Wednesday, January 27, 2010

An American Breakfast

Few people who know me well would do more than laugh at the thought of me being a cook type person. I'm just not. It's not in my nature. Partly because of perfectionist tendencies. If I've never made something before the probability of a massive FAIL is just to high. We're talking astronomical. There are people who like to say if you can read you can cook. Perhaps there is something to be said for that, but there is also much to be said on the side of, say, natural talent. Not to mention interest.
There was a brief phase in 7th grade when Mom thought it could be...interesting...maybe beneficial, for me to join her on forays in the kitchen. I think it lasted 2 or 3 Friday nights. I mostly remember the time we made pizza from scratch. Did I mention my mom's a wizard in the kitchen? Um, cause she is. And that partly led to the end of these little ventures. You see, it was a whole lot easier for her to make the masterpiece without the meddling little apprentice there to screw the whole thing up. Do you all recall what happened to Mickey when the wizard left him untended for a moment? Yeah. So.
I had to enter the world of domesticity when in Hong Kong. In fact, my first attempt at feeding 15 people involved that same homemade pizza. I told myself over and over that it was true, if you can read, you can cook. I followed Mom's recipe to the best of my abilities. Now, I suppose I should give myself a few honest excuses. Hong Kong and Horse Creek exist in totally alternate realities. There is little comparison between one of the largest, most densely populated cities in the world and Horse Creek, CA population 115 on a good day when all the livestock has had a good breeding season. Hong Kong is located in a tropical climate and is rather ridiculously high on the humidity chart in the middle of summer when this little disaster took place. Horse Creek is located in a mountainous region of Northern California. Through the winter months the sun never shines on the little nook where our house and church nestled up against the mountains. They just aren't the same, and, believe it or not, that causes differences in the ways that cooking happens. There's a reason that there are elevation charts in cook books. All this to say, the crust that was supposed to spread out enough to feed 15 people scarcely covered one and a half pans...
It is true that, in the nearly three years that I lived in Hong Kong my skills got better. I learned how to chop veggies and fruit which led to some truly delightful salads ;) I also mastered the art of vegetarian spaghetti, tacos, French toast, and my mother's biscuits. All rather awe inspiring when you consider the half hour it took me to make 15 minute rice in my Redding apartment because I had to read the instructions so many times. Add rice to bottom of pot. Add twice as much water. Add a little salt. Boil. Keep boiling. Boil some more. When water is gone you're done. Tough people. Seriously tough. (And I'm pretty sure Jessie is still laughing at me 8 years later! Ha!)
Since leaving Hong Kong I've not done much to develop my culinary skills. I became the master of cheese, crackers, and those famous chopped veggies. Not to mention my mean Asian noodle boiling skills. Wild. Simply wild.
Those who've been following my blog for some time know that this summer my family took it upon themselves to improve my domestic qualities. There was a blackberry pie, orange and cinnamon rolls, and numerous dinner helping occasions. Funny how a man comes into your life and suddenly you're expected to be a woman of all things. I mean, I'd always managed to skip out of the womanly duties at family events. Granted, I can clean with the best of them. See, cleaning you can't really screw up. Water, soap, and elbow grease. These are things I can understand. I mean, I was a maid for several summers. (Two to be exact, with an extra month thrown in for bad measure just to remind me that it's a job I'll not likely do again unless the recession means that it's a choice between that, cleaning grease vats, or cleaning out the sewer.) But enough of the asides. I was thrown into the oven, and came out lightly browned on top...well, not exactly.
Basically, after the summer of preparations I came back and haven't done a whole lot with these recently brushed up skills. Sure, I've cooked for Mark a few times, but not enough to really make it look like I've at long last become the cook type person that my mother may of dreamed that I could be. Instead, we've eaten out a lot, or had my now famous open-faced sandwiches (shades of Great Harvest).
This week, however, I've had a little extra time. You see, last week my colleague decided that it was perfectly all right for him to ditch out on a week of school. Yes, that's right. Just two weeks after our Christmas holiday he took off for a week to ski in the Alps with a couple of students. Now, perhaps this would be all right at a normal school. You know, one in which there are a full staff of teachers who can wiggle their schedules around and fill in a class or two here and there. But at are school there are 3 full time teachers. That's right, 3! So when one of those is missing that means the other two of us have a LOT of slack to pick up. We even had to call in some extra help, which is scarcely heard of in a country where they don't have substitute teacher hot lines. (One more side note: I have to confess that it's nearly impossible to help students figured out compound nouns. The truth of the matter is, were it not for spell check I'd constantly make errors. Sure, I know that fire engine has to be two separate words, but fire man and fireman both look perfectly all right to me. The only way I know that it really is just one word absolutely for certain is the fact that when I type in fireman there is no squiggly line underneath it, unlike when I just typed in hotline as one word and there was one. End Side note.)
So this week Jonathan has to fill in some extra morning hours for me. That meant time for my mind to think again on the culinary arts. The result? I made mint chocolate chip cookies for Mark on Monday. Well, I mixed up the dough Monday afternoon and then cooked them up Tuesday morning so they'd be ready in the afternoon when I went to see him in his town. They turned out fabulous this time. Quite a relief after the disaster cookies I tried to make my students last year. Those ones ended up puddles. Seriously, it was not a pretty picture. I ended up shoving the rest of that dough into a pie pan and trying to convince them that it was now a bar cookie and they really should give it a try. Ugh! But this time they came out beautifully. Sadly I didn't get a picture, but I saved some of the dough and plan to cook up some more so we can have fresh hot ones with our team time tonight so maybe I'll snap a picture of those.
After this baking high note, I felt prepared for the next step. You see, unbeknownst to me my colleagues decided that today, Wednesday the 27th of January, would make a lovely day for a ski trip. I. Don't. Ski. Period. Yeah, I tried it. Once. Last year. And it's going to stay at once thank you very much. So they decided, again this was ALL done without me, that I could do something with the students who weren't interested in skiing. They'd offered up swimming. Um. It's January people! And I don't really swim either. Allergic to chlorine, remember? But at least it sounded a bit better than skiing.
I, on the other hand, thought up an alternate activity. So on Friday, when trying to sell the idea of watching a movie with me and being nice and warm, rather than freezing cold (consequently today is the coldest day of the year so far. Jarmila informed me it was -20 C on her farm this morning. That's cold. We're talking snot freezing cold.) I added that I would also take them to my house for the movie, and would serve an American breakfast. (So I accidentally just wrote sever instead of serve. Good thing I caught it since spell check would have been okie dokie with that little slip up.)
Now I didn't win over the whole crowd, but once the words had come out of my mouth, those who didn't want to ski sunk their claws into them and I was stuck in the promise. And so, today, I pulled out my mom's award winning biscuit recipe. Okay, so she never actually entered her biscuits into a county fair, but she could have. These biscuits are the reason I didn't starve as a child at potlucks. To say that I was picky as a child would be the understatement of the new millennium. Many apologies to all the people whose homes I entered only to turn my nose up at their gracious edible offerings. I think sometimes I was the bane of my parents existence at social calls. Here people invited the pastor and his family over to dinner only to have their adorable little girl turn into a demon at the table. At least I never threw up at other peoples' houses...
Anywho...I was an olive on every finger, deviled egg, and jello eater at potlucks. Good for the figure I suppose, but when you're 5 no one really thinks about that. They're more concerned that you aren't getting your four food groups. Thankfully Mom's biscuits always came to the rescue. She'd usually slip out of church just as we were all singing "Bless be the tie that binds..." and hurry to the house to throw the biscuits in the oven. She'd bring them down, piping hot, and be rushed by the frenzy. There were never any left over. Truth be told, they seldom even made it to the food table. People rushed to get at them and devour every last golden morsel. They were rather like the manna that rained down from Heaven. At least the first few days when the Israelites were still being thankful. Truly a blessing.
So I pulled out the recipe this morning, as I said before, and set about making these show stopping favorites. I mixed up the dough and then had to go to school to pick up my students. I didn't want to cook them in advance, since fresh is DEFINITELY the way to go. I rushed through the cold, watching my breath turn my hair gray as it froze immediately, after leaving my biscuit dough in the closet which is substantially colder than the rest of our flat.
I collected a grand total of three students. Honestly, that was the sort of number I was hoping for. My house isn't exactly designed for crowds. We headed back to my house with a disappointing stop at the not yet open video store. I had three L1s in tow, that means three people who really don't speak English. They're getting a lot better, but for the most part I had to scrape together what I know of Czech to follow what they were saying as we walked. Not that it was all that hard. I'm sure most people who speak English and not Czech would be able to figure out that "autobus" and "taxi" relate to modes of transport other than feet. Clearly the ten minute walk was not to their liking in this Antarctic climate. But we did make it, and I made them fruit tea to warm them up while the biscuits were cooking. The closet did it's work and kept it from turning into a fluffy monster whilst I was away. Twenty or so minutes later I had them seated at my table with a glorious spread.

Mom's biscuits did it yet again. They all sang the praises, and I knew it was the excellent recipe and not any ability of mine that could have pulled it off. We then watched Twilight which one of my other students had brought to me a couple months ago, because it was the only DVD I had with Czech subtitles. They seemed to enjoy that as well, so it all worked out.
American Breakfast.


Anonymous said...

YUM!! You can make them again when we come in March.

Love you! Mom

McNeil said...

oh, they look it an everest secret recipe, or can you share??

Transient Drifter said...

I'll have to get back to you on that Rebecca. I'll see what mom has to say :)

Janet said...

Well, I think they're hardly a secret since the recipe is on my tupperware pastry sheet. I do believe the Everest trick is to sour the milk with a bit of lemon juice. And, Sarah, your humor is wonderful. I was behind on your blog and have been chuckling away for quite some time. Love ya!

Transient Drifter said...

interesting Janet, I don't think I knew about the secret, or if so I didn't remember. Ah well. They still turned out fabulous. Always happy there are people out there who still find me amusing ;)