Look out world. I’ve been cooking.
For those of you who know me well, you can get up off the floor now. Whether that fall was from shock or hilarity, I admit that it was warranted. In fairness, I’ve never really been a bad cook; I’ve just been an uninterested one. My world has been a gloriously full one, with a family and a career and lots of outside interests. Cooking never passed the test for how to spend slightly optional time: would I rather be reading a book? The book, of course, virtually always won that horse race. (Mark says that it’s a good thing that I didn’t apply that test to dating, but I keep reassuring him that I do like him better than books. I really do!)
So for years I’ve been semi-apologizing for my cooking – or lack thereof. Like, “My children think Taco Bell is a food group.” Or, “My cooking has a walk-on song: ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.’” An electrician once accidentally cut the power to our cooktop. I didn’t notice for a week. When the guy came to hook the juice up again, he told me Mark told him I’d been out of town. I have a wonderful husband.
So why start cooking as I enter my (gulp) seventh decade? The answer is peanut butter. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, PB is quite pricey here. Rather than shell out or do without, I decided to see how hard it would be to make the stuff. After all, the Aztecs made a form of peanut butter centuries ago, and they didn’t even have blenders! So I googled “easy peanut butter recipes” and discovered that, amazingly, PB is mostly ground up peanuts. Who knew? I got all fancy schmancy and added oil for creaminess and honey for sweetness, and we were in business.
My culinary triumph got me to thinking. What else was I missing that I might be able to recreate? Being fundamentally Southern in some ways, pimento cheese came to the top of the list. I didn’t even try to ask for this at the grocery store here in Torrevieja; shoot, you can’t even get it in New Hampshire! My friend Vivian had sent me a recipe some time ago, and it involved ingredients that Google Translate knew well. So one shopping trip and one messy blender later, we had pimento cheese sandwiches for lunch. The PC and I were both on rolls.
Like most novices, I became ambitious, giddy, perhaps even delusional. The Friday market here boasts lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Google and I roasted garlic heads. (Here’s a public service announcement: don’t eat five garlic heads for dinner one night. If you must do this (for example, you have an infestation of vampires and are short on stakes for the heart), make sure it’s with someone you love. A lot.) then we roasted cauliflower in olive oil, salt, and pepper. I never knew I had an opinion about olive oil, but now I do. Two thumbs up!
All of this successful roasting led me to volunteer to make cookies for our church’s upcoming bake sale. Oh, I’ve contributed to a zillion bake sales over the years, at various schools and churches. Doing my best Lady Bountiful, I volunteer to bring ALL the paper goods. Please don’t thank me for my generosity; it’s my pleasure to contribute. And to avoid the oven. But now I’m splashing out and baking, and you haven’t really been to a grocery store in a foreign country until you’ve tried to buy vanilla extract and parchment paper. And who knew that “harina integral” was whole wheat? My phone translated that as “integral flour.” Thanks a lot.
It turns out, though, that googling “easy cookie recipes” was the simple part. (N.B. Whatever computers are tracking my online searches must think my phone has been appropriated by a mad chef.) Our oven has turned out to be a challenge. It appears to work okay, but it’s so old that the numbers on the temperature control are mostly worn off. Baking without knowing how hot the oven is strikes me like driving without a functioning speedometer, although admittedly no one is going to give me a ticket for baking at 200 degrees in a 180 degree zone. We tried using the rule of forefinger, as opposed to the rule of thumb. You can vaguely see where 100 degrees is marked, and that’s the width of my forefinger from the top, which is presumably 0. However, I don’t know if the oven is arithmetic or geometric or what, but our new oven thermometer tells us that twice the distance from 0 is 125 degrees. Whatever. The real solution, of course, is a new oven. But that’s a fight for another day. We persevere with the cookies, and the last batch actually turned out pretty darn well. Hooray!
So what has this to do with Romulan cauliflower? My convert’s zeal led me to purchase a romanesco (see picture). I’d never seen one before, and God bless that grocery store for labeling this oddity. Google helpfully translated “romanesco” as “romanesco,” so I had to jump to Wikipedia for enlightenment. It turns out it’s an old vegetable that’s a little like a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. Mark and I discussed how it looks like a food from a “Star Trek” episode, and it wasn’t far at that point from romanesco to Romulan. Anyway, it turns out this stuff is delicious if you roast it with olive oil and garlic. We agreed that we’d happily have it again and added it to our growing list of foods to cook for dinner. This is how the universe expands, I guess – one culinary leap of faith after the other.