I have several little incidents from the past few weeks which didn’t merit their own posts, but I just realized that they all happened in the kitchen. So that’s enough reason for me to group them together.
First, the successes. Last semester I wasn’t in the kitchen as much as I (or Jenny) would like. So over the break I’ve tried to be more helpful and also experiment with new things. One day we had tacos on the menu, but were out of tortillas. Jenny has had limited success with making our own tortillas in the past, so I offered to give it a try. She did have some new information for me: a woman with years of experience in a family breakfast taco business told Jenny that it’s essential to let the dough rest, even if the cookbook recipe lists it as an optional step.
I’m no chemist, but I did see this principle in practice when I was younger and my family had apple strudel parties. We used high gluten flour, kneaded it vigorously, let it rest in a warm spot, and were able to stretch the dough paper thin. So I looked up gluten, and found a good description of what happens. Armed with that knowledge, I made the dough at noon and let it rest until dinnertime. The tortillas rolled out thin and round, and made for great tacos, filled with leftover slow-cooker pork from the night before.
This week I took on another project that had frustrated Jenny. She found a recipe for homemade yogurt. It seemed simple, just a few steps. The process took so much time that it turned out to be much harder in practice. Jenny tried three batches, only one of which was really successful. Her last attempt was so discouraging that I offered to take a shot at the next one.
I didn’t use the slow cooker, instead opting to heat the milk in a regular saucepan. After mixing in the starter yogurt, I left it overnight on a heating pad inside an insulated cooler to maintain the proper temperature of about 100 degrees. When I checked it the next morning, I was amazed to find a nice firm yogurt under the layer of whey. It reminded me of the first time I made pizza dough that actually rose, after several previous disappointing efforts made me think of myself as a yeast killer. Because of that, being successful on my first yogurt attempt was even more satisfying, as the underlying mathematical process, exponential growth, is the same in both cases.
Now for my admission of kitchen failure. We invited friends over for dinner, and I chose to make chicken parmesan. Jenny was taking a shower and Elena was playing in the front room while I prepared the chicken. Elena came in to see what I was doing, so I picked her up and showed her the breaded chicken sauteing on the stovetop, then took her back out to the front room because I still had more to do.
After Elena comes into the kitchen once, she’ll almost certainly make a return visit. The next time my fingers had egg, flour, bread crumbs and raw chicken all over them. Elena must have sensed it, because she made a beeline for the trash can. I turned on the faucet and tried to wash them off as quickly as possible, but she was moving so fast and a vision of the baby in the middle of a pile of raw chicken bits and other assorted grossness flashed through my mind. Without even thinking, I yelled Elena, No!
I had never yelled at Elena before. I have spoken sternly, even raised my voice once or twice when she insisted on spitting her food out, but I always kept myself under control. She knew this was different: she stopped immediately, turned towards me with a scared face and started crying. Then she crawled over to me, and by this time my hands were clean so I was able to pick her up, comfort her, and apologize. Not long after, Jenny finished her shower and took Elena and so I could finish dinner.
There are two takeaways, both about distraction. First, I had so many things going on–chicken on the stove and in preparation, messy hands, baby on the move, that I didn’t have the mental resources available to assess and resolve the situation quickly enough in a more thoughtful way. I know I’m not a great multitasker, but this just proves it. Second, I’m thankful for our subsequent discovery that Elena really likes refrigerator magnets. We don’t yet have very many that are big enough for her to play with, but Jenny put some good ones within her reach. They have proven to be a good first line of defense that keeps her far away from the trash can.