Sun 22 Mar 2009
My name is Bria, and I like to cook. The Salty Spoon is a chronicle of my journey through food, wine, cooking, and the other adventures that start and end in my kitchen.
I cook as often as I can. Sometimes my work is simply prohibitive, but I do my best. At present, we are living on one income, so eating take out on a regular basis simply isn’t an option. And honestly, I don’t wish it were. We live in a very residential part of Hollywood - it’s definitely not the restaurant-saturated world of LA’s west side. If we lived in Brentwood, Santa Monica, or Westwood, in walking distance of several mid-priced restaurants (or, for that matter, in a location in our current neighborhood that didn’t require a Herculean undertaking to give delivery directions), things might be different. As soon as I leave my office, I start counting down to the moment when I can ditch the trousers, ditch the thong, and relax into regular underwear and smooshy pants. You know what I mean - knit, elastic waist business that may or may not be sweat pants (currently a lovely drawstring number from Old Navy, $8.99 on sale - yesssss). As far as I’m concerned, stopping for food on the way home is a) expensive and b) prolongs the time between office-leaving and smooshy pants-donning.
And the upshot of most of my weeknight cooking is even better - in the time it would take me to stop on my way home and pick up takeout, I can change my clothes and have food on plates. Smooshy pants: 1, barfy Panda Express: 0.
I never thought I would be one of those “ohh, we don’t eat a lot of ‘processed’ foods” people, but…we don’t eat a lot of processed foods. The more I make my own food, the more I find a lot of prepackaged food to be pretty gross. This might be a symptom of many years on Weight Watchers - I know how carefully I watch the points add up when I use the Recipe Builder function of the website; every ingredient added results in the associated point increase, and I became acutely aware of the way small changes in ingredients can mean big changes in the nutritional outlay. So contrast: I enter the ingredients for oven-fried chicken and know the exact nutritional impact it will have on my daily consumption, versus trying to tackle my best guess of how much chow mein was on my plate, or just what kind of oil might be lurking in the tikka masala.
I started out as a baker. My first hand at recipe experimentation involved adding mint extract to chocolate chip cookies when I was about 7. I proudly served them to my grandparents who were visiting that day. My parents and grandmother suppressed their gag reflexes long enough to choke down the better part of their cookies, but my grandfather took a more honest approach. “Bria,” he said, “I think it’s great that you are learning how to cook and that you’ve tried something new with this recipe. But the mint is a disaster; try again.” He was right, they were VILE. I stuck close to the recipes for several years thereafter, much to my family’s delight. I learned to make all the sweet things I like most - cakes, cookies, bread, cinnamon rolls.
There’s only so far frosting and fudge will take you (okay, okay, I know it’s VERY far, but a girl needs to eat a real meal once in a while). After college, I started accumulating more and more kitchen equipment of increasing quality. By the time I was in law school, I began flexing my culinary muscles and stepping up my efforts to produce full-fledged menus. There were a few disasters (highlights include the Thanksgiving turkey that took an extra two days to defrost to yield a Saturday morning bird, an oven fire from matzoh toffee gone awry, a birthday cake that will forever be known as “scissors cake” due to its unleavened state that gave way to scissors-aided portioning…and on and on) but that’s how you learn.
At least, that’s how I learn. I frequently hear people say that they’re afraid to try cooking - they might screw up, they don’t know what “goes with what” or other such silliness. I don’t mean to patronize; I really understand that a kitchen can be daunting, especially if you didn’t grow up with parents who cooked. But honestly, the worst that can happen is it sucks and you eat chips and salsa for dinner. Eh, there are worse things. And there’s nothing like defiantly scraping your hard work into the trash to serve as a real object lesson for such unteachable concepts as Citrus Reduction on Cous-cous Is Gross.
Please join me as I share with you my love of food. It’s going to taste great.