 am: small bowl of rice with butter and salt. Technically cooking. My stomach was in revolt after going too hard New Year's Eve. Water, rice, butter, and salt. That's cooking, kids.
5 pm: Used some more rice and a little of the leftover chicken for dinner as my stomach is still not happy with me. Maybe tomorrow will be a better day for cooking.
Day 2: Jan 2, 2020
Coffee first. Coffee always. Slept like shit, so I’m awake late with very little idea what I want to do with my breakfast. There are some frittata slices left, but I’d like to do something else. Thinking of a breakfast scramble with some of the produce I bought.
9 am: Breakfast scramble with red peppers, asparagus, and green onion. Sprinkle of shredded monterey jack cheese over the top. Quick, simple, and nutritious. Could have probably cooked the asparagus longer. I also think I cracked in too much black pepper when I was cooking the produce down a little. Breakfast is my least favorite meal, so I think I’ll struggle here across the board.
11:30 am: lunch was a nacho platter with hot sauce, green onions, and sour cream. Got out of the DMV and wanted a no fuss lunch. Also, a drink. Two hours to get all my Wisconsin stuff done. Yikes.
7 pm: Dinner, a wisconsin old fashioned to go with campanelle pasta with broccoli, leftover chicken, and white sauce. Super cozy. I think I will have to adjust the ratios on the sauce at another date.
Day 3: Jan 3, 2020
Woke up at 4 am because my cat was sad and lonely outside the door. Learned yesterday that my shift at my new job starts at 7 am, so I gotta get used to waking up early anyway if I’m going to shower, eat, get coffee, etc before I go to work. Realized I left the milk out overnight after making a white sauce for dinner. So much for reducing food waste!
Breakfast was simple this morning, just a bagel with cream cheese spread. It’s on par for the laziest ‘cooking’ I’ve done for COOK90 so far, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I. Hate. Breakfast.
11:00 am: Lunch was a baked potato with sour cream, butter, salt, and spring onion. Didn’t want to do anything too crazy.
1st Cheat meal was tonight when my husband and I went to Al’s Hamburgers in downtown Green Bay. More on that in another article.
Day 4: Jan 4, 2020
Woke up at 5 am not feeling tremendously great. Skipped my coffee since my husband and I had plans to go out in the afternoon. Don’t want to add any more stressors to my stomach.
By 7:30 I was hungry enough to ignore my previous notions of skipping stressors and whipped up the tiniest breakfast nacho plate with a fried egg over top the cheese and chips. Keeping this log all week has shown me that despite keeping my COOK90 methods going, I am eating poorly. Lunch will be aimed toward something better. I have the ingredients for a good salad in the fridge, and I feel like an idiot for not utilizing them sooner.
3:00 pm: Made Rob and I an orzo pasta with parmesan and basil. Had just one tiny bowl since we ate late. Spent the early afternoon playing warhammer 40k with new friends.
Dinner: 5 pm. Started the Roast Chicken Legs with potatoes from Allison Roman's Dining In. Won't actually eat til about 7. Roasted some broccoli on the side. Yum! Saved the elements that we didn’t eat which included at least one chicken leg, some broccoli, and some of the potatoes. I’m thinking we’ll wipe it out for breakfast.
Day 5: Jan 5, 2020
Woke up later than I’d like at 6 am. Got to set my alarm tomorrow for 5 am to get into the grove for my new job this coming week. IT’S MY LAST UNEMPLOYED SUNDAY, which means that if I’m doing any project cooking, I’ve got to do it soon. Coffee and contemplation time.
9 am, breakfast. I made a frittata again, this time with red peppers, green onions and asparagus. The red pepper/asparagus combo is one of my favorites in a frittata, and I'm hoping it will last long enough for me to have it as left overs my first day of work.
Noon, made another baked potato. It breaks the rule of always trying to have something new, but we are running a bit low on groceries. Tomorrow, I'm going out again. I rely on a lot of things that aren't in my pantry right now. Dinner will be fine, but my lunches have got to be small and light.
6:30 pm, dinner. Tonight was a slow night for a box kit of tacos doctored up with some grated pepperjack cheese, lettuce, and sour cream. Saving the leftovers for breakfast tacos.
Day 6: January 6, 2020
Breakfast: Those breakfast tacos were a hit with the husband. We made a small pan of scrambled eggs to supplement the meat and tortillas from the night before. The frittata from yesterday morning has to wait.
Lunch: grocery trip made, I whipped together a toasted turkey sandwich with mayo, shredded lettuce, and muenster cheese. A side of wavy chips rounded it out for me.
7 pm: We made mushroom stroganoff for dinner to get my two boxes of mushrooms out of the fridge and use some egg noodles that I bought at the store today. This recipe is one I found on pinterest awhile ago, and I think it may return to the rotation once COOK90 is over. The goal is to not repeat a recipe, so that's going to stick.
Day 7: Jan 7, 2020
First day of work. My stomach is CRAZY messed up this morning, which could be anxiety or just not agreeing with what I ate yesterday. Despite wanting to make all 90 meals for the challenge, I have decided to forgo breakfast in order to feel more comfortable going into the orientation for my new job. Lunch is provided, so this is going to be a bad day for COOK90. I would rather cook every meal that I do eat rather than make something for the sake of cooking 90 meals.
Lunch: At Noon, they wheeled in a catered lunch of salad, chili, and pasta. I had a bowl of chili despite my rough morning because I can't make it at home. (Looking at you, tomato hating husband). Had a nice lunch with my new supervisor discussing our cats and my future at the job. Turns out I beat internal candidates. I feel very accomplished for that.
Dinner: 6:45 rolled in and to honor day seven we used an Epicurious recipe for white chicken chili. It went down so fuckin well my husband told me every other spoonful how 'tasty' it was. This one is going into the repertoire for the end of COOK90.
Failing at COOK90
Originally posted January 25, 2020 in the Archive.
You may have noticed that the week two food log for COOK90 hasn’t gone up, much less a week three log. The reason why is this: I failed. My stomach took a turn for the worse when I started my new job, so there was honestly no way I could make a new meal every day and expect to have a normal day every day after that. It was a fun journey, and one that has taught me a lot about cooking, but I don't believe we will keep going while I am getting over the latest spell of my stomach conditions.
COOK90 is not a challenge for someone like me, an IBS sufferer with stress triggered attacks. I've been nauseous more days than not in the last two weeks, and even when I did cook new food, I didn't want to eat it. It didn't matter what I did or did not eat. I had attacks starting in my sleep, waking me up in the wee hours of the morning, and continuing their assault well into the afternoon. I didn't want to eat anything, much less make new meals every time I sat down to eat when I didn't want food at all. So, I threw in the gauntlet late last week while I tried to work out what was causing my stronger, more aggressive attacks.
What I can say is that COOK90 has forced me to be more creative with what I buy at the grocery store. A new recipe every night had turned up some smash hits in the last two weeks, such as the white chicken chili from Epicurious. I've stretched a container of chicken breasts across three meals, and I probably could have made it four. I have found multiple ways to cook a whole chicken, learned what to do with the carcass. I don't have the time anymore with a new job to make stock every time I get a whole chicken, but knowing I can do it feels good.
A big thing of rice can carry a girl through a whole work week, especially on a bad stomach, and there is nothing wrong with that at all. What I do know is that I need a real rice cooker so that I don’t keep screwing it up on the stove top. Rice cooker suggestions are highly welcome, fellow home cooks.
Although I haven’t followed through with the ideal of the challenge-- to cook something new every meal but breakfast-- I have found that getting to the root of what’s going on with my stomach is as much an exercise in trial and error as COOK90 itself. Not that any of you come here for my medical problems, but there may be posts in the future about my efforts to figure out just what is helping exaggerate my tummy troubles during times of high stress. Diet has as much to do with this stuff as the stress, I’m told, so we’ve got some work to do there.
Keeping a meal log through the first two weeks of COOK90 did teach me that I am not eating as well as I should be for someone with diagnosed IBS. I have a lot of work to do toward being a healthier human being not just by going to doctors and addressing problems that I’ve had for much of my life, but also by taking better care of myself. Reading my own logs in my own words showed me that I KNOW that some of the things I’m eating aren’t doing me any good, but I do it anyway. Why?
Because I like it? Because it makes me feel good for the five minutes I get to experience an endorphin rush when I eat a plate of tortilla chips smothered in mediocre bagged cheddar cheese with hot sauce and green onions? Over the course of this journey, I finally hit the wall where I realized that while food can be pleasure, it shouldn’t ALWAYS be pleasure. I can do better for myself with this lesson in mind, and I very much intend to try during 2020.
So even though I failed to carry out this journey through the entire month, there we good lessons to be learned. I am hoping that by this time next year, my mysterious stomach problems are mostly ironed out so that we can give it another go. This was another attempt to engage the small community I have built here that largely didn’t turn out due to my own failures to follow through, and I’ve got to face that moving forward.
For those of you that did comment on the near daily pictures we started out COOK90 with, I sincerely appreciate your support and interest in what I do. You keep me coming back to this project whenever I start to lose hope.
I want to draw some attention to the Eating Normal Patreon, which has been dormant since we have no actual supporters. I want to create extra content for the people that love and support me, and by pledging even a few dollars a month to the project, you’ll keep me motivated to make new recipes and write as much as a woman possibly can. You can go to our support page for other ways to help me keep going.
I promise not to shill patreon or Ko-fi more than once a month. No one wants to read or see that every single post. I love you. I won’t do that to you.
Meal Kit Curious: What's it About?
Originally posted February 23, 2020 in the Archive
I’ve been Meal Kit Curious for years. Ever since Jaime Oliver started advertising Hello Fresh back when he was serious about cooking on youtube, I wanted to know if the whole thing was worth it. Getting curated boxes delivered every week with new recipes every single time had a lot of appeal, but as each new and similar service appeared, they looked more expensive than the last. The cost outweighed the apparent benefits every time I was tempted to order a giant delivery of three or four meals a week.
Then I walked into a Target for the first time in two years when we moved to Wisconsin and found Hello Fresh and Local Crate meal kits in the refrigerated section. This was the first I knew about anyone packing individual meals and recipes to sell as a single set instead of part of a bundle. The same type of service is offered at most of the local groceries around here too. We tried one from Festival Foods that taught my husband to love roasted broccoli, but I hadn’t picked one up since.
A busy Thursday came where I had not pulled any meat out to defrost, and frankly, I didn’t want to bother defrosting it in the microwave. With a Target visit already planned, I stopped by that section of meal kits and looked upon a Local Crate meal kit of Indian butter chicken with Jasmine rice, and from the four Local Crate options available, chose that one for the evening. Target usually has a sale going on these, and I was able to get a prepacked meal for my husband and I for fifteen bucks.
While Hello Fresh kits were sitting right next to it with a much more recognizable brand name, Local Crate was attractive since the entire kit is sourced with ingredients from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa. When I know I can get my food from somewhat local farmers, I’m going to pick that over something else every single time.
The recipe itself comes from Food52, which is apparently a website dedicated to a homecooking community. I still haven’t went digging around their platform, but seeing a product highlight what they’re calling a ‘community recipe’ resonates with the message that I think Local Crate wants to portray: community over all.
The box itself tells you approximately how long the meal ought to take you to cook, how many it can feed, and any dietary warnings that might be necessary. This meal, for example, is gluten free. It slaps that nice no grain symbol right on the front. Knowing I could get this done in less than an hour was another highlight.
The only drawback is that the recipe card is printed onto the inside of the sleeve around the meal kit, which makes it a little hard to preserve the recipe if you find it to be something you want to make on your own later on. It’s huge and unwieldy on the counter when you actually are cooking to make matters worse.
The recipe for Indian butter chicken itself was a simple one to follow. They do a good job outlining the individual steps you need to follow to achieve the final result, and they even include a cooking term glossary inside of the huge card if you don’t know what one of the terms they use means. My husband consumed it happily, declaring it a winner. A few bites of the somewhat spicy chicken and accompanying sauce was too much for my sensitive stomach, however.
Now that these meal kits are appearing in actual stores as opposed to just being an online delivery service, I think there is more merit to them. An individual meal is much more attractive for someone in a hurry or trying to put a meal on the table after forgetting to plan for the night. I’ve found that most kits I can find in my local area come out for cheaper than a take out meal or ordering pizza. All it takes is a short jaunt into Target on the way home from work.
There are companies out there doing it with more finesse than Local Crate. The kit from Festival Foods, for example, had the recipe printed on a card insert you would take out of the box. That card is now stuffed into one of my junk drawers, ready to be referenced at a moment’s notice. Hello Fresh also uses the recipe card format. If you’ve ever been curious about these services, you can now stick your toe in the water with individual kits and experience far less guilt than if you bought a five meal package and didn’t get around to cooking two of them before it all went bad.
Sourcing Unusual Ingredients
Originally Posted March 5,2020 in the Archive
This month has already been a challenge in terms of cooking from our cookbook of the month. I know when i initially posted about my choice, I knew that sourcing the ingredients would be a problem for me and probably most of my readers. Most of the traffic here comes from the Midwest if my Facebook commenters are any indicator, and the Midwest is not the most friendly location in the world to find specialty dried seaweeds at the supermarket. Any specialty grocer could be as much as two hours away if you want to drive. So, how do we conquer this hurdle when we want to take on a cuisine as challenging as that of Japan?
There is always Amazon. We use it for everything, and now that they are partnered with Whole Foods, folks in bigger cities can even use it for their everyday groceries. My first weekend researching this month’s cookbook, I spent more than fifty dollars on Amazon in order to source some of the core ingredients mentioned within the first few pages of the book. It’s fast, and it’s easy. When their boxes arrived in my mailbox, however, I wondered if there was a better way that I had honestly just ignored up until now.
We give so much business to Amazon as a country when there are surely better ways to support smaller businesses. In the three years that I’ve been working on cookbooks, I’ve found that most of the writers do the leg work for you if you want to go beyond the giant internet overlord which has wormed their way into literally everything that we do. I’ve just taken the easy way out. Sonoko Sakai is one of those authors that is mindful of the limitations of the modern American grocery store, and she provides a lovely selection of links in the back of the cookbook to help guide you on your way.
This time, we explore the long route. I am blessed enough to live in a decently populated area with a large Asian immigrant population that may or may not have what I need in their grocery stores. Not many of these appear to be Japanese focused, but we’ll explore them all the same while we cook our way through Japanese Home Cooking. The eastern side of downtown has a small cluster all close together that I intend to get to later this week.
There are also those websites that Sonoko Sakai has so graciously compiled for her readers. Some of the websites in that section are as simple as the King Arthur Flour website, and most of us can get that in our everyday stores. Some of the listed websites don’t actually ship to homes across the country but rather serve to draw attention to Japanese Markets in larger cities. Among the handful that I spot checked, The Japanese Pantry is the most promising.
The prices, however, will muscle out anyone who hasn’t dedicated themselves to pursuing this type of cooking. I can get a bottle of kikkoman soy sauce at my local store for maybe two bucks. It’s not the highest quality, but it’s accessible. The high quality Mitsuboshi soy sauce available at the Japanese pantry is thirty-one dollars! It’s clearly the good stuff, directly imported, but my god. The money. Amazon doesn’t sell Mitsuboshi soy sauce, so there isn’t a price point comparison to be made here.
As for the suribachi (specialized Japanese mortar and pestle kind of thing), the Japanese Pantry sells one for thirty-five dollars from a respected vendor in Japan. You can purchase what is almost certainly a suribachi of lesser quality on amazon for about twenty bucks. The price differential isn’t that large, but its enough to give anyone pause.
It’s the unfortunate reality that adventurous home cooks face when they try to branch out into something that isn’t widely practiced in the United States. We are not all so privileged as to live in places like New York or Los Angeles with large immigrant populations of nearly every ethnicity selling the flavors of home. The rest of us have two options: give our money to Bezos, or spend sometimes twice as much time and money sourcing quality ingredients from smaller vendors.
Originally Posted March 13,2020 in the Archive
A lot has been said about how we have all seen this before. I’m a child of the nineties. I saw swine flu and ebola and SARS and West Nile Virus. I remember the general concern in the air, but I lived in a place where all of these things felt so far away. I don’t think I knew anyone who ever got swine flu at the time. Ebola never exploded like we were all terrified of. There is conflicting information out there about the current pandemic that has us all frightened, and I want to believe the people that tell me not to be afraid.
But I am afraid.
I’m afraid for my older relatives and my friends with chronic health conditions. I’m scared of all of the cancellations pouring in every single day from the NBA to the Overwatch League to Disneyworld. My every day life has already been disrupted in some small way by the abrupt ending of sporting events nationwide. Every time my boss calls us together in the office, I feel my heart leap in a mini panic attack.
The world is suddenly very dark, and I had come into 2020 hoping for a brighter tomorrow. I’m 27 and in decent health. I’ve got very little to be afraid of when it comes to my personal health, but the lights are going out everywhere we look. The things that bring us joy-- sports and amusement parks and parties-- they are the sacrifices we have to make to TRY and control a worldwide pandemic. What do we do when the lights go out? We light a candle.
It’s a small thing to turn to food when everything else gets hard to handle, but it’s what I’ve done since I was a little girl. I can control what I’m cooking, and it tastes good when I’m done. That’s satisfying to a person with chronic anxiety on a number of levels. What we all need right now is a little bit of comfort. We’re finding it in our own ways. Some people find it by telling themselves and others that it's not as bad as we all think. I find it in a cold beer and a long cook.
Friday night, I started peeling shrimp fully prepared to tackle a recipe from our cookbook of the month. Halfway through peeling the shrimp I decided to abandon it and turn to the comfort of a bastardized shrimp scampi instead because I know the power that that dish has in my kitchen. It’s a favorite of my husband. It’s quick, and it’s Lent friendly. I don’t have to worry about if he’ll like the carrot in the tempura fritter. I can show him I’m thinking about him when the world is getting scary.
I can’t even imagine what I’d do if we had kids right now. Schools all over Wisconsin are closing next week, and that trend is crossing the entire country literally as I type this article. I joke when I say that I want to go home for quarantine time, but I don’t want quarantine time. I want things to go back to the way they were, as imperfect as they were. Literally the only thing I can do right now to pretend that everything is alright is cook.
Cooking is love. Cooking is comfort. When I can’t face the outside world, no matter the reason why, it’s there to remind me that things aren’t so bad. Doesn’t matter if I made the food or if someone else did. This craft makes us all feel a little better. Food carries so much in every bite, and when I bite into that spaghetti tonight, I feel a little bit closer to normal.
Managing Food in a Global Pandemic
Originally Posted March 24,2020 in the Archive
We’ve all seen what’s going on in the world around us right now. We have all panic bought two weeks worth of groceries and made fun of people getting too much toilet paper. We’ve watched restaurants close entirely or switch to delivery and carry out only. The world is a little darker than usual right now. There is no end in sight, but we all have to eat. What we do know right now is that businesses and people are suffering as a result of the great measures we have to take to slow the spread of COVID-19, but we can help.
Keep in mind that some of these tips will mostly apply to people like me who are at lower risk. Social distancing is important for everyone, but we are safer while trying to support people who are struggling right now.
1. Order Carryout and Delivery from your Favorite Locals
Several states have forced restaurants to close their doors and do business through delivery or take out only. This change is going to put the hurt on a lot of people for however long this pandemic continues. Servers will not be making tips. Less cooks will be needed on the line. People will lose their jobs, but we can mitigate some of that by ordering delivery from local restaurants every once and awhile until that option is no longer available to us, if and when that time comes.
If you have the means (IE work a secure job in the current climate with reliable income), do yourself a favor by ordering a spot of sunshine in a to go container and do your neighbor a favor by helping them continue to receive their own paycheck. A lot of restaurants in Green Bay are already signed up to the myriad of delivery services, and there are some even setting up their servers as delivery drivers so that they may continue to make tips. These people need us, and we need them.
2. Donate to food banks
Food shortages aren’t likely to occur for those of us that have money, but economic distress has already struck a lot of families. Food banks are sometimes the only source of a meal for these communities, and many of those food banks are still open and accepting donations. Paul’s Pantry in Green Bay, Wi for example will remain open for COVID-19 until they are told otherwise. They are also still accepting donations.
3. Learn to Bake Breads
The most valuable skill I have gathered from working on this food blog is oddly enough making bread right now. This first week of panic in Wisconsin has left the big box stores downright cleared out, so if the bread apocalypse continues at my local Pick N Save, I can make my own. There are a lot of online recipes for making easy flatbreads with minimal ingredients from your pantry. AP flour is one of the most valuable ingredients right now if you find yourself in a bind.
4. Shop as Normal
The entire country isn’t going into lockdown any time soon, so you can do your grocery shopping as normal, save for additional health precautions. Wash your cart handle when you grab it, etc. If you want to pick up a little extra, no one can blame you, but the time for panic buying is over. We all need to eat, and the more of us that try to go about business as usual in regards to our grocery shopping, the better.
5. Be Kind
Over the course of this, there will be frustrations. Your grocery store will be out of something. You will be in a long line. There will be someone working in public every single day of their lives when some of us get to go home and self-isolate the vast majority of the time. Those people are putting themselves on the line for all of us just by going in to work to make sure we get our essentials. The Teenager at Target that you harassed once for accidently scanning an item twice or the Grocery Store clerk who couldn’t get your toilet paper deserves as much praise as anyone right now.
They get paid like ass, and they’re the ones taking the biggest risk for us. For all of us. Most places don’t let them accept tips, so at the very least, let them know they’re appreciated. Let them know they’re seen.
Help who you can help. Do you have a neighbor that is struggling to feed her kids? Make them a meal. Get an extra loaf of bread at the store and give it to them. This is the time to remember the good things about humanity. We’ve seen a lot of bad things for a very long time, but we can’t focus on it anymore. We’ve got to take care of each other.
We can’t go out to eat, and ordering delivery isn’t always viable. Teach yourself something new. Cooking is a good stress reliever and a fun group activity if you and the family are stuck in the house for awhile. I find a lot of relief from my anxiety in making bread or stock to store for the future, and every meal is an opportunity for some serotonin. Enjoy the things you have always enjoyed, even if you’re the one who has to make them instead of someone else.
The worst thing we can do for ourselves right now is eat poorly. A good diet is good for your health.
Update: Rating Cookbooks
Article Originally Posted on March 26,2020 in the Archive
This was prepared before the COVID-19 Pandemic became an emergency in the United States. This post is about our rating system going forward as we continue to review cookbooks and support cookbook writers during a difficult time.
2020 is a new year, and while it’s been three months since the new year began, there is obviously still time for change. I want to make a change here at Eating Normal, and I want your opinion. I want to start rating our monthly cookbooks. A few weeks ago, I asked you what you wanted to be considered when I started rating our cookbooks. A few of you responded on facebook, and you’ve been heard. Here are our categories:
When we talk about accessibility in terms of a cookbook, we’re talking about what it takes to make the things inside. Do you need a lot of special equipment? Can you get the ingredients without a two hour research period at your computer? Eating Normal is for home cooks, and I want you to know if these books have a place in your home. This is the most easily identified rating that will help my readers.
Are there techniques in the cookbook that an average cook might struggle with, or do I just need to know how to boil water? Does the writer explain those hard things, or do they expect you to know it? We all need a challenge once and awhile in the kitchen. We also need someone to teach us how to overcome those challenges. Eating Normal will assess the general difficulty of the recipes in each cookbook and how well the writer helps guide you to rate the difficulty of the book.
No one needs seven different versions of relatively the same recipe piling up in their cookbook repertoire, except for me. My job is to help make sure you aren’t buying the same cookbook with a different chef’s name on it. Creative, interesting recipes will give points in originality to each cookbook. Almost every cookbook will have some kind of chicken recipe, etc, but we want different flavors and combinations.
By their powers combined, we have created the first iteration of our Eating Normal rating scale. This is open to adjustment over the coming months as we actually try to rate cookbooks against these scales. They may not work for every cookbook, and there may be areas that I want to address that these three do not adequately address. For now, it’ll have to do.
This rating scale will make its first appearance during our final review of Japanese Home Cooking by Sonoko Sakai, coming out in a few days. We already have a few articles out about our experience with the book, and there are still more to come.. Take a look around! We’ve hit a huge burst of posts toward the end of March now that my initial panic has passed and I can make myself do things.
Green Bay, WI Asian Markets
Orignally Posted on March 27, 2020 in the Archive
This article was written before the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread aggressively within the United States. Please keep that in mind while reading. The small grocery stores like the ones described in this article need our support the most right now.
Northeast Wisconsin is blessed with a large Asian immigrant community. Within a six block radius, there are a TON of Asian markets to explore. Chief of these is Asian Taste Supermarket, where my husband took me on March 1st to go hunting for ingredients we need for the Cookbook of the Month, Japanese Home Cooking. He has been on walkabout in the neighborhood more than once, taking stock of a few of these markets by my request when I’ve stayed home to clean or something. This one, he told me, was probably his favorite.
Despite the very cramped front aisles, I could see why he would feel that way about Asian Taste. You’re welcomed by an aisle of sweets, and from there on, you can find a variety of spices, noodles, canned goods, and even fresh ingredients. I saw a durian with my own eyes for the first time in their produce section. I smelled it too. Even before it’s opened, I can’t say I recommend the smell
I’ve always had a fascination with exploring new grocery stores, but ethnic markets are a rare treat for me. Where I grew up, we had a small hispanic market that I went to maybe once. An Asian market was in the next town over during my time in Iowa, but I never made the trip. The large hispanic population in Milford, Delaware led to my exploration of an honest to god giant grocery store, El Gigante. I had yet to experience something like Asian taste.
I have a passing knowledge of Spanish to get me by in a market, but I definitely cannot read Thai or Hmong. I also cannot read Japanese, Chinese, or Korean despite my best duolingo efforts. Most of the labels did have english somewhere on them to help me out, but very rarely was the english in a prominent location. I have no doubt I passed up some golden items during my shopping trip.
What I did manage to find has set me up relatively well for our foray into Japanese cooking this month. Furikake seasoning, for example, was available within Asian Taste, and it was one of the first things I snagged off the shelves. Sonoko Sakai offers to substitute in Thai red chilis or Korean Chili flakes in a few recipes, both of which were also available. I found a little jar of Sambal that has fascinated me since our time with the Lucky Peach Cookbook.
Botan rice caught my eye from across the crowded space, and by adding a bag of that to my basket, I had to pass it over to my husband to carry. We left with such a variety of offerings that I can’t remember them all as I sit down to write about my experience. Meats, vegetables, and soybean products were among the few areas of the store that I neglected since I am able to find most of these things at the regular grocery store.
The experience fills me with some hope for the current home cook that might be considering a challenging cookbook like Sonoko Sakai’s Japanese Home Cooking. Not everything has to come down from Amazon if a person has access to a place like this, even if the Japanese population in their area is minimal. If you are in a region like the one I grew up in, however, Amazon remains your only bet at sourcing a vast majority of the requested ingredients. It’s a point in favor of the opposition toward this cookbook.
It's staggeringly obvious that moving into ethnic cuisine is a daunting task for a home cook, especially one like Japanese cuisine where the ingredients are not widespread. Learning Hispanic cuisines has become much easier as the immigrant population grows so large that even towns as small as my hometown can sustain a Hispanic foods store when the growing aisle in the supermarket isn't enough. The best I can do at my regular grocer for Japanese cooking is soy sauce, Nori, and instant soups.
If the task of sourcing these ingredients is enough to convince you not to buy a cookbook, I can tell you now that Japanese Home Cooking won't be for you. If I were not in a good place financially at my new job, I might have already given up. You don't want to know how much I spent at Asian Taste much less on ordering shit from Amazon. Or maybe, you do?
The adventure of finding these different ingredients has given the whole thing more value for me. I've struggled to get myself into Green Bay proper beyond my apartment and my office since my health has been rough, and doing this for the blog was enough to give me the courage to go out and just do it. We talk a lot about doing it for the gram, but I'm doing it for the blog.
Originally posted April 2, 2020 in the Archive
A little over a year ago, I wrote an article about how the labor of cooking is an act of love when faced with the passing of my husband’s grandfather. Today, I was informed that I have been furloughed from my job indefinitely in the face of COVID-19. I got off the phone with my boss, I cried, and then I looked to the rest of the world for positivity. It’s incredible how much light is still out there in the restaurants of our communities.
Big name Chefs all over the country are going out of their way to turn their kitchens into relief sites for their own employees and others impacted by the crisis currently facing our country. Edward Lee, a chef whose cookbook we reviewed here, Smoke and Pickles, with the help of Maker’s Mark turned every restaurant he owns into relief kitchens for his employees. While he could no longer pay them, he could certainly feed them, and his example is one of many that led to the movement currently sweeping the country.
Nancy Silverton of Osteria Mozza fame followed in his wake and began the same process in Los Angeles. We have all seen the efforts of Jose Andres in his major kitchens addressing the needs of his communities. Marcus Samuelson of Red Rooster has turned his locations into relief sites as well, and these people are not thinking about their bottom line. They are thinking about the people.
It may be big names that are plastered all over national media, but let us not forget the little guys who are going above and beyond to support the people in their communities either. I remain a dedicated follower of social media within a town close to my heart, Burlington, Iowa, and I am as moved by their community leaders as I am by the big names we already discussed.
I am moved by the generosity of the community donating more than a thousand dollars to Chase Gibb’s restaurant coalition of Coal Haus 337, The Buffalo Tavern, and Buffalo 61 to support them while they provide meals to the service organizations in southeastern Iowa. People that are putting their lives on the line for their community are being given a spot of joy in their difficult fight by the donations of their community and the efforts of Chase's staff.
Knowing that even the little guys can make such a profound impact on their communities is perhaps the most valuable lesson of these hard times. I am moved by the man’s motivation to turn a terrible thing into hope, even employing his mobile pizza oven to help other businesses in need. There is no competition anymore. There is only a fight for survival, and it is through generosity that we can all survive.
In my last location of Delaware, the absolute gentleman-- The Rehoboth Foodie-- is doing his best to highlight businesses that are still accepting carryout and delivery orders in the face of this current crisis. It was only because of him that I know about Difibos restaurant in Bethany Beach packing grocery cases for their employees that they have had to let go as well.
All over the country, people are donating to businesses that are trying to keep themselves afloat by providing for the people on our frontlines against an invisible enemy. Sometimes, its a twenty dollar gift card so that a few nurses can get a cup of coffee on their way to work without having to worry about it. Sometimes it's a fifteen hundred dollar donation to feed an entire city’s first responders.
And sometimes, it's a take out order of a burger when you’re working from home. We all have a part to play for the people that are being hurt the most by this crisis. Generosity in the face of adversity is the only thing some of us have left, to give or to receive. We only have so much that we as individuals can do, but we must do it all. Restaurateurs can use their supplies and reach to do innumerable amounts of good for their communities, and we are seeing it everywhere. People can use their limited resources to help those people continue their mission.
Watch the Facebook pages of your local favorites for any kind of charity activity being undertaken and give what you can. Buy that delivery burger if you want it. Donate gift cards to your favorite locations to feed the people protecting us from our invisible enemy. Food is love. To give it, to receive it, or make it yourself matters little. It is a language we all understand.
Originally Posted May 11, 2020 in the Archive
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.
Scallions, for example, have been a staple of my veggie drawer for years now. I use them to top nacho snacks, drop into stir frys, bake into savory goodies. Early into quarantine, I discovered that regrowing scallions in the kitchen is not such a hard task. Many chefs I follow on instagram began placing their root ends of their scallions into cups of water to get at least a second use out of them, and in that I followed. This little thing has given one of my favorite produce purchases a second life. This isn’t something i’ll ever give up, I think.
Eggs are a staple in most households. We use them for breakfasts and baked goods, but they can go forgotten on the top shelf of the fridge for days at a time when the mornings start to get away from us. As I mentioned, I never worried in the past if the carton went past its prime. This week, I found myself genuinely worried about it for the first time in my entire life.
I spent the day freezing gnocchi to make sure that I used my eggs. I made Brasovence from our Cookbook of the Month, Carpathia, to get the rest of the eggs out of my fridge. The whole day was an exercise in using what I have, and it felt good. It’s amazing what you can make when you look for the things that are on their way out.
Dairy products make up the vast majority of what I keep in my fridge. Mayo, sour cream, cheese, and milk are important building blocks to all three meals of the day in the Eating Normal Kitchen. Prior to the lockdown, I had very set uses for all of these items, and if they happened to expire, it wasn’t a big deal. Like all of those things above, that changed when I found myself needing to make use of everything.
Milk has gone toward sauces and baking projects to get the most use out of it before the expiration comes along. I make milk bread almost every single weekend. Cheese sauces and alfredos and more goodies can come from a carton of milk that I have otherwise neglected. It’s been a delicious blessing.
Mayo and sour cream have gone toward sauces as well, though mostly chip dips. I am a firm believer in spinach and artichoke dip for daily consumption during quarantine, and now that I’ve realized I can make it myself in ten minutes with an old Alton Brown recipe, there probably won’t be any going back now.
Meat is becoming a more and more precious thing the longer quarantine goes on. I was a notorious waster of an extra chicken thigh or two. I threw out the carcass of roast chickens without a second thought. Now, I spend extra time after every grocery pick up separating a package of meat into meal portions for my husband and I. I save the bones from everything, raw or cooked, for stock later down the line. Meat off a roast chicken is a meal for at least three days.
I even saved the wing tips off of chicken wings to go toward a stock that wound up being one of the most gelatinous, fatty stocks I’ve ever made in my life-- and it was delicious.
Since portioning off each big container of meat for more than one meal, I haven’t let a single slice of meat expire in my fridge. I was notorious about that for pretty much my entire life, and I didn’t feel an ounce of regret. We had a culture of waste.
Fruits have also taken on a higher importance in my kitchen. Generally, I did not buy them in the pre-quarantine times. Last week, I decided to try and make healthier choices in my eating during the pandemic which has landed some strawberries and citrus in my kitchen for the first time all year. While I don’t normally eat berries, I’ve started adding them to my water to give it a little flavor. Most of my lemons and limes have applications in the kitchen beyond these jugs of water, but they certainly help there too.
Fresh produce has been easier to get than a lot of the frozen versions, and with meat shortages on the horizon, we have to use what we can get our hands on. The way we cook in America will likely be changed forever because of this moment in history, and the way we all make use of what we have will be a major tenant of that change. Our culture of waste cannot survive the current environment. Adjustments begin in the home kitchen. How are you changing the way you cook during stay at home orders?
Good suggestions from readers will be tested in my own kitchen and their results shared later in the month.
An idea born in Normal, Illinois, Eating Normal hopes to chronicle the eating Experiences of a Red bird. Pledge monthly to our patreon!