Friday, January 15, 2010

2009 In Review

It seems all the rage with the new year was looking back on the highlights of 2009. I can't count how many blogs I read that summed up their favorite recipes from the year past. And you know what? It's a darn good idea! Sometimes I'm in a bit of a rush and, I confess, I skim. I think, oh that looks tasty, I should make it some day, then I click away and never think about it again. Looking at this year's food from some of the food bloggers I follow, I appreciated them calling special attention to the real winners. So I'm going to copy, kind of. 2009, looking back, was kind of a big year for me. Lots of stuff happened, some good and some bad; lots of changes, some good and some bad. It's worth taking a minute to reflect.

Well lets get the obvious out of the way. In 2009 I lost almost 70 pounds. I gave up eating out for almost every meal and learned to cook, bake, and be an all around vixen in the kitchen. I quit my over-priced, scary, annoying gym I hated going to (and really never went to), and started running around my neighborhood, doing workout games on the Wii (Wii Fit and EA Sports Active), and slowly reintroduced myself back into the gym (in the form of the tiny crappy one in my complex, it's perfect). I've never been prouder of myself. Whereas before I could be described as a lazy, thoughtless couch potato, I am now a superwoman who gets things done. I'm still rather thoughtless, but now that's because I'm busy thinking of other things. I feel like I could fill a whole separate blog writing about my lifestyle change. I've often thought about posting about it here, but I don't want to sound preachy. When people ask me how I lost weight, I'm never sure the level of detail they're looking for. I could talk your ear off for days all about how I did it, and how anyone can do it. The ins and outs. The little things. The tips and tricks. But I usually just reply with "diet and exercise", because, really, it seems like most people just want to know which fad diet worked for me. I saw many a face fall with disappointment with my answer, only because it wasn't something easy they could do themselves (it is! It's just not easy). This blog has definitely helped play a role in my lifestyle change.

On the not so happy front, I almost lost my job, and in the process, lost all respect for the company I work for. Not because they almost fired me (sorry, ahem, was almost "impacted by a reduction in force"), but because of the manner in which they chose who to lay off and who to keep. As in, they kept all the over-paid older conservative white men and fired all the minorities. Seriously. I'm not making excuses like "oh, they got rid of me because I'm a woman" because I'm bitter. They really did fire a bunch of women! And African Americans, and Asians, and Latinos, and younger liberals (though if they were white, that seems to have mostly been forgiven)! They fired an African American co-worker of mine, only to bring a higher-paid white guy in to do the same exact work. They've had complaints filed against them with the government for it. It's been disgusting to watch, and I have nothing but disdain for the people who are now in charge. I ended up switching to another organization under a completely different set of managers. Not to say they are any better, but I, as of yet, have no evidence of their all out bigotry, as I do with those in my previous organization. If I could think of a career that I could feasibly transition to that would require not a significant reduction in pay and no further degrees, I would jump on it.

On a related, happier note, in the course of events on the job front, I ended up getting offered a job with another company. Doing the same engineering work, and contingent on a project they haven't been awarded yet. But still, an opportunity for a fresh start. Terrifying, but fresh. I won't know if/when I start until next month. I hate change, so I'm secretly hoping they don't get it. Hehe. But it was beyond flattering to know that it wasn't a fluke, my getting hired as an engineer. Apparently other people are desperate enough to hire me to!

Unfortunately, since Husband works at the same company I do, the drama of the past year seeped in and infected our home life a bit. Not to say there is trouble in paradise. There is not. But morale was low. And it still is. Here's hoping we can pick ourselves back up in 2010.

You know what helps with that? Food!

2009 I learned so much in the kitchen. It's kind of crazy to reflect on all the kitchen adventures I had last year. And I've got the burn scars to prove it! In 2009 I not only got in the kitchen to practice home cooking more, I actually learned to cook:

I discovered quick breads. Banana bread, zucchini bread, pumpkin bread. You name it, I love it. I didn't eat a lot of quick bread growing up, so my love is new and exciting. Here's hoping our honeymoon phase lasts awhile yet. I still need to try breads with cornmeal and berries and nuts and other good things!

Learning to cook meant learning to cook meat. That's a no-brainer for some of you, for others you might think vegetarianism is ok. And it is! I was one, basically, for most of my life, because I never really liked meat. But in 2009, I was a full on carnivore! Taking on culinary duties meant feeding not just myself, but Husband as well. And he likes meat. So I would make it, mostly for him, take a little for myself, and one year later, I am now on board. I'll say I'm picky about meat. Picky about the quality, picky about how it's cooked, picky about the texture. Rubbery chicken I don't do. Even good chicken I'm still not the hugest fan of, but put a good sauce on it, and it's all good. Not to mention pork is divine! Who knew? I tackled lamb, beef, turkey, and even some fish! I'm glad I finally like meat. Any vegetarians out there can feel me on this one. Not eating meat is a pain! Going out to a restaurant, you're usually limited to about 2 choices, rather than the usual 20 million. You have to ask for specialty meals at events like weddings or company parties. You have to make sure to tell your host before any dinner party. You have to struggle to get enough protein. It's a pain.

You know what else I learned to like? Brussels sprouts and kale and beets and squash and mangoes and persimmons! Oh how I love persimmons. Basically, by getting out and cooking "new" foods, I really opened up my palette to the wonders of fruits and vegetables. I admit it. I used to be one of those people who would always go for the mainstream produce. Apples, lettuce, green beans, broccoli, bananas, etc. The safe stuff. The stuff that's easy to prepare. The stuff I grew up eating. I still buy all those things, there's nothing wrong with them, but they are decidedly safe. I'm glad I got out of my comfort zone to expand my culinary horizons this year. Turns out brussels sprouts are not only fantastic for you, they are actually delicious! You just have to have a few good recipes under your belt. I learned that there is not a fruit or vegetable I don't love. Except bok choy. I don't know why, I just don't dig it. It's too chewy for my taste. Husband has never quite gotten over it. He loves it.

I also learned to bake! I tackled bread! Bread! I don't know why, but to me bread was one of those completely non-approachable foods. I held in awe anyone who could make a simple no-knead loaf. Bread was mystical, and surely must take years of intense study and practice in a specialized kitchen to make properly. Then I tried the famous no-knead recipe, and the rest is history. Bread still is rather scary, in comparison to quick breads or muffins or good ol' cookin'. But I tackled things like pretzels, challah, and even bagels, and won! I made cakes, muffins, cookies, brownies, anything and everything. I now have a pantry fully stocked with all kinds of flours, sugars, baking sodas, powders, spices, etc. I rarely have to pick anything up at the store before I can try a recipe. Nothing is worse than a hankering to bake only to find you're out of butter.

I, like the rest of America (ugh, I hate it when I'm accidentally trendy), discovered whole grains. Not just brown rice or whole wheat pasta, but quinoa, wild rice, barley, lentils, spelt, farro, etc. I used to look at a picture of french fries and drool. Now I cringe at the grease and drool over butternut squash risotto. I learned to change my portions. Not just how much food I eat, but of what type. "Eat food, eat less, mostly vegetables". It's a phrase that is old news to anyone who knows Michael Pollan, but I was living under a rock, and just heard this phrase for the first time this week. It's simple, it's true, it's genius. It's basically what I discovered on my own last year.

In 2009 I broke the bank in the kitchen. Well technically we broke the bank in 2008 when we remodeled the kitchen. But in terms of stuff that goes in the kitchen, Husband was very good about my Bed, Bath, and Beyond shopping habit. I bought cookie sheets, cake pans, muffin tins, measuring cups, cookie cutters, dishers, cutting boards, pastry blenders, dough scrapers. You name it, I oogled it, and if I could justify it, bought it. My kitchen is fantastically stocked, and I still can only think of the things I want and don't yet have. A mini muffin tin, a tart pan, more dishers, etc. That's what 2010 is for, eh?

Some of my favorite kitchen essentials this year have been, well, essential! My microplane, for one. It zests, it grates, it...well that's about it, but it does those things fantastically. I used it pretty much every week for citrus zest, grating ginger and garlic, grating nutmeg, grating cheese. It really is the best $12 you can spend. My cast iron skillet, another $20 well spent! What took me so long to get one? I don't know. They cook everything beautifully and are easy to maintain. But my all time favorite purchase was Kiwi, my dutch oven. That's right, I named it. It's my baby. I love it so.
It does soups, stews, braises, and breads perfectly. Kiwi is my first dutch oven, so I can't say whether Le Creuset is really worth the extra money. But I can say that this Le Creuset dutch oven is divine. Kiwi is one of those things I meant to tell you all about months ago, but never got around to. Bad! See that utensil set pictured along with Kiwi there? That came with it. For free. A $70 utensil set! They're all silicon, and they are also on my list of kitchen things I love. I use them all the time, along with a bamboo utensil set I bought for when I need something a bit more heavy duty, like if I need to deglaze. I also received a couple of awesome kitchen and food blog related gifts this Christmas/Chanukah from my family that I want to make mention of. But I don't have pictures yet, and couldn't really do them justice. So that'll have to wait, and technically, I'll count those under 2010!

The dutch oven was my dream drool-over item for 2009. And since I was lucky enough to get it, I need a new item! And I already know what it is. An ice cream maker. It seems like everywhere I look people are making ice cream and sorbets that look to die for! But they need ice cream makers, of which I am totally lacking. Husband is an ice cream fiend, so he fully supports the acquisition...we just haven't worked out the logistics yet. As in, they cost money, and our money is earmarked for other non-kitchen related things for the foreseeable future. But since we don't foresee very far at any given time, it may yet happen. We shall see.

I became a total wino. Ok, I was always a wino. I love wine. Actually, let me rephrase. I became a total lout. Not to say I drank a lot, because I don't. But I put booze in everything. You know why? Because it tastes better! A soup with chicken broth? Eh. A soup with white wine or dry sherry? Now we're talking! Stews with red wine or stout beer. Breads with bourbon and whiskey. Chocolate cake with flambed prunes. Bread pudding with Grand Marnier. You name me a liquor, and I'll name you a dish I'd like to cook it in. I've been boozy-cooking all year, but I didn't dawn on me until very recently just how much I enjoy liquor in cooking and baking. Is that normal? Am I a total freak? Either way, I am definitely a lout...and damn proud of it! Booze makes food taste better!

Ok, now that this post is reaching novel status, I'll wrap it up with my hopes and dreams for 2010. I read some articles predicting food trends for the year. I thought that was fun, so I'll give a go at it. I think in 2010 the following will be big: maple syrup (seriously, I've already seen like 20 recipes using it, and it's only 2 weeks into the new year!), whole grains (because they're trendy right now), pork (because it never goes out of style), and rhubarb (pulled that one out of my butt, so we'll see!).

And finally, here's some ingredients I'm really looking forward to cooking/baking with more this year: rhubarb, cherries, apricots, plums, peaches, asparagus, chard, peppers, sardines, salmon, trout, scallops, lamb, pork, and chocolate. Also, this is the year I tackle creme brulee. It'll happen!

What did you accomplish in 2009 that you're most proud of, kitchen-related or otherwise? What do you think will be big in 2010?

Update: I forgot to mention one thing. The meals I am most proud of from last year. There are two, and they actually fall on New Year's Eve, and a just a few days before that. First, after we got back from spending Christmas with the in-laws, I took advantage of the time off to make bagels. They are slightly labor intensive (though less so than I remember), so I had been waiting for the right opportunity. The bagels turned out fantastic! I got a much better rise than the first time I attempted them (I store my yeast in the fridge now), and the flavors were just...oh so wonderful. My mom once made a comment that she didn't see the point in making bagels when you could buy them just as fresh from a bagel place. To that I say, try my bagels! Well ok, they're probably just as good, perhaps even not quite as good as store bought, but they taste so much better when they're home made. I'm pretty sure that's a scientific know, on a psychological level or something. Anyway, once the bagels were made, we cut them open, layered them with cream cheese, slices of fuji apples, and smoked salmon from Seattle. Real smoked salmon, as in, it's smoked, not cured. It's not lox in any way shape or form (except that both are salmon). It's to die for. I hope you can try it some time. I piled that sandwich high and paired it with a glass of Navarro Late Harvest Gewürztraminer. If you ever have the opportunity to try this wine, do. It is so frakking good. It's pricey, but buy the biggest bottle you can afford. You won't regret it. We had just a half bottle. It's crisp, it's light, it's sweet without being cloying (and I'm not usually a fan of sweet wines, but this is restrained). Definitely Navarro's specialty. It was so good with the salmon. Husband and I have never been so silent. We just ate, the occasional grunt to let the other know we were blissfully happy. I'm so glad I married someone who loves food as much as I do.

Then on New Years Eve I kind of accidentally cooked up a gourmet meal for just the two of us. I say accidentally because it started out just needing to cook up some escolar I had bought. Have you ever had this fish? It was my first time trying it, and let me just say, this fish is like butter. It melts in your mouth. I grilled it with an orange, meyer lemon, and garlic butter. Perfection. I paired it with pureed roasted cauliflower topped with sautéed leeks and a raw beet and fennel salad with orange and meyer lemon truffle vinaigrette. I say accidentally because when I went to the store to pick out ingredients to go with the fish, I didn't have any specific dishes in mind. I kind of just threw these things together, and magic happened. Really. When I put the plate in front of Husband, I said to him, "I don't know how I put these things together, but I just kind of...did." The food gods were watching out for me that night. Also, I paired the dinner with our last bottle of Navarro Gewürztraminer (not the late harvest, but also divine). Another meal with silent grunting. Husband especially. Every time he took a bite of fish, he would moan. He doesn't moan. It was that good. Husband even had the piece of mind to recommend I take pictures. I debated. Pictures meant a longer amount of time before I could dig in to the food. But I did. They're still on my camera. So pictures and recipes to come...sometime in 2010!


Kelly said...

wow, congrats on the weight loss! That is amazing!!! :)

I absolutely SUCK at making sweet quick breads. Beer bread I rock at, but zucchini, banana, etc.. I just can't get right! I cook it way longer than it is supposed to be, but it never cooks in the middle :( Any tips??

I'd also love to hear more about how you make bagels.. cause that seems so impossible to me haha

A microplane is the one tool I've always wanted but have been too cheap to buy one.. I really need to get one..

I accomplished a ton in the kitchen in 2009! I basically did not bake at all until this year. I just thought I couldn't do it..but then I found out how easy and fun it is :)

I hope to get better at meals this year... that do not involve pasta.. haha

JuLo said...

Kelly, how can you be a master of regular scary bread and have trouble with quick bread? I'm stumped! I just follow the recipe. I'd say it sounds like a problem with your oven. Maybe the rack is too close to the heating element? What kind of loaf pan do you use? I use metal. If you're using glass or ceramic, maybe that's the problem? Have you tried any of the recipes I've linked? They all worked well for me. I'd also say that it's ok if they get a little crispy on top because it usually caramelizes and tastes amazing. But if it's burning...yeah, that's not good.

You could totally do bagels! They're just like regular bread, except the dough is really tough, so it's a bit of a pain, and there's the added step of boiling the bagels before you bake em. I'll definitely do a post on them then!

Seriously, a microplane is definitely worth it! You will scoff that it took you so long. Husband complains that whenever he cleans it, I immediately dirty it again minutes later.

I did the same thing! 2009 was definitely the year I discovered my kitchen. :) If you ever start you're own food blog, I would definitely read it!