And back and forth we go.
Finally, Culinary Explorer Girl wins. Humbleness and humor find me. I realize how ridiculous I am being. (Am I really going to leave the store not having bought fennel simply because I didn’t know what it looks like? REALLY, Kathleen? Who cares what the produce dude thinks, or what the tight-lipped woman expertly racing around the tomato aisle giving me dirty looks thinks?). I decide rather than being embarrassed about asking, why not treat this as the adventure it is proving to be? I spot the produce dude; he is sporting the ever-popular “urban grunge” look, so it’s hard to call him “the produce man.” He seriously looks like the kind of guy who probably spends his free time barefoot in blue jeans drinking green tea and strumming an acoustic guitar, singing songs that, of course, he wrote. I smilingly approach him, my wrinkled and marked up list in hand, and say, “Can you please tell me what a [glance down at paper, squint a bit] ‘fennel’ looks like?”
“Oh, sure. It’s right here.” He smiles easily and picks up the fennel and hands it to me. Simple as that.
The funniest thing of all is that the fennel was an ingredient for last night’s planned dinner. Which my husband and I decided to not make.
Let me explain (there are logistics involved here): It required too much time—more than we bargained for. We were both exhausted, and we had a very hungry 4-year-old on our hands who was not about to wait for an entire chicken to roast (only after being rubbed down and surrounded with vegetables). Patience, friends, we are still navigating the logistics of incorporating Sonoma-style living and being into our family life. We resorted to a still-Sonoma-friendly meal but one that required much less time to prepare.
As for the fennel, it still sits there, patiently waiting for me to prepare and cook it. I’m sure there’s another recipe I can use it in this week. I won’t let that little guy go bad—not after all my work in acquiring him! J
I Hear (and Taste) a Symphony
Now let’s talk about my cooking skills themselves. I am learning that all is not lost.
My first attempt (and a successful one at that) was the Mediterranean Soup. The soup is DELICIOUS and because it makes 8 cups (although, this Explorer somehow ended up with 12 cups), I froze half of it. I actually took a picture of it, it looked so colorful in the skillet!
It was kind of comical had you been a fly on the wall late last night while I was making said soup. (You’ve already heard about how overwhelmed I was in that big building known as a “grocery store,” bumbling around like the newbie I am.) Ask Kelly, fellow Sonoma Explorer with a life very similar life to my own—namely, defined as a balancing act involving a full-time job, toddlers, and time management, among other things. We ran into each other at the very end of my hours-long excursion to transition my family and myself into Mediterranean gods and goddesses. She saw me at Safeway (stop #2 after MOM’s) at the very end of my rope: I was trying to find what MOM’s didn’t have (and, honestly, things that I could more easily afford without sacrificing quality).
Fast-forward to later that evening, after my son was in bed and I could focus on (gasp) cooking at long last.
The recipe said it would take 1 hour and 15 minutes to make this soup. I managed to double that time. But I discovered something critical to my future as a cook of all things fresh and flavorful, something that I had never tried before: Listening to music while cooking. It TOTALLY helped me and actually made me enjoy the process. And because I was spending so much time wrangling with all the chopping and sautéing and slicing and simmering, I wasn’t sitting in front of the TV all night, wondering what I could eat (and whining b/c I was fasting for the biometric screening on Monday morning).
Some comments I kept making to my husband while cooking the soup included the following:
“How do you ‘slice’ garlic, for God’s sake?” [I still don’t know the answer to that one. I ended up just chopping up the cloves. I think a glass jar of minced garlic might be in order.]
“You mean I have to put the pasta into the soup uncooked?”
“Shit! I forgot to buy chile flakes [whatever they are]. Oh, well.” [I ad libbed and shook some crushed red pepper and chili powder into the soup instead; it turned out OK, considering I like spicy food.]
“OK, OK, I’ll stop talking now.” [in response to him looking up at me and sighing, as he was interrupted from his reading for the 19th time…]
And then there’s this priceless conversation that I simply must recap here. We were discussing the roasted chicken that we were planning to cook the next night (yes, the one with fennel in it, the same one that ended up not getting made).
Me: “You mean they sell a whole raw chicken in the grocery store?”
Jeff: “Yes; they’re actually a lot cheaper than buying boneless breast.”
Me: “[insert wrinkly face] Ewww, that’s gross. I hate touching raw meat. Can you be the one to prepare the chicken? I’ll take on the fennel.”
So, fellow explorers and blog followers, for me it all comes down to frittatas and fennel. Being fearless and asking questions. Having fun. Embracing a new way of living and being.
I really am stark raving mad for Med.