Category Archives: Home Cooking

Return of the Fluff

Holy gawd: it appears I let half a month pass by without posting. OOOOPS! Life gets in the way of blogging, it seems. But, hey: I have updates! I started a new blog (kategarklavs.com — add it to your G-readers, yo!*), signed on as the content manager for LitBridge, continued the dating blitzkrieg, and spent a week in the glorious Midwest! Forgive me my absence? Oh, hell: forgive me or not, I’m still gonna post.

Fluff salad, a midwestern treat

As I mentioned, one of my favorite parts of visiting my ancestral homeland is eating junk food. I eat junk food in my Real, Everyday Existence, but not to the extent that I do while jammin’ in the flyover zone.** I’ll relate more of my junk-food experiences in another post, because what I really want to talk about now is Fluff.

Are you familiar with Fluff? I was not until three days ago. A cold salad of unknown origin, Fluff (aka Five-Cup Salad) is disgustingly simple to prepare and unsettlingly tasty. It’s a food you don’t want to cop to liking, but you will like it — unless you have a heart of stone, in which case you have larger problems to attend to. Are you ready for the recipe? Here goes:

Ingredients

  • One tub Cool Whip or other non-dairy whipped topping
  • Half a bag of miniature marshmallows. (You may use colored marshmallows, if you like.)
  • One packet pistachio pudding
  • One can cubed pineapple, drained
  • One can Mandarin oranges, drained
  • Approximately one-third bag sweetened shredded coconut
  • One tiny jar maraschino cherries, drained, stems removed

Method

  1. Dump your marshmallows into a large (and I mean LARGE) mixing bowl. Add the Cool Whip. Stir.
  2. Add the pudding mix to the Cool Whip/mallow mixture. Stir well to combine.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients; stir well to combine.
  4. Refrigerate before serving.
  5. Eat until you feel ill.

That’s it: really. You dump a bunch of sugar products in a giant bowl, stir, and devour. I was skeptical at first, but you know what? I’m a believer, so much so that I made my own batch of Fluff yesterday. Sarah and I ate some, and then ate some more, and then I had to put the leftovers away so we’d have some Fluff for tonight.


This isn’t the most flattering picture of yours truly, but it does depict me holding one of my favorite sugar products: frosted animal crackers. Oh, man: those things are good. Didn’t eat any while at home (surprisingly), but as long as I’m on the FluffTrain, I might as well add these lit’l dudes to my shopping list.

***

*I will warn you, however, that kategarklavs.com is still under construction. There’s no About section, and I’ve only uploaded a handful of posts. Par for the lazy-ass course!

**Note: I do not consider Minnesota (or Illinois) flyover states, but some California residents do. They are missing out on the riches/wonders that would await them, were they to deplane before hitting the East Coast.

The Best Things In Life Are Free

Some of the best things in life are free. Some of the best things also cost money.

This morning, Ali and I were hashing out some details about our upcoming road trip to GALESBURG(!) Ali said she’d pick up a 24-pack of bottled water to bring along.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I said. “Back up, moneybags! I’ll use my Nalgene.”

“Don’t even!” Ali replied. “The 24-pack is $2.49.

To which I responded, “$2.49? I spend that much each time I blink!” Then we LOLd for a bit about the thought of money shooting out of my eyes: how I could just quit my job and blink myself toward financial solvency. O, to generate eye money!

Taken on my last trip to Galesburg, which was, believe it or not, in January of ’08. #blasphemy

This conversation got me thinking: about road trippin’, for sure, but also about the issue of food costs relative to geography. Where I live, a single bottle of water can (easily) cost $2.49. (Sidenote: An ex and I once accidentally paid $10 for a bottle of Pellegrino: NOT EVEN JOKING. The watery Manhattan I ordered subsequently did little to alleviate the sticker-shock sting.) Where Sis lives, you can get a week’s worth of water for the same cost.

I’ve lived in the Bay Area for almost three years, and every time I  visit the Midwest, I’m surprised anew at the outlandishly low food costs there. Yes, the general cost of living is lower there; I just focus on the food. “Five dollars for a hamburger AND fries?” I find myself shrieking. “I’ll eat ALL THE HAMBURGERS!”

MIDWESTERN DINNER! Gotta love it.

I love my Adopted Homeland and can’t envision moving anywhere else, really, but the cost of living here has required me to get serious about savvy shopping. Where before I might let a pint of raspberries sprout fuzz, I now find ways to eat all the berries within a day or two of purchasing them. I use odds & ends of veggies as stir-fry fodder; I don’t eat much meat, except at restaurants. I purposely generate leftovers.

And I do still buy frivolous and expensive and unnecessary foods — just not as often as I hypothetically could. True, I do not need salt & vinegar chips, Pop-Tarts, or beer, but I enjoy these things and like to have them on hand.

Annnnnnnnnnyway, that backstory was a real roundabout way for me to introduce the newest addition to my blogroll: Frugal Feeding. I stumbled upon this blog today, dove in, and loved it. It has all my favorite attributes of a blog: gorgeous, simple photos; a modicum of snark; and recipes featuring peas. (Holla atcha, English peas!) Check it out!

I enjoy shopping — so much so that sometimes I have portraits made in fitting rooms.

As I see it, shopping and cooking frugally* aren’t about deprivation: they’re about using one’s resources wisely. It’s gross to think about, but I used to waste a hell of a lot of food, and why? Well, I didn’t plan meals; I’d let myself be lured in by bright endcaps and pseudosales; and I just like shopping, period. I’m not out of the woods yet, either — just yesterday, I tossed half a package of green beans that were growing shriveled and dark. I’m making progress, though, and taking pleasure in my craftiness.

I’m also taking pleasure in saving money for other things: traveling, records, crazy hair procedures!, all the red lipsticks, etc. etc. amen!

***

*And being Just Generally Frugal.

The Summer Scoop (or What I’ve Eaten for the Past Week)

Now that July is one-third over, I’m finally, officially in SUMMER MODE. Bring on the watermelon, the potato salad, the macaroni salad, not the egg salad, the hotdogs, the fluffy white buns whose interior texture mimics modified styrofoam! Bring on the funnel cakes and cotton candy: the inevitable gut rot.

Our July Fourth picnic (“Snax 4 America”) was a rollicking success. I was going to say, “To be fair, most picnics are,” but that’s not true. An overcast sky, an absent corkscrew, or a shortage of potato chips can turn a good picnic bad. We had a corkscrew, a jumbo size bag of Rip-L-chips, and a collective good attitude. Also, we had sunshine. And Tecate, and friendship!

Clockwise, from left: Trader Joe’s 100% pineapple juice (sold in overpackaged four-packs); Smirnoff marshmallow vodka; Rip-L-chips, which were two-for-one at my local Walgreen’s; Twizzlers; Trader Joe’s Good-N-Plenty-style candies; and the cocktail of the gods.

I discovered my new favorite cocktail quite by accident. The cocktail includes an adequate pour of chilled marshmallow vodka; ample soda water; and a splash of 100% pineapple juice. If you’re so inclined, add two ice cubes and a straw. Sarah and I sipped these marvels while readying for our picnic and listening to DadRock (i.e., John Cougar Mellencamp, more J.C. Mellencamp, Foreigner, CSNY, et al). If you add the proper amount of soda water, the drink is just the perfect amount of sweet; if you skimp, you will incur all the toothaches/headaches/stomachaches in the world. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I have an ongoing, informal goal to bust out of the food ruts I settle in. I know, I know! I castigate myself far too often, and for what? Being a creature drawn to projects, especially of the self-improvement variety, I adopted this loosely formed resolution. This week, I actually stuck to it.

Friday, I made two new dishes: one I haven’t made for months, and one I have never made. Exhibit A: Black-bean tacos with mango salsa.

I know: this picture is exceptionally bad, even by my knuckle-draggin’ standards. I was hungry, though, and just wanted to eat! Had you been there in my living room with me, you wouldn’t have blamed me.

Preparing the black beans is the easiest: dump a can of black beans (liquid included) into a medium-sized saucepan. Add cumin, red pepper flakes, the juice of one lime, and two cloves’ worth of minced garlic to the pot. Stir occasionally, allowing the liquid to reduce. When the beans are the consistency you prefer, remove pot from heat.

The salsa, too, is easy. Peel a mango, cut it into strips of equal size, and dice those strips into tiny cubes. Halve a bunch of grape tomatoes. Mince shallots and finely chop parsley. Juice a lime. Combine all ingredients with salt and pepper, and you’ve got yourself a condiment.

The never-before-made dish was eggplant pomodoro, adapted from Eating Well’s recipe. I don’t remember the last time I bought an eggplant, but I snagged one last week because it was 99 CENTS! Duuuuuude: healthy food for less than a dollar! After the bargain rush subsided, I was like, “Damn, what am I gonna do with this eggplant?” Enter pomodoro. As luck would have it, I had tomatoes, olives, capers, EVOO, and the requisite seasonings on hand.

Aside from not having enough tomatoes — I’d used about half the carton making that salsa — I followed Eating Well’s instructions allllllllmost to the T. (Added more seasonings because I love me some spice.)

And? This dish was a winner! Hella quick to whip up, its flavor is elevated via the capers and olives. Moreover, the eggplant, cooked in a liberal amount of olive oil, was silky rather than tough n’ chewy. Finally, the pomodoro reheats well, which bodes well for an episodic kitchen slacker like myself.

There you have it: two new recipes and a picnic. Oh! And I visited Southpaw for the first time, too, but that’s another story for another day. Until then, keep on rockin’ in the free world. I’ll do the same, sandwich in hand.

The Victory Garden Strikes Back

Slowly but surely, I’m trying to work myself out of the food rut I now occupy. Here’s the thing about ruts: they’re comfortable, if not always glamorous or practical. There’s a reason I eat cereal with berries most every morning; that reason, aside from Cereal Tastes Good, is the ease with which the meal is prepared. Breakfast on autopilot. Certain situations call for not-thinking, for a series of motions that carry you from Point A to Point B without the need for higher cognitive functioning. Breakfast, for me, is one of those situations.

Ruts are behavioral shortcuts that can, in the right dose, streamline one’s morning routine: one’s life.

Such streamlining can lead to complacency, though, and I know this firsthand. My diet has become borderline snooze. Friday, I felt itchy to eat something I’d never eaten before. I worked under the additional consideration of wanting to use materials I had at hand. (Note: I may or may not have been wearing loungewear on Friday afternoon — a sartorial choice that may or may not have influenced my resistance to hit up the Safeway.)

I began with a pound of carrots, The Victory Garden Cookbook, and a dream. Half an hour later, I had a batch of marinated carrots: tangy, tender-crisp coins that are perfect mixed with fresh greens or just eaten with a fork, even.

Out of respek for my main lady Marian Morash, I’m not going to post the recipe here. Really, you all should own The Victory Garden Cookbook: not only are the chapters divided by ingredient (which, helllllllllo, ease of use!), but the book features photos of rad, early-80s fashions — the perfect accompaniment to any cooking project. Or any project. Not normally one to preach about what y’all should/should not do, I do encourage the purchase of cookbooks, especially those central to one’s formative years.

Be advised that these carrots are totally noshable. I found myself sneaking back to the Tupperware, picking out a coin, returning the container to the fridge, and beginning anew. Bonus v 2.0: the recipe is exceedingly simple to prepare. I prepared it while talking on the phone and halfheartedly listening to this Chuck Berry album I bought for $1 on the street, and if my carrots turned out well, I’m sure yours will, too.

Bottom line: if you’re feeling lazy, making marinated carrots will make you feel like more of a functional adult. If you’re not feeling lazy, you’ll be pleased at having made a healthy, colorful side dish in 20 minutes flat. We’re all winners here!

Up Past Bedtime

A-hoy-yy! So many tidbits & salutations to be offered: happy almost-weekend! Happy belated birthday to my mom, the rockingest lady around! Happy SUMMER! Solstices are rad, even for those among us who appreciate them strictly on a physical (and not ideological) level. I’m talking about increased daylight, people, the thrill of evening extending beyond its prestated limits, eating away at the night. Incidentally, if I had to choose one or the other — night or day — I’d choose night. The trees are much more striking then, laced in shadow as they are. At night, I have my best ideas.*

These days, my summer traditions are few. I owe this to two factors: my nostalgia’s slow fade and the Bay Area’s dearth of True Summer Weather. I do love living in a seasonless zone; time passes differently here, and I welcome the chance to wear sweaters year-round.

At the same time, I miss the constants of Midwest summer: electrical storms, humidity, calamine-dotted mosquito bites. Aloe vera sticky on your shoulders and thighs; ice cream eaten in an air-conditioned backseat. These joys of my youth embody the season, and I do mean embody: memories of Augusts past give me pause, cause my gut to sink in the best possible way. Without these joys, summer veritably ceases to exist.

It does exist, though, and I’m developing new traditions. Among these is my ceremonial preparation/enjoyment of the caprese salad. When spring loosens into summer, I develop a taste for fresh basil.  Never mind that the climate doesn’t sync with the calendar; this craving is rooted deep. Tomato season rolls around, and suddenly all I want to eat is tomatoes: sliced and dashed with salt; wedged in a hella greasy grilled cheese; chopped, tossed with balsamic and oil, and added to a pretty little bed of romaine.

My favorite preparation is the caprese salad. Bright and fresh, a snap to prepare, the caprese is a great pretender, assuming an air of elegance that belies its humble origins.

On a warm day last week, I made this salad. I purchased one large tomato, tiny balls of fresh mozzarella, and a basil plant. The plant, now somewhat withered, sits on the back patio, but the day I brought it home it was vibrant and half the size of a rosebush. I take my time constructing these salads, slicing the tomato into even rounds, placing the basil leaves just so. With the salad featured here, I had a Glenlivet and soda. I listened to the Talking Heads as I put away the dishes. Then, changing into shorts, I laid out in the backyard with a book and a Pellegrino and conjured some Midwest memories.

***

* I almost spun off into a nostalgiathon about My Walks Through The Galesburg Industrial Park, but I stanched the desire. You’re welcome.

With a Twist: Banana Chocolate-Chunk Muffins

G’day, Garkyfriends! Not sure how your week is panning out, but mine is A-OK, despite climatological gloom + a persistent headache. You know what, though? Gloomy weather makes working indoors seem like less of a task, and this headache will surely be dispelled with some ibuprofen + coconut water. Voila! Attitudinal magic works wonders.

These past few months, I’ve been really into buying flowers. Not only do blooms brighten the common spaces, but buying cut flowers seems like such an adult thing to do. I mean, it is an adult thing to do, but some actions — dry-cleaning delicate garments, scrubbing the bathtub, turning in early on a weekend night even though you don’t have to wake up early the next day — seem robustly more adult than others.

Fridays, returning from acupuncture, I stroll past a wholesale floral shop; it was there I got the red bouquet, plucked from a flimsy plastic bucket and cradled for the duration of my trip.

Friday flowers are becoming a ritual. Establishment and practice of rituals — small and large alike — is what drew me to writing. Likewise to cooking. I am, by nature, a collector, and these activities fortify my amassment tendencies.

Banana bread was my mom’s go-to baked good. She made it for PTA meetings and potlucks, gifting foil-wrapped loaves to the neighbors. As a kid, I wasn’t crazy about the bread — my extreme sweet tooth wasn’t sated by its subtle flavor — but I’ve come around. Flavorwise and associationally, banana bread is a gem. It’s quick to make, and it offers an outlet for the scratch-and-dent bananas that would otherwise land in the compost bin.

Instead of baking one loaf, I made muffins, which bake more quickly (20 minutes!) and are easier to store and eat. I made a few other mods to mom’s recipe, namely reducing the amount of sugar and oil, adding a bit more banana mush, and tossing in some coarsely chopped, sea-salt-flecked dark chocolate. This tinkering yielded delicious results.

Sweetish but not cloying, toeing the line of wholesomeness, these muffins are a new standby.

Banana Chocolate-Chunk Muffins (makes 12)

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • Two eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/4 cup mashed bananas (appox. two large)
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar (I used Turbinado, but use what you have on hand!)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • One high-quality chocolate bar, roughly chopped

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a muffin pan (or line each cup with cupcake papers — you do you!).
  2. In a medium bowl, combine oil, eggs, and bananas.
  3. In a large bowl, mix well all dry ingredients, including chocolate. Once dry ingredients are mixed, add wet ingredients, mixing just to combine.
  4. Spoon batter into the muffin pan, filling each cup only 2/3 full.
  5. Pop the pan in the oven, set your timer for 20 minutes, and clean up (or not). Muffins are done when a fork inserted into one comes out clean.

 

Pizza Overload (or Total, Unabashed Laziness)

Friends, I did not think I’d hear myself say this, but I’m quittin’ pizza for a while.

Yeah. Let’s take a moment to process that statement, its severity.

Last week was the Week of Pizza, practically and theoretically*. If I were to be honest with myself and y’all — and, DUH, I’m gonna be totally upfront — I ate pizza on five occasions last week. FIVE. I’m embarrassed even to write that, but confession is a form of catharsis, is it not?

Gee, Kate, you might wonder, How were you able to eat so much pizza? Lemme break it down. One night, happy hour with Bree turned into many happy hours, and when I got home I ate half a leftover frozen CPK pizza (BBQ Chicken variety; not recommended). I heated these leftovers in the toaster oven so generously given to me by Sabina. But, unfamiliar as I was with the settings of said oven, I burned the hell out of that pizza. Did I eat it anyhow? Oh, yes I did: in secret and in shame.

The next night, lazy as I was, I ordered pizza and a Greek salad from Serrano’s. Which was much more food than I thought it would be — half the salad and two pieces of pizza left me feeling uncomfortable. Friday, I had pizza for lunch AND dinner. Sunday, after a day of so-called revelry, I horqed (oh god) the remainder of my St. Francis’ Chef’s Mess and a slice of SARAH’S LEFTOVER PIZZA.

When you’re eating your roommie’s leftover pizza, you know you have a problem. I staged my own intervention.

See that? That’s one of my lovely quinoa salad casserole things, a dish I make (almost) weekly because 1) It’s simple; 2) It’s delicious; and 3) It provides more nutrients than most ‘zas. I made this Quinoa Thing Monday night — an effort, however small, to right my seriously off-course eating habits.

This Quinoa Thing included the following ingredients: Quinoa, prepared per package directions; Bacon, pan-fried, cooled, and crumbled in at the end; Brussels sprouts and chickpeas, tossed in EVOO/maple syrup/s&p/red pepper flakes and roasted for half an hour; One Fuji apple, diced; Salt-and-pepper pistachios; and lemon-parsley vinaigrette adapted from one in this month’s Bon Appetit. Oh, and goat cheese, because I eat goat cheese every day of my lyfe.

Quinoa Thing is delicious and masquerades as healthy food. Sure, it’s got bacon, cheese, nuts, and oil, but it also has protein! And a vegetable! At the very least, it doesn’t have a crust. Monday night, I took pride in my Adultish dinner, and the pride has lasted this entire week.

*Lest you think I forgot about Theoretical Pizza, you’re wrong. Last week was Pizza Week because of what I ate (obvs), but also because  I was seeking comfort in all realms of my life. I burrowed in my bed, wearing my new AmApp hoodie. I listened to tons of Nite Jewel. And I leaned heavy on my oldest comfort food. Not the greatest week, to be sure, but hey! It’s a new week. Yes, it is.