Hey, guess what? This post is not about birds. It might make you hungry, though.
I've been learning a lot about birds here at Hawk Ridge. But this is also my first time living away from home, and a lot of my adventures are taking place not on the count platform but in the kitchen. Here are a few important pieces of context.
When I first got here, I was a little freaked out about cooking without a stove. Most of what I know how to cook involves an oven or boiling large pots of water or sautéing. I brought with me an adorable little recipe binder that I've been compiling for a while, only to realize that I couldn't make most of what was in it because of the limitations of the kitchen. We ate scrambled eggs my first night in Duluth, and I felt less hungry but no less stressed.
Now, after several weeks, zillions of trips to the grocery store, and many meals cooked, I'm much calmer and I am thoroughly enjoying cooking for myself. Here are some of the things I've cooked and lessons I've learned, with more to come in the future (hence, "Food, Part 1").
For breakfast: Orange juice, a banana, and oatmeal cooked for exactly two minutes in the microwave. This is exactly the right amount of time to pack a sandwich for lunch, meaning I can wake up at 5:45 instead of 5:43.
For lunch: A ham sandwich, another banana or an apple, and whatever veggies are around the house. Or: mini burritos. Or: dinner leftovers.
For dinner: something elaborate, or whatever's in the fridge, depending on my level of fatigue.
The first day after the spices arrived, I made couscous with vegetable stew.
Next up, black bean burritos. We had some peppers and tomatoes left over from the farmer's market, and half a jar of salsa sitting in the fridge. I cooked black beans with the salsa and some garlic sautéd in olive oil. By sheer coincidence, the 6" tortillas were on sale for a dollar at the grocery store. This was a quick and yummy dinner.
Until now, I had still been sticking to instructions; the couscous stew and the black beans were recipes from my mom. But now I decided to get creative. I bought some potatoes, and we had spices and olive oil. So this happened:
The trick is to cook the potatoes in the microwave first, then fry them in a little oil to crisp them up.
Ah, the microwave. This seems like a good time for an ode to the microwave. I never knew how much it could do. Steaming vegetables is easy: put the veggies in a large bowl, add half an inch of water, cover them, and cook until they're appropriately squishy. Rice can be cooked in the same way. I was surprised to learn that you can cook pasta in the microwave, but now I think I'll never go back. The pasta cooks in about seven minutes, without the water even boiling. I feel like all the time I've spent in my life boiling pasta water has been wasted.
What else can you do with a microwave? You can defrost the chicken that you put in your broken refrigerator for a day and then re-froze, and which may or may not have salmonella. (I didn't die, but don't do this). You can sterilize kitchen sponges that have begun to smell like feet. You can poach an egg! Amy taught me this one: crack an egg into a coffee mug, cover it with a few inches of water, and microwave for a minute or so, depending on the strength of your microwave (it took a little fiddling to get the timing right). When Amy did this, she turned out two perfectly poached eggs. When I did it, my egg exploded all over the microwave. But it is possible.
Amy and I have grown to love our microwave, but we do sometimes overestimate its powers. The other night, I made chili:
Amy pointed out that we really couldn't have chili without cornbread. I concurred. The problem? Cornbread needs an oven, or at the very least a stovetop and a small skillet. Or does it? We decided to make cornbread in the microwave. We stirred the ingredients together and watched, entranced and slightly horrified, as the microwave turned the dish round and round and the yellow mixture began to swell and bubble.
The result was asymmetrical, but it seemed cooked, and a fork in the center came out clean. Huh.
So we sliced it. It held together, and the taste was good. The texture, though, left something to be desired. It turns out that the microwave didn't so much cook the cornbread batter as dry it out; we could still feel the bits of cornmeal between our teeth.
Overall, With the microwave as an aide and the powers of the electric skillet, we're managing just fine.
The other day, we had a ridiculous amount of zucchini around the house. We also had exactly two eggs left. When I happened to mention this to my mom on the phone, she suggested fried zucchini cakes. Brilliant! I grated one giant zucchini into a bowl. Then we realized we also had two leftover potatoes. Amy suggested we add them and make sort-of latkes. So I grated the potatoes too. We added crumbled-up saltine crackers as a binder, and our two eggs, and half an onion, chopped. The result was mushy and a rather unappetizing color.
I became more and more optimistic as we fried the latkes (or whatever they were). They got less mushy and began to turn a nice crispy brown.
Well, the onions were a little raw, and the latkes could have used some applesauce, but overall they were a success. Here's the recipe, with changes to reflect more closely what we should have done.
Amy and Kaija's Zucchini Latkes
Using the largest holes on a grater, grate the zucchini and the potato. Combine in a mixing bowl. Chop the onion finely (or grate it, if you're very brave). Don't leave any large chunks of onion. Combine the onion with the zucchini and potato.
Add the eggs and mix well. Add flour gradually, until mixture is sticky but still wet (approx. 1/4 cup flour?)
Heat oil or butter in a skillet and spoon the batter on in dollops, pressing each one flat. Cook until browned on one side, then flip. Serve with applesauce (Or pepper and salt, or sour cream, or spaghetti sauce, or pretty much anything else you want).
Today, Amy and I went apple picking, and now we have a peck of apples to dispose of. I see microwave applesauce in our future, perhaps...?
That's it for food, up to now. I'm excited to continue my culinary adventures, and if any of you have any microwave miracle recipes, I'd love to hear them.
Jump to a Post
Welcome to Hawk Ridge
A Massive Migration
A Happy Birdthday
Photos from the Week
Visiting the Banding Station
A Watched Kettle Never Streams
Food, Part 1
The Big Picture
Last Weeks at the Ridge
Belize, Part 1
How to Look at Birds, A Guide (or: Belize, Part 2)
All Creatures Great and Small
Kids and Language, Again
More Photos from France
Food, Part 2
Building Nests in California
Please Do Not Pet the Woodpecker
Condors and Creatures in Big Sur
A Day at Hastings
I am a high school graduate taking a gap year before college. I’m interested in birds, biology, and the natural world, as well as history, foreign languages, writing, and reading.