Smell for Me

So, one crazy thing: I can’t smell.  The ol’ olfactory nerves just don’t work.  There are a few theories as to why, but they don’t change the fact that I can sit obliviously reading a book in a kitchen rapidly filling with the smoke of burning potatoes in a microwave.  True story.  

I have to rely on my husband to identify the cause of what he calls, “something reeking from the fridge.”  I have to rely on my husband to jump in from the living room out of concern for dinner when he thinks he smells, “something burning.”  (Usually it’s a false alarm.  Usually.)  I have to rely on the store owner to describe the smells for my oil lamp so I can cover up the fridge reeking smell.  I have to rely on my kids to remind me that the baby’s diaper is full of it.

So I’m pretty paranoid about what could be going on in the air unbeknownst to me.  

Recently a friend was due to come over and I had to make an apple pie.  I thought, “Great.  We’re all set on the smell front.”  Well, the juices boiled over through the pie crust onto the bottom of the oven where they burned and burned.  Smoke filled the air and once again, I went blithely on with my last minute cleaning in the next room while anyone with a normal nose would have gone running into the kitchen to save the air and oven.  (The pie was fine.)  

I wonder if my friends just expect my house to stink or are they surprised every time still?


Tell Me Why, You Picky Chefs!

You know those cookbooks that get really wordy and tell you why you should do what they’re saying to do?  I love that.

I always want to know why they are being so picky.  Why not overstir?  What’s that going to do?  Make the ingredients blow up?  Why add the milk and flour to the egg mixture alternately?  Why keep the batter lumpy for some things and not for others?  Why let the spices sit on the chicken for fifteen minutes before you cook it?  I don’t want to do it unless there’s a good reason.  

And how do they know?  Do they really stand around in their test kitchens, wasting all those ingredients, just to try out all the options?  “Whoa.  Look what happened to this cake when we added all the ingredients together all at once instead of alternating the milk and flour.  Better warn all of our readers.”  “Oops.  Thirteen minutes definitely wasn’t enough time for those spices to penetrate into the deep recesses of the chicken.  All I taste is that nasty chicken flavor.  Better make it fifteen minutes next time, just to be safe.”

What happens to my bread dough when I don’t let it rest for ten minutes?

I think the perfect cookbook would be a mix of science, trial and error stories, and delicious recipes.  No more of this because-I-said-so stuff.  

Pie Crust

I needed to make twelve pies for this year’s Thanksgiving celebration.  Twelve.  Half-way through and I’ve got the apple pie measurements memorized.

Then I run out of nutmeg.  But no problem; I’d known I was getting low so I bought back-up.  But when I open it up, I notice that it’s a much orangier (I’m going to have to make that a word.  Sorry spell-check.) color than my other packet of nutmeg.  I check the front again and see that it’s not actually nutmeg, but flower of meg.  (That’s the best I can do.  I’m translating literally from Czech.)  

Bring in the internet.  Can I use flower of meg for nutmeg?  Probably.  (I say that because I did it but haven’t tasted it yet.)  “Flower of meg” is actually mace (heard of that but thought of it more as a weapon for women) and apparently has a similar taste as nutmeg (where they differ is far, far beyond my taste bud expertise).  So I threw it in.  (Getting exciting and experimental over here.  This is way outside my boundaries.  I’m a direction-follower so although I non-challantly describe myself as just “throwing it in”, it was a major character-growing experience.)

Now, after pie six, I’m  getting a little bored.  Is there something more exciting I can do to the crust?  Can I at least try to make my apple pie a little fancier, a little more impressive?  For several years, I’ve amused myself with scratching in a message on the top pie crust before laying it over the apples (after rolling it out).

But I think I’m ready to roll with the big dogs.  (Is that a phrase?)  I want that beautiful, sparkly, oh-so-creative festive look.  Yeah, the one from the magazines, the one from the pie contest winners, the one from the professionals.  (Can you believe I thought I was ready for that?) I take some leftover pie crust, make some leafy shapes (I use the term very loosely), brush them with milk, and slap them on the pie crust.  Then I try to evenly sprinkle sugar on it.  You know the look I’m going for.

Still going for that look.  But at least I have six more pies to practice on.  I think a tiny leaf cookie-cutter would be very helpful, first of all.  Secondly, how do they sprinkle the sugar so nicely and evenly?  I take a spoon of sugar and tap it with my other hand over the spot.  It’s too gentle and nothing sprinkles off.  Then I overcompensate with more of a whack and then it’s not a sprinkle, it’s a downpour.

Then I thought with still more leftover pie crust dough, I’d bake some little tiny special treats.  I cut out heart shapes and sprinkled them with cinnamon sugar.  I baked them on a cookie sheet for about 15 minutes at 375 degrees.

The result was not satisfying at all.  They puffed up, weren’t sweet enough, and did not look all sweet and yummy.  So don’t do that.

Because We All Have to Eat, But We Can’t All Cook

Well, I’m not against eating.  We all have to eat.  I’m not even really against cooking.  It’s really not so bad…if you know what you’re doing.  I see all sorts of lovely, tidy pictures of beautiful food on blogs and television.  But to be honest, that’s not my kitchen.  My pie crust is crooked.  My boiling potatoes boil over (every time).  My chicken is charred on the outside, raw on the inside.  You may be encouraged to find someone who makes the same mistakes as you.  You may be puffed up to see someone make worse mistakes than you.  (That’s fine, too.  We all need someone like that in our lives, I guess.)  So if you want to learn how to cook, this is not the place to learn what to do.  It’s the place to learn what NOT to do.