Part of my Operation Recipe Swap experiment is to try to emulate the spirit with which each dish was intended/taught to me. If my friend is teaching me about the joy she has in preparing a meal, I want it to learn about that joy as much as I want to learn about the meal; they’re part and parcel.
Remember how Kim said she learned the Silly Greek Chili recipe from a friend who first received it as a gift when she had her baby? Guess what! My sister-in-law JUST had a baby! This was quite convenient! I would get the chance to replicate the circumstances with which Silly Greek Chili is meant to be cooked and eaten. Obviously, my sister-in-law did that just for me!
Meet my doll-faced niece, Vivien.
I made the date to visit via Facebook, saying to my sister-in-law, Leslie, “I’d like to bring supper – I’m learning to cook and have a great chicken chili meal.” I also said, “Won’t stay long, just enough to ‘love on you guys.'”
For the record, I detest the term “love on you.” It’s un-Canadian, a little Southern Baptist, and weirds people out, but somehow this felt like an appropriate way to describe my intentions. I risked my reputation to let my sis-in-law know not to go to any lengths when we came, that I would be the one making all the effort.
I’m finding that For Real Cooking takes exorbitant amounts of time. Is it because I’m new, unskilled, unsure, distracted? I’d find out by timing the meal preparation, to see how long it would really take with my best efforts. I’d do my utmost to keep the whole thing around an hour. That seemed reasonable.
I started at 2:22. (My tween, Sophia, would be so proud since she’s a little obsessed lately about watching the clock for repeating numbers.) When I saw it was 2:22, I changed my goal to be finished at 3:33. We’d plan to leave for Mark & Leslie’s at 4:44. Sophia would love it.
Yes, there are two computers on my table as we basically live in an internet cafe. We’re not proud of it, but in a way we are. I used Fifi’s laptop to time the meal and mine to refer to the recipe and leave food samplings on my keyboard. I played Bejeweled Blitz on Mallory’s iPad while the vegetables softened.
Here’s a question: how do you guys keep your recipes? So far I’ve been introduced to recipes from books, hand-written on scrap pieces of paper, online and printed off the computer. Do you have a great system for keeping recipes? I feel this is an important piece. I’d like to try it out. I’m a neophyte, ready to be molded, an apprentice sitting at her master’s feet. What is the best way to keep your favourite recipes, oh wise one?
I decided to cut all the veggies first, just like we did at Kim’s. That’s becoming fun, the veggie cutting. Still hate onions. Bread in the roof of the mouth trick is 85% effective.
Raw chicken is just plain icky, but it’s way worse when you don’t have a good, sharp knife to cut it with. I tore away pieces with my pathetically dull utensil that does not deserve to be called a knife. This took too long. I whined, but there was no one to hear me (which is why I’m telling you now). I also started getting paranoid about all the salmonella I might be leaving around because somehow raw chicken slime seems to get on things easily, and spreads. I am seeing that each recipe has fun/un-fun elements to it.
I got through the slicing and dicing, dumped all the ingredients (left out chick peas for reasons which I’ll explain) with the sauce into the pot, then covered them and my countertop with chili powder, cumin, oregano and pepper. I left it to simmer while I got ready to go.
Since I would be feeding kids as well as adults in this plan, I decided to create two chili meals, with and without chick peas. I thought this was very smart of me. I drained them and packed them separately for the meal at Mark & Leslie’s.
I remember that Kim talked about EVERYTHING being prepared for the meal for her friend, including buttered buns and dishes/utensils. I decided I’d use my own utensils to serve the meal, but would use Mark and Les’s dishes, with the plan to wash them before we left. I packed it all in and we headed to Mark & Leslie’s.
But first this, for Sophia:
Mark & Leslie are the least needy people I know. I forgot that till I walked into their beautiful CLEAN home, with Leslie, this mother of three, showered and gorgeous, and my nephews quietly playing together. She also happened to be making a chick pea salad, with Viven wrapped tightly in a crunchy mama sling. This was not the first impression I had in my head of how this visit was to go.
I took out my pot wrapped in a towel from my bag, put it on Leslie’s industrial sized gas stove and asked her, after a couple of minutes of trying to figure it out, how to turn it on. Leslie is gourmet. How could I have forgotten! I started to feel really insecure. I hadn’t even tested the chili yet! When I told her, she said, “What? You should always test it!” And she’s not even Italian!
I got so freaked about helping someone who doesn’t need help that I felt the need to confirm that she would be teaching me something in the kitchen for this experiment, right? So the tables turned and there I was asking the mother of a newborn for help… when the baby’s a little older, of course! It also turned out I did not think through enough things to bring. Ladle, cutting board, bowl for buns… um… Les? I eventually got it all on the table… with Leslie’s help.
I tried not to, but I couldn’t help looking around as everyone was taking their first spoonful. It wasn’t hot enough for a variety of reasons that involve the demands of a newborn while dinner sits on the table. The chick peas I’d thrown into the adults’ pot of chili were too hard, but my brother and sister-in-law knew enough to tell me it tasted great. None of the kids touched the chili, chick peas or not. I learned you can’t come to expect any rave reviews from the young ones.
I’ve known in other ways that when you require affirmation for your efforts, it’s not much of a help for anybody… or it taints it. It makes it about you. So in some ways, while it might have been a nice treat for Mark & Les not to have had to make dinner, I think I might have burdened them with my insecurities. I’d like another try.
Otherwise, I’d call the meal a moderate success. Not quite like the first spoonful of satisfaction when Kim and I made it together. I skimped on the joy part.
In any case, the company was fantastic.
And for dessert, I had Vivien.