Wednesday, February 27, 2008

superquick pasta to go

On Wednesdays we have our balboa lessons at 7, meaning that dinner has exactly 1 hour to be prepared and eaten after I get home. This Wednesday, that meant pasta.

That's right. Straight into a to-go container, because I never can seem to get it done quite in time.

I was going to make an alfredo sauce for William and a red sauce for me, but, alas! the leftover crushed tomatoes I had been saving had gone bad, bad, bad. It's a challenge I have discovered with only have two people to feed -- we frequently only use half a can of beans, a quarter of a head of lettuce, or half a can of crushed tomatoes, and don't get around to using the remainder until it's gone bad. Since buying in bulk is usually cheaper overall, it's an extra challenge when trying to eat cheap.

As I sniffed the tupperware container in despair, I realized with utter clarity that I should have whipped up a huge batch of tomato-based sauce the last time I made it, using all the crushed tomatoes, and freezed the leftovers. Oh well. Lesson learned. Someday I'll be good at this.

Instead, we stuck to alfredo sauce, which was mediocre -- better than the last two times I tried, which were disastrous, but I'm afraid that's all I can say for it. And since I pretty much hate alfredo sauce, it has to be spectacular before I enjoy it. Needless to say, I was scowly about dinner.

Plus steamed asparagus and a little bit of leftover red pepper and walnut stuff (I'd whipped it up last week to put on garlic bread), it was a meal, at least. I did remember how much I hate mediocre alfredo sauce. It's a good thing William loves cheesy sauces so much -- he, at least, was happy, and that did make me feel a little better about my poor planning and sad, rotten tomatoes.

Just a little.


rice and beans is pretty much perfection

"Darling," I said, "to honor your entrance into this world, I will cook for you whatever your heart desires on this special day."

Or, "Hey, it's your birthday, whaddaya want for dinner?" Either way, same idea -- I offered William any meal he wanted -- even meat, I said!

"OOOH!" he said. "Can you make rice and beans?"

Talk about easy to please!

He has a point, though. Rice and beans may well be the most perfect meal ever. When we all arrive in heaven, perhaps we will be fed rice and beans for the rest of eternity. If you think that wouldn't be a sweet, sweet deal, then you've never had good rice and beans!

I have fond memories from Costa Rica of eating gallo pinto for breakfast, and lunch, and dinner... mm, delicious. Speaking of Costa Rica, I don't know where my yucca bread recipe went... that is a culinary treasure right there, notes scrawled in my schoolgirl spanish while I tried to follow my host mom's bemused instructions. "Put it in a hot oven," she said. "How hot?" I asked. "Bastante," she said. "Hot enough."

"For how long?" "Until it's done."

Man, I hope I still have that somewhere.

Anyway. The point is, I made William rice and beans for his birthday.

But not just any rice and beans. Rice and beans that were CHOCK FULL of vegetables.

That's pretty much one of the best things about rice and beans. There's a continuum of complexity, and the dish gets better as you move up, but it starts out pretty spectacularly.

White rice mixed with canned black beans, drained. Dude. Most basic thing ever, and yet right there you have a fat-free, high-fiber, complete protein. Top it with salsa and cheese, serve it with fruit, BAM -- balanced meal!

But saute onions and garlic, then add the beans and then the rice -- dude. Perfection. That is gallo pinto right there. Slap some Salsa Lizano and some cilantro on it? Brilliant. Pure brilliance.

But wait! Add some bell pepper -- green, red, yellow, whatever. Now you have color! and more flavor! it's brilliant.

But the rice and beans aren't done with you, oh no! Add some cumin and some cayenne pepper -- a little bit of flavor, a little bit of kick. Add lime juice. Add mango, chopped up real small.

Add carrots -- the carrots are what really make it, I think. Saute them until they're almost tender, but still have a bit of a bite to them -- adds texture, color, flavor, a different shape...

and then you can mix up the beans -- black, red, kidney, pinto, getting crazy! And you can throw in lots of vegetables, or just a little, or spice the heck out of it, or not at all, and you can get fancy, or super plain, and pretty much no matter what you do it is still delicious.

And maybe BEST OF ALL, you can eat it by itself, or in burritos, or in quesadillas, or heck, in soup!

Endless variations. Incredibly nutritious. DIRT CHEAP.

I'm telling you. God eats rice and beans.

(that is dessert in the background)

This particular incarnation featured sweet onions, garlic, red and green bell pepper, carrots, asparagus, and black and kidney beans with plain white rice. Cumin and cayenne pepper, a little bit of lime juice, served with salsa and cilantro and cheddar cheese and homemade tortillas.

(Recipe? Gently saute garlic 'til it's odiferous. Add carrots and onions, saute 'til almost to your liking. Add chopped bell peppers and asparagus -- continue for another couple minutes. Toss in a can or two of beans, drained but not rinsed, and stir 'till heated through. Shake on some spices. Add the rice, stir, shake on some more spices, and serve. Beeeautiful.)

My homemade tortillas are still just kind of eh -- which, for being so cheap they're practically free, isn't bad. But I tend to aim higher than eh.

I'm working on learning how to make almost all our staple items -- bread, tortillas, pitas, one of these days I might even try bagels. Unfortunately, I have this problem of aiming high. I don't just want to make something well enough that it can adequately replace what we could buy -- it has to be mindblowing. I don't want my bread to meet the standard I hold for storebought bread -- oh no. It's going to have to be MUCH, MUCH better.

Right now I have the excuse that i've been seriously baking for all of a month -- but pretty soon, that's going to run out. And I'm going to have to shape up. My tortillas won't be allowed to just be okay any more -- I'm going to have to find out how to make them a little more flexible, a little less floury-tasting, a lot more extraordinary. Mindblowing. Someday I will make mindblowing tortillas. I am thinking of spicy tortillas, of spinach tortillas, of corn tortillas with just the right amount of texture, of flour tortillas that never rip. I am thinking of tortillas like manna from heaven.

But they're okay right now.

Dessert, on the other hand? Pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.

William wanted apple pie, but decided having a whole pie for just the two of us would be excessive. "OOH," he said. "Could you make little pies?"

They aren't tarts. They are miniature pies. Why? Because that is cooler, that's why. Nyah.

They also helped push us over our grocery budget for the month, because I bought an excessive amount of apples and little bitty pie tins, but WHATEVER. It was the boy's birthday, for heaven's sake.

The recipe was good old Joy O' Cooking, cut just about in half and miniaturized into four little tarts. I barely even variated -- twice as much cinnamon and nutmeg (and why would nutmeg be optional in an apple pie, hmm?) -- but that's it, really.

Drove myself crazy with the tiny, tiny lattices -- popped 'em in the oven 'till they looked done. Then pulled them out, completely crushing one of them in the process (I have this habit of touching really hot pieces of metal, and then screaming and dropping things. Oops.)

I didn't take pictures of that one.

So, question about pie crusts. I actually was pretty successful this time -- the crust was decently flaky. I used cold butter and a pastry knife and everything. Thing is, I understand that the secret to a great pie crust is to handle it as little as possible. (Bread dough is like a cuddly, cuddly friend -- it wants to be hugged and squeezed and loved. Pie crust would rather you didn't talk to it, thanks very much.)

So I did my best, I really did. But it was nigh impossible to make the lattices without overhandling the dough -- I had to reroll it out a couple of times, push it into place, squeeze bits together.

And yet the lattice was the flakiest, lightest part of the dough! How does that work? It's messing with my mind. I assume it has to do with its proximity to the heat source and absence from the gooey interior, but still. Doesn't seem fair.

Aren't they cute?

Sometimes, I like looking at food even more than eating it. Not usually, but it happens. I particularly like looking at food when it is something I made and I managed not to screw it up. (It's not usual -- but it happens!) And now that I'm trying to learn how to take non-crappy photos of food, it is like a combination of looking at food and a CHALLENGE. Sometimes it takes me a while to start eating.

William is totally in favor of my obsession with food -- partly because he is lovely and delightful and supportive, and partly because it means I am always setting down in front of him new things for him to eat -- things like itty bitty apple pies. However, the food-photographing thing seems to exasperate him.

Or maybe, "Stop taking pictures of your pie. Just eat it! Eat it, or I'm eating it for you!" was less about me taking pictures, and more about him stealing my pie.



Tuesday, February 26, 2008

brunch and breakfast beer

We had a Business Brunch yesterday -- we had to meet to talk about our Americorps project, so of course I decided this was a great excuse to feed people. Honestly, what isn't a great excuse to feed people?

So Steph brought eggs and bread, and nobody else brought anything, and that was cool. Because I made cinnamon rolls (from pioneer woman's recipe this time, mixing it up!) and cinnamon raisin bread (because Steph and Andrew conspired to convince me to make it for them. They aren't very good conspirators. I think Andrew said, "So... Cinnamon raisin bread. Pretty good, huh? Think you could make it?")

And also poached eggs with toast. Hence the eggs and bread.

So. Brunch. That morning, Andrew actually arrived on time, which threw us all off -- William had to get out of bed, and I had to change out of my pajamas, because since when have any of our friends arrived anywhere on time? I mean, really?

Anyway, as he was sitting around watching me cook and waiting for the Business Meeting to start, he starts talking about breakfast beer -- that is, any beer you drink before noon. "Brunch is pretty much the perfect meal," he said, by way of explanation. We were confused, too.

"Taste-wise, I mean. It's scientifically proven that your taste buds are most awake at 10 a.m., or 10:30-ish." Bear in mind that Andrew is fond of making up facts.

"So the food you eat at 10-ish tastes better than if you eat it at other times of the day." We waited for it. "And the same goes for beer!"

So Andrew did end up buying breakfast beer, which he drank with brunch. The whole idea sounds a little bit nauseating to me.

Speaking of nauseating, let's talk about how much sugar we all ingested. I need to stop making cinnamon buns, I mean, really.

I actually started off my morning bright and early, starting the cinnamon raisin bread. I wanted the raisins throughout the recipe, not just in the spiral, because putting too much in the spirally bit is pretty much a recipe for things falling apart. I'm no baking buff, but I know just a smidge about literature, and what Mr. Achebe taught me is that things do indeed fall apart. Especially if you put too many raisins in the spirally bit.

So I scalded the milk -- okay, what's up with scalding milk? I can NEVER do it. I swear to goodness, I look at the milk, no bubbles, stick my finger in, it's just warm, turn around for 5 SECONDS (or maybe just long enough to read the comics, whatever) and BOOM, there's a milk explosion and all the milk in the WORLD is boiling in my saucepan. Stupid milk.

So then I wait for it to cool, and start reading webcomics, and before I know it my milk mixture is frigid and I have to heat it up AGAIN.

Did everybody who ever tried to learn how to cook once suck this much? I swear. I think not.

Point is, it took a little while to get the milk bit all started, but after that, I was doing really well. I got to knead the bread, which pretty much eliminated all my frustrations. There's something immensely satisfying in taking an ornery-looking, sticky, flour-covered mess and, using just your hands and a floury table, persuading it to turn into a delightful, smooth, springy, PROPER dough.

Which, after rising, looked a lot like this:

That's actually in our very biggest bowl. I made a lot -- one loaf for Steph, one for Andrew, and one for us, after all.

So then I got to roll it out and smear it with butter...

... and then cover it with oodles of brown sugar and cinnamon...

...then roll it up!

Oh man. This is one of my favorite parts of cooking. When everything is all set to undergo its Transformative Heat Experience -- the hero's journey through the underworld, if you will -- and I've done everything right so far and it seems there's nothing I can do to mess it up now, just pop it in the oven and it'll be done, it's gonna be great!

It's the moment BEFORE I've screwed everything up -- the milk got scalded twice, whatever, look how great it looks! Oh, brief, shining, golden moment...

So, while the bread was rising beautifully in the loaf pans, I went back to the cinnamon rolls. I'd started the recipe last night, then paused and put it in the fridge. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember at what point I'd stopped... so, I thought about it rationally. There was a point in the recipe where it SUGGESTED you pause, and then another part a little bit before that where it really didn't make any sense to stop.

Hmm. Which would I have done?

No contest. The wrong one. So, using that logic -- which turned out to be splendidly correct! -- I soldiered on. Roll it out, cover it in butter, then sugar, then cinnamon... hey, this sounds familiar!

Oh man. Doesn't it look beautiful?

Have I ever mentioned how much I love this part of cooking? The bit where everything's assembled and okay and all you have to do is pop it in the oven and everything will be fine?

I popped 'em in the oven, other Americorps showed up, I pulled them out of the oven and liberally doused them with vanilla glaze, plopped them ceremoniously upside-down on a plate, with much splattering of glaze, and proudly served them to my guests...

... who, after a few chewy chews, unpolitely said, "You know, Camila, these really could have used a good while longer in the oven."

Well. One of them said that, anyway. And how right she was... the outside was perfect, but the inside of the swirly bits? Raw, raw, raw.

I sighed, and tossed the next pan of cinnamon rolls in the oven. That's right. I made PANS of them. I still have dough in my fridge. I can be excessive sometimes.

I ate the raw-ish ones anyway. Looked pretty, at least.

Meanwhile, I was poaching eggs -- oh, and wearing a dress and apron, which Steph thought was HILARIOUS. She said all I needed was pearls, so I threw those on, too -- and when I was wearing heels and pouring tea I think she almost had a heart attack.

Poaching eggs. Right. Is it just me, or is that also impossible? I can poach 'em just fine, as long as you're okay with them being extremely flat -- or swirly -- or stringy -- or kind of like a bunch of balloons -- or, really, any shape other than nice and roundish. I even do the thing where you make the water like a little whirlpool first -- doesn't help! I've lowered them from spoons, plopped them straight in, I swear, nothing helps.

And since poached is really the only way I actually LIKE eggs -- poached, on toast, with cheddar cheese and bell peppers and salsa, like my parents used to make on those rare occasions when they'd make poached eggs -- point is, it's problematic. Ah well.

And then I pulled the second batch of cinnamon rolls from the oven, and they were VERY brown on top, but I wasn't gonna take them out early because, god damn it, these were going to be done enough for Steph if it killed me.

They were pretty darn done.

They were good too, though.

So then I popped the bread in the oven, and finally got to sit down and enjoy my eggs, and we had a charming Business meeting after our Brunch. Also, there was tea.

And then we sort of hung around for a while, and then we went to the park and played frisbee, and also dodgeball sort of simultaneously, and it was BEAUTIFUL day. February is by far the best time to be living in the desert. I hate February back home, but here it is 70 degrees and sunny and blue and flowery and generally just May-gorgeous.

And we were frolicking about and throwing balls at each other and William and James were doing trick throws and I thought about how lovely it was and


I remembered the bread! The bread that was supposed to bake for 45 minutes, and that I put in the oven TWO HOURS ago!

We literally ran back to the complex while the others drove home, half-expecting a smoky, loudly-beeping apartment with two huge lumps of charcoal in the oven. Rarely do I feel quite that stupid.

and I pulled them out and kind of wanted to cry -- but didn't! -- and I took out the extra loaf of bread and put it in a loaf pan to rise because I had to redeem this somehow,

and then I actually looked at the bread.

I mean... that's not really that bad, is it?

(Isn't that giant swollen raisin funny?) Nervously, I cut off the very end... and it was -- okay! Very crusty, but not charcoal! I cooked it for more than twice as long as I was supposed to, and it just got crustier!!!

That is hands-down the thing that has surprised me the most about baking bread... how forgiving it is. I have always had the idea that baking, more than any other kind of cooking, requires precise measurements and careful timing and delicacy. I've thought that if you didn't do it just right, you'd end up with a catastrophe.

But I messed up on this bread so many times, and yet -- pretty darn okay! I'm beginning to think that it's not as bad as I thought -- as long as I don't kill the yeast, and give it time to rise, everything else can probably be okay.

Watch -- now that I've said that, the next loaf of bread I make will be utterly destroyed because I used 1/16th of a teaspoon too little salt.

It's pretty darn delicious toasted, with butter, if I do say so myself.

Anyway. That was my brunchy adventure. The house smelled awesome for a day or so -- I highly recommend baking cinnamon raisin bread.

Cinnamon rolls? Not so much. All you'll get is ingratitude and complaints about gooiness.

Oh yeah -- and a dozen cinnamon rolls left over that you'll have to eat all by yourself.

My life is so hard.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Creppy crepes

Dinner last night was pretty dreadful. I decided to make crepes -- first bad call. I've never really like savory crepes to begin with, but then again, it's been a while since I'd tried any -- so maybe I'd changed my mind, right?

I filled some of them with sauteed spinach and feta cheese, most with red potatoes and mushrooms, and a few -- for William -- with bacon and mushrooms.

They look okay, right? but they were not good at all. The spinach and feta cheese would have been all right, say, on a pizza, or in salad, but with the crepes it just wasn't satisfying enough. The proportion of filling to carby goodness was too high, and -- well, mostly I think I just don't like savory crepes.

The mushroom and potato filling, from The New Vegetarian Epicure, was -- once again -- bland. I think I'm going to start doubling the spice recommendations for all her recipes. It probably would have been better with the buckwheat pancakes she recommended, but I had to go with plain (half-whole wheat) old Joy o' Cooking ones.

William did seem to like the bacon ones, but then again, I think he'd like pretty much anything with bacon in it.

Speaking of which, have you heard of bacon salt? Interesting idea -- I'm always fascinated by how scientists manage to fake the smells and tastes of things. Kosher and vegetarian, but it tastes like bacon... isn't that weird? vaguely suspicious, maybe?

I heard a strange ad for Trader Joe's yesterday. It started off talking about flat-screen tvs -- how lots of gas stations and stores have installed them and run the news, weather, or updates and specials on them. Apparently, at Trader Joe's they don't believe in flat-screen tvs, they believe in real human contact. They literally were talking up the fact that at Trader Joe's there are employees who want to talk to you, and you should chat with them about the latest movies as you shop.

I agree with the principle that social interaction with other human beings is way cooler than watching a screen, but still. Relying on Trader Joe's as a mainstay of your social life means you have to get out more. It was certainly a different sort of ad -- the first twenty seconds didn't give you a clue that it was a grocery store ad, and there was never a mention of their prices or quality, just of how fun it is to shop there.

Farmer's Markets are great things, partly because they do feature lots of real interactions with real people. But no matter how hard it tries, Trader Joe's will never be a farmer's market. And I don't really want to be friends with the checkout boys and girls.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Frieday: fried rice, fried egg rolls...

but first, an aside about leeks:

I made a leek-and-potato soup a la The New Vegetarian Epicure the other day -- like everything I've tried from that book so far, it turned out disappointingly bland. I'm currently hypothesizing that, one, Anna Thomas is using better produce than I am, and two, she is a Foodie and therefore all about letting the food's natural flavor shine through and minimizing the use of spices. Pshaw, I say.

That's neither here nor there. The point is, it was the first time I had ever cooked with leeks. I didn't even really know what leeks were -- I think I knew they were green. Now I am aware that they are essentially green onions on steroids, but milder (kinda bland, even!) Also, they are hella hard to clean. It's like there were little dirt ninjas who were instructed to infiltrate every crevice (wow, that sounds kind of dirty) (HAH!).

Anyway, lookit what one of my leeks looked like inside! This one had a staid exterior like all the rest, but on the inside, it was totally tripping out:



Fried rice! I made fried rice because I was feeling way lazy and we were out of tofu, so hey! Eggs have protein!

Also, fried rice is totally a comfort food for me now. The more it is like mediocre chinese takeout, the better... and that low standard makes it much easier to cook, let me tell you what.

my little menage-a-trois, or whatever it's called
yeah, all right. mise in place. also known as having all your shit in order.

I also decided to make egg rolls, because what better to go with mediocre homemade takeout? I have a shiny new used cookbook, the China Moon cookbook, that has way more information about Chinese food than I ever wanted to know. I looked up the vegetarian egg roll recipe in there (well, spring roll. There's an explanation of the difference, but, um, I didn't read it). And then I mostly didn't follow that recipe, and the egg rolls turned out... edible.

the egg roll stuffing, before rolling

I mean, I've had worse... but the goal is to be like mediocre take-out, not miserably bad takeout! I think there's nothing for it but to actually start at the beginning, follow the directions and learn how to cook Chinese food properly. I knew a girl named Yang who could rant with the best of them about how underappreciated Chinese cuisine is in America, and thanks to her, I now understand that we know as Chinese food is not only bad Chinese food -- not only bad Americanized Chinese food -- but also bad Americanized Chinese food that resembles only a tiny slice of the true variety of Chinese food. Frankly, it's kind of intimidating.

But I'll do my best. Nook and pantry is doing a Chinese Food 100 1/2 series, so I guess I'll read that, snuggle up with China Moon, buy some sesame oil and jump in.

the only-edible egg rolls

I could just suck it up and actually buy Chinese takeout when I feel like Chinese take-out, but that's no fun. I feel like, unless there is a really, really good reason for me not to learn to cook something myself -- for instance, kalua pig, where I would have to buy a whole pig and dig a big pit and build a huge fire and dedicate an entire day and I don't even eat meat -- anyway, barring extenuating circumstances, it's always better to learn to make it myself. Almost always cheaper, usually healthier, and guaranteed to be more fun.

It wasn't really this yellow -- I need to get some photo-editing software, stat.

The zucchini was pretty good -- the rice was a little wet. I declared Mission Accomplished a little early, if you know what I mean. (Actually, what I mean is that I should have used day-old rice. Ah well.) The sauce was basic but good-- soy sauce, sriracha, lime juice, a bit of sugar, a squirt of ketchup and orange juice. I should have left the ketchup out... totally unnecessary.

I'd never seen another recipe that used orange juice as a fried-rice sauce, but since I was thinking about it now, I went ahead and looked some others up. It makes perfect sense if you think about it -- or it did when I thought about it, anyway. "This sauce tastes pretty good, but I need a lot more, I don't want to dilute it, I don't want to put in a gallon of vinegar or soy sauce... what liquid do I have that'll -- hey!"

Yeah. I talk to myself.

Check out the Aunt Jemima's in the back. that's right. I have a very classy kitchen.

Pretty good for lazy, lazy cooking. That is, the rice was good and lazy. The spring rolls were effort-full and mediocre. Ah well.

Dessert, of course, was a painstakingly hand-made...

selection from our candy bowl! Yay Valentine's day!

Man. I am teh tired. I probably shouldn't have spent two hours trying to decide whether to start this blog on Wordpress or Blogger and then fiddling with the templates.



by way of introduction

I'm young enough that I still love my neck, computers featured prominently in my childhood, Madonna's always been old and Poison confuses me. I can't recall the presidency of the older Mr. Bush, I was astonished to discover that Michael Jackson used to look normal, omg plz course I cn spk IM and 1337 -- and lolcatz fwiw. Also, my age still starts with a 1.

Broke? Matter of opinion, I suppose. The boyfriend and I are Americorps volunteers, and separately, our living stipend would put us right at the poverty line. But since we're living together, we're more like three hairs above that threshold. So we're doing good! We're spending about $50/week on groceries, which is comfortable, and I'm trying to get that down to $40 (if only the boy didn't love milk and brand names quite so much!) Point is, I ain't shopping at Whole Foods. Recipes that involve Gruyere or Fontina are out of my price range, thanks very much, and beans are a staple in our diet. Unfortunately, my food tastes don't match our limited budget, let alone my cooking skills -- Food and Wine doesn't include price-per-serving underneath it's recipes, you see.

As for clueless, let's get that straight. I don't know jack diddly. I don't know diddly squat. Squat -- yeah, I don't know squat. I have been cooking for myself (and the boy) for exactly 6 months. Thanks to my love for chocolate and cookies, I started out with a okay grasp of baking, but otherwise -- I had a vague idea of how to make my father's marinara sauce (though never as good as he can), I could imitate my mother's stir-fry (though how I was supposed to make all the vegetables be done at the same darn time, I never quite grasped) and I could boil pasta.

That was pretty much it. I couldn't make rice that wasn't wet and crunchy, unless it was dry and burnt to the pot. I had to look up how to bake potatoes (because how was I supposed to know how hot to make the oven?). The concept of roasting vegetables was a revelation to me. I was utterly confused by steamers, and what does "saute" mean, anyway? Is it the same as stir-frying? How is it possible to poach things other than eggs, and why is it called blanching if the vegetables don't turn white? There were some words that caused me to throw my hands up in despair: julienne. risotto. mise in place (is it something like menage a trois?) frittata. quinoa. cannoli. cannellini.

Fortunately, I had one great strength: I can read. It's like magic! I also had my mother's old, tattered copy of The Joy of Cooking, boundless curiosity, and an utter lack of respect for following the recipe. I've had a lot of failures -- pad thai that fused with the wok, alfredo sauce that coagulated into a stringy mess of nauseating lumpiness, soup that nobody could bear to eat, lots of burnt vegetables. Fortunately, I find myself with, 1) an understanding boyfriend who has mastered the art of "no, really, it's all right," and 2) an indefatigable optimism. So it was rotten? So I'll do better next time. And usually, I have.

I've been learning. My rice is better these days. I don't need to pull out a cookbook every single night, though I usually do just to check myself. I make a pretty good thai curry, my falafel is all right, I'd say my peanut sauce is even pretty good. My biscuits rise. I even bake my own bread, and it's edible.

Still, there's no denying that I'm in no position to share any great wisdom with the world. I'm no brilliant cook. I'm totally new at this! I'm young, I'm broke and I'm clueless!

So why am I starting a food blog? Simple -- I'm also obsessed.

I've discovered that I really, really love food. I love making food. I love kneading bread, love watching it rise, love making sauces thicken and adding spices shake by shake, love the way my kitchen smells after it's been working hard, love food processors and butcher knives and neatly diced vegetables, absolutely adore my double boiler, love shaking my wok and feeling the heat from my oven when I open it, love planning menus and eating good food and, more than anything else, love feeding people.

I think about food all the time. I look up recipes at work -- and since I'm an Americorps volunteer, that means that I am slacking off from HELPING THE NEEDY to ogle foodporn. How selfish is that?

I talk about food all the time. I think about it on my bus ride. I see ads for fresh oranges and wonder how to cook with them, what I could make, citrus desserts, how about in a nice salad? I think about making breakfast foods while I'm making dinner, about making dinner while I'm making breakfast, I make cookies for dessert and dream about springform pans and chocolate cheesecake.

My personal blog is coming very close to being overwhelmed by posts about soup and bread and cookies and tortillas. My fingers itch to get ahold of new cookbooks. I'm following 30 food blogs, and I'm just getting started. It's getting out of control!

Once upon a time, addictions were something personal, that you kept to yourself or maybe -- if you were lucky -- shared with a few like-minded friends. But today, we have the internet! Nobody need suffer alone. The way I see it, it's like a song that's stuck in your head, that won't leave you until it is plaguing someobyd else -- for examples, please see: Who Let The Dogs Out. Dancing Queen. Rasputin. The Kit-kat theme. It's a Small World After All...

So the glorious pictures of sugar-dusted sandwich cookies, of thick-crusted pizzas topped with a mountain of fresh vegetables, of colorful noodle stir-fries -- the thoughts of bain-maries and marinading tofu and thick circles of carrot, thin slices of eggplant -- the smell of baking bread and chopped parsley and slow-simmering sauces -- if I can get all of that out of MY head and into YOURS, well, maybe I'll be a little better off.