Less than two hours ago I was moaning to Frank that I wished I could go back to college for a few more degrees, not because I need them for a career but simply because I miss learning.
As I went about my business with the rest of this rainy Sunday, I started re-thinking my complaints and realized that I actually have learned a lot in the years since college, and am continuing to learn. Duh, right? But stick with me for a few minutes…
Post college was learning how to live on my own, pay bills, get a car fixed, work a steady job, plan my retirement funds, and try not to kill the sporadic selection of boyfriends that came in and out of my life. That kind of learning actually sort of sucks.
Then it all went out the window when I met Frank and moved here. As I’ve said before, I really learned how to be a better cook when I hit these shores, and mostly out of necessity. Going along with that, here are a few more valuable (albeit housewifey) things I’ve learned along the way.
1. Vinegar and baking soda are not only pantry staples but brilliant cleaning solutions. After all the countless dollars (and euros) I’ve wasted on fancy spray bottles of harsh chemicals that do nothing to remove lime scale or heavy grease, I have fallen a little in love with the cheap, honest power of vinegar and baking soda.
2. My cast-iron skillet is my best friend. It’s virtually indestructable – even if it rusts, I can wipe it out, work some oil into it, and it’s good as new. I can fry, bake or roast in it. I can use it as a weapon. And it even gives me extra iron in my food when I use it – woo hoo! No wonder you could always find one in a covered wagon in amongst a family’s few prized posessions.
3. Eggs – I never knew it, but it’s really important to wash your hands every time you handle an egg, no matter what kind or where it came from. Scary bacteria live on the outside and can grow super fast once you’ve cracked open the inside (especially if you keep yours at room temperature like we do), so wash your hands!
4. In a world where I can’t get TUMS and Gaviscon is just gross, I’ve learned to drink peppermint tea when I’ve got the worst indigestion. In the last couple months, I’ve found myself doubled over, crippled with stomach cramps for some reason or other, and the only thing I can do to help it is drink some peppermint tea and do a few yoga poses. Honest, it works.
5. We are lucky that right now our lives aren’t so hectic that we have to miss out on Sunday dinner. I’m sure this won’t always be the case, as Evey grows up and starts leading her own busy life, but for now, I love that we have the time to cook and eat a big dinner together on Sundays. It’s something Frank’s mom always did for them, and does still. I have adopted the tradition and will make something nice most weeks (and if I don’t, we show up on the Kellys’ doorstep!). Today it is boiled ham, honey balsalmic roast carrots & parsnips, steamed peas, mashed potatoes and a rhubarb crumble.
6. I know this is really simple, but I never understood it until I started working in professional kitchens – keep cutting boards separate! Never cut raw and cooked meat on the same board, and don’t cut fruit or veg on the same board as the meat. Fish should have a separate board, too, as well as cheese. And if at all possible, try to use a non-wooden cutting board for meat, simply because it can be washed and sterilized easier without little fibres of animal flesh getting caught in the crevices when the wet wood swells. It’s a big cross-contamination no-no as different foods carry different bacteria which grows at different rates… anyway, do yourself a favor and go down to Ikea and buy a bunch of cheap cutting boards and keep one for each food group. At least have different ones for cooked meat, raw meat, raw fish, and vegetables/fruit. Going along with that, have a towel for wiping dishes and another towel for wiping hands. Change them daily and wash in hot hot water.
7. Only reheat things once, and make sure you heat them up to a good, hot temperature (70 degrees C, 165 degrees F) when you’re reheating. I’m so glad I learned this before I started making Evey’s baby food a couple years back – I never knew the dangers of re-heating food before! Also important is the temperature of your fridge when you’re storing food – fresh fish, for example should really be on ice even if it’s in the refrigerator as it needs to be colder than a normal temperature of refrigeration.
8. Olive Oil – (again, forgive me if this is so simple that everyone knows it – I did not!) Regular olive oil is for cooking, extra-virgin is for using on salads, bread, etc. Extra-virgin olive oil has a nicer, more distinct flavour and is obviously more expensive, so save it for drizzling over your risotto, not for frying an omelet. Unless that’s just how you roll. :)
9. If you recycle (which you should), check the packaging to see if it’s recylable. I only recently started doing this and I realized a lot of the plastic bags and cellophane wrapping on things are actually not recyclable at this time. Which is really annoying. I mean, here I buy organic apples but the bag has to go in the trash and never biodegrade? I get a free-range chicken and it’s on a styrafoam tray, what? It’s just annoying, and obviously I’m not a specialist in food packaging, but anyway, just take the 2 seconds and check it out before you recycle it. It saves the recycle companies some time if you only put the right stuff in your bins and also if you clean out the food residue and separate the parts (i.e. the plastic lid on a coke bottle will be sorted into a different plastic than the bottle itself and yet again for the plastic label. Complicated, I know.).
So there you go, nine things you probably knew already, but I have only learned in the last few years and wish I’d known before.
I know I’m a nerd. :)