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You Know It’s Bad When You Happily Clean Out the Fridge

It’s been an off couple of weeks as far as cooking goes. I was having so much fun with my specific cooking goals — let’s make cheese! let’s make butter! let’s live entirely on dairy products, that seems reasonable! — that the fridge was starting to get a little too full of non-dairy things I hadn’t touched yet. I thought the problem was only the fridge, but then one night I pulled a box of breadcrumbs out of the cabinet and realized that we’ve now lived in Iowa long enough for food I bought here to have expired years ago. So I figured some cooking-as-cleaning was in order. I try to do it a couple times a year anyway, pull everything out of all the places we keep food, lightly chastise myself for the stuff I let spoil, have a look at everything else and try to do something with it if it’s getting older, unsentimentally toss it if I bought it on a whim and every time I’ve reached for it thinking I really should cook this I can’t quite bring myself to pick it up and actually cook it. I guess I hadn’t done it in a while though. Or at least not to the cabinet where I keep the breadcrumbs.  I finished clearing out that cabinet today and found peanut butter with a sell-by date in January 2017 and dried cranberries that expired in May 2016. I need to stop keeping food in that cabinet.

I started with the chickpeas I bought like 5 pounds of last year (wait…it’s 2018 now so…maybe not last year?) without realizing they were essentially gravel. I’m not actually sure I’ve ever managed to eat any of them. But I keep trying to cook them. I think my first attempt was when I learned that my new Crock-Pot didn’t actually cook even when it had been running for 8 hours, and it hasn’t exactly gone uphill since then. I was down to the last few cups of them and figured I would just go for it, but 6+ hours of boiling in 2 separate sessions with 2 days of soaking in between did NOTHING. At least now I can buy better ones and go back to the kind of life where I’m someone who gets to enjoy chickpeas sometimes.

Then I left a bag of potatoes in the car. For 4 days. In January. In Iowa. I was determined to pretend like they hadn’t been ruined, and I think I might have pulled it off? Remind me to give you my very special recipe for frozen potato gnocchi sometime.

Last night I tried to make mozzarella and only discovered after the citric acid and rennet were in that I’d bought ultra-pasteurized milk. I strained it and I’m hoping it will turn into something more like ricotta, but dang I haven’t had such a hard time cooking in a while and a half.

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A photo of a simpler time, when so much still seemed possible.

While the enthusiasm has been waning, I’ve been doing some maintenance and updating my kitchen toys. I sharpened all my knives. I finally bought a proper digital instant-read thermometer. And a fancy candy thermometer so I don’t have to keep re-buying the same $4.99 grocery store one with the clip that breaks the first time you use it and then one day you leave it in the sink and it gets filled with some sort of indistinguishable liquid that you know will never come back out and you can’t stand the thought of that thing resting in something you’re going to eat so you have to toss it and then get another one. Three times now. I decided it was time for a magnetic knife strip. (And this will free up a drawer for utensil storage, so there is almost definitely some drawer organizer fun in my near future.) I may even have impulse-bought a very expensive apron, and it may only have been partly the fault of the migraine I had that day clouding my judgement. So basically, the cooking magic better come back soon because I’m going to have an awfully well-equipped kitchen and I’d rather have something to actually do in it.

Today I’m trying to quietly invite the magic back by not looking directly at it. Maybe it scares easy, I don’t know. I took all the things out of all the cabinets and wiped everything down with white vinegar. I turned the expired food cabinet into a small appliance cabinet. I turned the “why do we even have this many bags of marshmallows” cabinet into more pan storage (there is never enough pan storage). I took everything out of the pantry and tried to re-home all the things in open bags and flimsy plastic storage containers into glass (there is never enough glass, but this is why I never throw jars away). I noted what staples I was out of and MADE A SHOPPING LIST. I gathered up all the smallest amounts of things and the things that need to be used up the soonest and put them on the counter by the range, where I will try to leave them until I actually cook with them.

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(I think I have some plans for most of these. I see baked beans and curry at least.)

I have good reason to believe all the food in my house is safely in-date now. (Shit. Except the freezers. I haven’t dug through the freezers in forever.) And in between all of this, carefully — quietly — just secretly, a few minutes here and there — I made bread.

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I made a pot of beans that were NOT essentially gravel. (No photo, though. Have you seen navy beans? It was like that but probably even less interesting than ones you’ve seen in person.)

And then I made “I’ll cook chicken with some spices and tomatoes and serve it over buttered egg noodles” or whatever you call that for dinner.

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It’s not the most exciting meal I’ve ever had, but right now I’ll take cooking something edible that was also pretty much how I pictured it going in over the most exciting meal.

I’m going to go eat now. Quietly, so the magic doesn’t get scared away again.

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