Thursday, April 3, 2008

Adventures in Crockery Cookery!*

*Why is it that I always want to put an exclamation point after every single one of my blog titles? Everything I do is so Gosh! Darn! Exciting! (Has anyone seen the Seinfeld episode where Elaine's boyfriend thinks she is too liberal with her exclamations points? ...Not the only thing I have in common with Elaine (walking candied apple!).)

For the past three weeks I have been making a concerted effort toward reaching the status of Domestic Goddess. I don't really know if this title can rightfully be bestowed on anyone who lives in a home that has a hitch, skirting, and wheels that are supposed to be detached, but are in fact still there -- but I'm trying. I've been taking part in all manner of goddessery (do you like that word?) like, oh, doing specific house chores on specific days of the week, washing pots and pans every morning instead of letting them pile up to do "later", planning meals a week ahead, having a well-balanced dinner on the table at 7:00pm every night. It's a whole new world. As a woman in the full-time workforce for so many years, I did nearly all of my house chores on Saturdays, and threw whatever I could together for dinner most nights (when I was single, it was pasta with cheese, primarily). Apparently when one is staying home full-time with only one child, this isn't really the way to do things. So I set some goals, made some plans, wrote down some guidelines in a special spiral notebook that was a paper company freebie at a job several years ago, and away I went.

Things are going pretty well so far, if I do say so myself.

My pursuit of Domestic Goddesshood has now brought me to a new adventure -- crock pot cooking. Crock pot, slow cooker, whatever you want to call it; it's the thing that you put food in at some point in time when you have the time, and then it smells delicious while it cooks all day, and when dinnertime comes, your food is ready, and you've practically forgotten that you even had to do anything to have a nice hot meal on the table. I can see now that this is the type of thing I really should have been employing when I was working away from my house all day, but it just didn't occur to me then...because who would make ramen in a crock pot, really? I looked at crock pots at the store, but then I remembered a store that always had plenty of reasonably-priced crock pots -- D.I., of course! Yay, a trip to the D.I.

I had a few other things on my list: a 2008 calendar (too late to get one at a regular store), a stacking file thing for our mail and phonebook to clean up our bar, a hanging mesh fruit basket, and perhaps an umbrella stroller for Sawyer, provided I could find one that didn't look disgusting. No such luck on the stroller or the fruit basket (I found one there on my next trip), and I had to settle for a James Dean calendar, but I found a good file stacker, and a nice medium-sized crock pot. Oh, I had plenty of crock pots to choose from. Big ones, little ones, ones to suit decor from the 1970s (burnt orange flowers), '80s (light blue geese), or '90s (green ivy), one with a stainless steel outside. I started to wonder, if crock pots are so great, why is everyone getting rid of theirs?

I selected the '90s model, but despaired that I didn't know if it would really work or not. D.I. has outlets for testing appliances, but how does one test a crock pot? ("Don't mind me, I'm just cooking a roast right here! It'll be done in 3 to 4 hours on low, 6 to 8 hours on high, provided this crock pot is working correctly...and that's what I'm here to find out!") I just had to take it home and take my chances.

I wanted to start easy -- no meats to under- or overcook, especially if the used crock pot isn't working correctly. So I am making black beans, or frijoles negros for those of you who espeak-o the espanol (I don't know how to make that little thing I think is supposed to go over the n). WIC lets me buy a couple of pounds of dried beans a month, but I have never cooked with them. My sister Kara, who has been a Domestic QUEEN for many years now, makes delicious black beans. I can tell already that mine aren't going to be as good. Perhaps I should have gotten her recipe and instructions? Oh no, I'll just wing it!

Things didn't start out so well. They actually started a couple of weeks ago when Tyson had a bean idea. I came home from being gone somewhere with Sawyer to find about a half cup of four different kinds of dried beans soaking in what I perceived to be not enough water in our refrigerator. I asked Tyson what they were for, and he said, "I don't know. I thought we should cook them." I think he was vaguely thinking chili. We had a discussion about whether they should have had a quick boil first, whether they had enough water, whether they should all be done together like that, etc. The next day they were thrown out when they had absorbed their meager water supply and were still very hard.

I ended up putting black beans on my menu plan for the week, but I forgot to soak them overnight before the appropriate day, so they kept getting pushed back again and again. Finally I remembered to do it last night. In trying to get the rubber band off the bag of beans, I spilled beans EVERYWHERE. As they scattered across my kitchen, it sounded like someone had turned over one of those raincatcher stick-thingies. Kitty came running to see what she could scavenge, but she was definitely nonplussed by the hard, black things all over the floor. An unknown quantity of the dried beans went in my sink and down to the disposal. Gah! That can't be good for this already temperamental piece of equipment! I put tape over the disposal switch to discourage anyone from turning it on before I could figure out what to do, then I swept up all the stray beans and discarded them (more raincatcher noise).

I measured the remaining beans in the sack and found that I now had only 3/4 cup -- less than half the package. This would involve some math. If each cup of beans should be soaked in 2 and 1/2 cups of water, how much water for 3/4 cup of beans? Math. Not my strong suit. I'm sure there is a better way to figure it out than the way I did, which involved me needing 7.5 units of 1/4 cups of water.

So that was last night.

Fast forward to today. I have now put the overnight-soaked and one-hour simmered beans in the slow cooker with some onions, peppers, garlic (sweated in bacon fat), oregano, cumin, bay leaves, and a little sugar and vinegar. No, this is not someone's recipe. And I had no idea how much of each of these things, let alone how much salt, to put in.

Of all things, it turns out there is a birthday dinner for Tyson's sister tonight, so I didn't even need to make dinner and these beans are a somewhat fruitless endeavor. Maybe that's a good thing, because who knows how they are going to turn out!? What I do know about slow cookers is that you aren't supposed to lift the lid to "check" on things, because you will lose all the heat that takes a long time to accumulate in there. So I don't even know if I have enough water in those beans, or if I will come home to a dirty, baked-bean mess of a slow cooker.

By the way, if you're wondering why I have time and inclination to write a 1300-word article about beans, it's because Tyson already took Sawyer out to his parents' house, so I am here by myself, relishing the first hours I have had in my house alone since Sawyer was born.

Time to go to the party!

1 comment:

  1. Ahh! This sounds most familiar! (Apparently, I've been influenced by your exclamations...!)Many times I plan to use the crock pot, but forget about the 6 or so hours needed previous to the meal.

    And I think the reason there are so many at the D.I. is that women are always upgrading. Apparently, these things are like computers and eventually you need the models that promise better results and more settings and hold more stuff.

    Plus, I really love your "math." Ha, Ha, Ha! Sometimes I wonder if I should have paid more attention to algebra and story problems.