In what seems to be a pattern, I was working late tonight. Again.
My oldest daughter was home with the other three kids, and they seemed to be doing okay. But when I informed her how late I was going to be and that I couldn’t make dinner. I wasn’t able to transfer funds into her account and she’d have to either do PB&J . . . which apparently wasn’t what she wanted to do . . .
I told her there was hamburger in the freezer, buns in the cupboard, and chips in the pantry. Now . . . hamburgers are not the most difficult thing in the world to make. Shape a patty, little salt, little pepper, throw them in the pan, fry the hell out of them.
She didn’t want to do that.
On more than one occasion Abbi’s made the comment like her mother used to make: “I feel sorry for a guy who ends up with me. I can’t cook anything!”
But she’s wrong. She can sing, just like I can. She’s smart, like all her siblings and relatives. She can do this . . . the difference is she doesn’t want to do it. That’s a big thing.
There are some things that she needs to prepare for before leaving out into this big, bad, world, and she’s about to get the lessons my mother gave me. You don’t have to be Julia Child to eat. But you should know how to do two things:
One comfort food: maybe a roast, or chicken noodle soup or just hamburgers.
One fancy meal: that’s dealer’s choice. But at some point – and I’ve told her I don’t want to know when it happens – she’s going to invite a guy over for dinner and she won’t be able to fake cooking it. Not really.
So I’m working on getting her to learn some basic culinary skills. She can make cookies. She made freaking cake pops one day.
It’s not lack of knowledge or ability, it’s simply that she doesn’t want to do it.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t cook a lot when I was her age. My Mom forced me to learn in my senior year of high school and I’m glad I did. In college, living in an apartment, I lived on Clearly Canadian drinks and Old El Paso chimichangas. But every once in awhile I got hungry for cookies . . . and I made them. I made my grandma’s cinnamon rolls – and they were a hit with the members of my band, my work, and eventually my girlfriend and her roommates. They were insanely unhealthy, but I was cooking to impress, not to be healthy.
So this weekend, I’m forcing Abbi to cook. Whether she likes it or not.
You need to learn to cook a meal, folks. At least one!
OK, I know that’s not a real person. The title will make sense in a few minutes.
Watching TV in the strange, sci-fi and offbeat world my kids and I inhabit you start to see a lot of actors that inhabit lots of different worlds. They start on bad sci-fi (sorry, SyFy . . . worst name ever!) channel pilots that never go anywhere. Then you look up one day and they’re on ABC’s Castle. This is the case with an actor with the strangest name that doesn’t seem to fit his looks: Tahmoh Penikett. It’s not that I’m a big fan or anything, but Abbi, Hannah and I just like saying the name.
Sometimes it’s in the voice of Indiana Jones: “The Penikett man shall pass. The Penikett man kneels before God!” Others it’s singing like the seven dwarves: “Tahhhmmmoooooohhhhhh! Tahhmoh, it’s off to work we go . . . ”
We aren’t poking fun, though it sounds mean. We actually like the way the name rolls off the tongue, more than anything.
He’s a good actor. Joss Whedon uses him a lot. He’s been on a number of shows and movies we happened to see and then look at each other silently saying “it’s the Penikett man!”
But the point of this is a shared moment the other night with my daughter. Because we both like John Cusack – my favorite being Grosse Pointe Blank, Abbi’s likely Say Anything, we thought there could be no harm in watching The Raven. I was wrong, of course, it was a bit more violent than we expected and a lot less interesting than it could have been. But the supporting actor – whose name I’m sorry to say I don’t remember – bore a strange resemblance to Tamoh up there.
Now, I’m sure the actor is doing far more things and far different circles. Not that the Penikett man isn’t in the circle of actors, I just figured he’s not even related or knows him. But I mention the comparison to Abbi as we watch the movie and she responds with . . . “Yeah, kinda. More like a brother, though, or maybe a cousin.
I looked at her and said “Harpo Penikett . . . lost cousin of the Marx brothers.”
Now . . . I know that’s not funny. I also know it’s silly. But we both busted out laughing beyond all belief. We were both exhausted and giddy and it just struck us as funny. It’s like when Johnny Carson used to call the Ayatollah’s cousin “Skip Khomeni”.
But my point here, folks, is that we’re laughing again, uncontrollably, with abandon. We watched a bad movie, poked fun at it, and like when Abbi was little and I jokingly told her there was a muppet called Napoleon Blownapart – who exploded every week – we laughed again. (By the way, we watched the movie “Pirates! In an adventure with scientists” and there’s a bar on the dock called the Napoleon Blownapart. Just sayin’) To be able in the last year at home to share these funny and insane moments with Abbi . . . and with Hannah when she’s looking at cartoons or what have you . . . is worth its weight in gold. A year ago at this time we laughed, sure, but we were just unsure if we should do it. How do you laugh when there’s a voice – a harmony in the chorus that’s missing. How do you laugh when you wonder if you should still be feeling badly about what’s happened? That was how we were looking at the world, though not realizing it.
So with all honor due to Tahmoh Penikett – who really is a good character and lead actor at this point – we are improving and laughing again . . . each day . . . and hopefully he sees that our laughing at the Penikett Man is a great tribute to the fact we actually love his name and watch what he does. It’s also a tribute to how we’re moving forward again.
No, I’m not from New Orleans. If you wondered why the absence yesterday . . . I was editing! Video editing!
My second cooking segment, this one – Ragin’ Cajun Pasta. My own concoction, beginning to end, the mistakes, the refinement, all of it to the final recipe – which still has some “do it to taste” elements, but I think it’s a pretty worthwhile dish. A colorful dish mixed with chicken breast, bell pepper, onion and garlic, it’s a spicy dish but filled with taste.
I’ve said before that people don’t grasp that cooking real food . . . food you make at home with the kids watching you and all . . . is easier than you really think. I’m no Bobbie Flay, but I can follow a recipe. It’s not hard. I know how to read and then as time progressed I began to experiment and vary the recipes. I get that in the right hands, food is art.
Still, In caring for my kids alone I came to the realization that my kids were always more hyper, more angry, harder to control when they ate bought treats or foods. It’s still that way, I just don’t have another person to help me care for them. When I decided that my kids deserved what I had . . . an upbringing with the smell of homemade foods and treats wafting through the house, I started making food myself…everything right down to cookies and breads and cakes and all.
SO. . . here’s my first attempt at converting you.
A cooking segment. Cooking with Dave. Or as Abbi, my daughter called it, Davey Ray (rather than Rachel Ray).
Pizza is a staple in our home. It takes longer to watch this than it really does to make it. So please, avoid the grease, the cost, the preservatives . . . and know you can make your own pizza – right down to the crust!
The title doesn’t really apply to anything in particular. It does relate to the fact that I used to look like the guy up there . . . and that’s a rare photo of me that I actually think I look pretty decent. It’s not an ego kind of thing, I don’t think I looked particularly great most of the time, but much of my appearance changes – where I looked like a decent human being – was due to a makeover by my wife. Now, I try to put much of that into practice. The main thing being that I posted this photo so I have a goal to work toward:
Getting almost that skinny again.
I admit it . . . I was a couch potato for quite awhile. I’d like to say I wasn’t but that’s not the truth. My wife had her knees go out and that led to her not moving much which led to none of us moving much. Where she gained a significant amount of weight I hadn’t looked to myself to realize that I had done it, too. To get back to that guy you see up there I need to lose at least 38 pounds. I’d be happy to lose 28. That would get me close.
I know I said this already, but it’s not vanity that pressures me, either. It’s reality. I don’t know that the kids or I really realized just how much we missed being outdoors or engaging in some sort of activity until we started doing it again. I lost a lot of weight simply by attrition. That 28 I need to lose was probably more like 48 or more a year ago. Just by having to clean, take care of the kids, do laundry, go up and down the stairs, chase after the boys, all of that led to the loss.
But I’ve hit a plateau now. I cannot continue to eat the portion sizes I do now and not have exercised and lose weight. As much as Kim Kardashian may want you to think you can take a pill and simply lose weight the reality is nobody really knows what she does for a living, she’s got a trainer and if you believe the gossip columns tends to hang out with lots of athletes. I don’t think it’s particularly hard to lose your weight when you do that. It’s all about image for people like that. It’s not image or vanity for me. It’s life.
My kids have spent the summer doing what kids do . . . what they should do. Without ten tons of technology keeping them in the house they are riding their bikes. They’re going to the library. They’re playing games. They find things to do and they’re probably in vastly better shape than they’ve been in the last year. They’re going to get home to get ready for school and I’ll barely be able to keep up with them. I can’t let them down to that degree and end up making them become what I’m trying to leave behind.
So I get up at 6am…even if it’s like today and I didn’t sleep well. I get up, walk for as long as I can, get back by 6:45, cool off, get in the shower, then get ready for work. The next big step is stopping the giant portions and most importantly not eating from the moment I get home. It’s my biggest poor habit. I don’t eat much during the day but from the moment I get in the door at night it’s like I can’t stop myself. I understand the complaint from those trying to lose weight that it’s not as simple as “just don’t eat.” That’s a line from skinny people who don’t really eat much anyway.
Now . . . don’t worry, I won’t be posting my weight each morning or subjecting you to what I eat. I will post recipes, maybe even a few cooking segments here and there.
The reason? I think the idea of homemade has crept out of our households. I’m raising four kids alone and can still manage to cook, even breakfast, the best I can. Maybe it’s not amazing food, but it’s mine. You should too.
So look for that . . . because as our story begins so does how we live that story.
I was talking to my son last night and he mentioned how the roast he’d just had for dinner was “so tasty and moist.” Before I get to the point, I was more than a little impressed that these are the words he’d use to describe his meal, not “yummy” or “great,” the typical adjectives of a 9-year-old. But he went on a tangent to describe just how the roast was prepared, cooked, seasoned, all of it. He knew more details about this meal’s preparations than I could have discerned myself.
“Do you do this, Dad?” was his next question.
The answer? Well…yes, somewhat.
His curiosity was about the preparations, the utensils and the cooker used, all of that. He was curious if this was something that I’d advocated and adopted as well. It was.
My son, Noah, one of the 9-year-old twins of the family, is always very curious about how the meals are cooked and constantly asks if he can help to do the cooking. Now, sure, it would be much easier to say I am in a hurry and tell him to go play Wii or other item but that would really not help things much. He wants to help, even if it might take him twice as long as normal to do it, he’ll get it right. I remember being that way as a kid and I don’t seem to remember being told “no” very often either. If that’s my recollection than it’s best if I carry on that activity.
The other reason I do this is to have them all learn. Even if they’re sitting there at the table or at the couch I make sure they hear what I’m doing. When they ask what is in our dinner I tell them and recount how it’s made during dinner so that they get an idea of what’s contained and how we made it. If I can’t get them all interested in learning how to cook at the very least I can get them to learn by Osmosis.
And Osmosis seems to be working. I use that Crock Pot a lot…stew that cooks all day, using wine and fresh herbs and whatever else I have around to make it…and they lap it up. I make a roast in there that’s “moist and delicious.” I have made Minestrone and other soups and foods. Chicken and biscuits. You name it, I’ve tried to do it. I’m not an amazing chef, I don’t suppose, but I can cook a meal.
So when my son asks “Dad, do you do this?” I can answer with a small amount of certainty: yes…yes I do.
I’m a nightmare for a lot of those parents who push for preservative-free, gluten-free, allergen-free, nut-free, whole foods types. I don’t do it on purpose, I really don’t. I had a lot of allergies as a kid, though I don’t pretend that it’s the same crucial and life-threatening allergies you had. My asthma was far more threatening than it is now, and I’m doing far better now than I was as a kid. Sure, I had allergies and breathing problems but I was fortunate enough that I was neither pushed to do too much by my parents and I wasn’t babied too much so I never felt that I couldn’t do something if I wanted to try.
But my point is that I use peanut butter nearly every day in my kids’ lunches. It’s not some “fight the power” issue to somehow send a message to people or anything. I totally understand the sensitivity to nuts, the reaction that could seriously harm someone, all of it . . . my issue is that I have a very tight budget. My kids’ lunches have a peanut butter sandwich every day. The reasoning is pretty simple: even at its priciest, peanut butter is cheap, filled with protein, vitamins, and they like it. My kids know who may or may not have a sensitivity and they’re sure to stay away, wash their hands after lunch, all of it.
But the one thing that’s really caught my eye lately is all the commercials, ads, billboards, everything for foods and items that aren’t simply an allergen-reaction fueled campaign. There’s been a myriad of Chex commercials for “gluten free” cereals. Gluten free pizza crust. Gluten free this, that, the other. Preservative-free foods. Plastics-free bottles. Filtered water from your tap. Reverse-osmosis fueled spring water with all the minerals and vitamins removed. There’s a freaking bar/restaurant in New York that’s selling distilled water for ungodly amounts of money. I watch and wonder . . .
How the hell are our kids going to survive?
I get it . . . some people don’t want or can’t have gluten…though I don’t know how that’s happening. There’s a fear of carbohydrates. There’s a backlash against meats.
When I realized I was making all the decisions for my kids’ lives it became clear that I had to start doing that: making decisions. One of those wasn’t the avoidance of glutens or preservatives… it was reverting to life as I remembered it. I cannot do what my parents did, not just because I’m no longer married but because I work 8 hours most days and then get home. I wanted, though, for my kids to have what I had. Sure, every kid thinks they’re under the thumb of their parents but when you have your own children you realize what it is you wish you could do for your own children. Mine was trying to bring them some of what I had.
It started with breakfast. I fix it for the kids every morning. Working around my schedule, I might make a triple batch of waffles and cook them – freezing them – and then serving them via toaster each morning. I might do pancakes or the simple scrambled eggs. I generally make the breakfast myself.
Same goes for the desserts. I realized early on that Sam was affected heavily either by the processed sugars or corn syrup or preservatives or whatever in the bought treats. Make chocolate chip cookies at home he’s fine. Buy a bag of Oreos and give him more than one – he bounces off the ceiling. As a result I make all the desserts myself. I bought a Sunbeam mixer with better power so I could make more. I use the Betty Crocker “Cookie Book” my Mom got me. I learned a lot from my Mom – whether I knew it or not – and as a result I can cook, bake, all of it. Give me a recipe and the odds are pretty decent I can figure it out.
The thing here is that I have a theory: I don’t necessarily think it’s the gluten, allergens, chemicals, or preservatives that are causing the havoc in our lives. It’s the convenience we think we’re attaining but not really seeing. We buy cookies rather than make them. We nuke foods rather than cook them. We buy McDonald’s rather than frying up a burger. The problem with that? We are feeding the machine ourselves.
I could say it’s sooooo much easier and I’d be lying. If you absolutely despise cooking or baking you won’t do this. I don’t mind it and my kids have a far wider pallette than McNuggets and hot dogs. We drink water out of the tap or the fridge – I buy bottled water for lunches but use a reusable bottle much of the time. We try new desserts and treats.
We could be afraid of every little thing, but where gluten occurs when you’re using dough or cooking with flour, why avoid it so much? I worry more about the chemicals and preservatives and when you buy cold cereal because it’s got no gluten rather than making homemade waffles or pancakes or eggs . . . something that takes just a few more minutes or steps . . . what’s the problem there? Not the gluten in my mind. It’s the short attention span and need to “want it now”.
I don’t criticize the gluten-free-ers or those who suffer from sensitivity to these things. I do believe our reliance on pre-packaged foods and not making our own created the sensitivities we face today.
I say this knowing full well I ate Twinkies and Reese’s Pieces as a kid – and yes, I know Twinkies supposedly have rocket fuel in them – but I didn’t have a Twinkie a day . . . nor did I have Reese’s. I did have a home…filled with what I needed and some of what I wanted…because that’s what you do for your family.
OK . . . it’s an inaugural recipe. I plan to shoot some little cooking segments as well . . . not Bobbie Flay, but Davey Ray maybe.
But to start off, we plan on eating our annual Memorial Day BBQ today, and through much modification, work, and years of planning, here’s a recipe that’s easy and quick for your holiday and is perfect for the single Dad/Mom to put together. Just takes a little planning. So here’s your stuff:
Wet BBQ Brisket
– 1 full or 1/2 beef brisket. If, like me, you’re in CA and kind a freaking brisket to save your soul, you can substitute a Sirloin Tri-Tip
– One medium or large onion, skinned, cut into quarters
– 2-3 tsp sea salt
– 2-3 tsp fresh ground pepper
– 2 Bottles Jack Daniels BBQ sauce. (I found this works best so far for the recipe, but use what you like)
– There are other ways, and you can make your own, but if you’re in the typical sole parent hurry…this works
– 2/3 cup Black Strap Molasses. (Or original. Similar, Black Strap is a little more bold)
– 1 tbsp liquid smoke
– One 12 oz. bottle or can of stout or dark beer. (I prefer Guiness)
Use the sea salt and pepper to season your brisket. Over a high heat, on grill or cast iron skillet sear and brown all sides of the seasoned meat. While it cooks, prepare the sauce:
Pour your sauce, either homemade or Jack Daniels, into a large bowl. Add the molasses and liquid smoke and stir until well blended.
Place your browned brisket into a roasting or cast iron roaster, fat side up (this lets it moisten the meat as it cooks) in the pan. Pour your sauce over top of the brisket. Add the bottle/can of beer to the pan. Stir until just blended in.
Place your onion quarters on top of the meat so the favor saturates throughout.
If grilling use offset heating. Light your grill, bring to temperature, then turn off one side of the burners. Turn the remaining side to low. Place your pan on the unlit side.
Let the meat slow cook through most of your day. I usually do the preps around 7am and we’re cooking by 7:30 or 8. If you plan on afternoon you have a 6-8 hour brisket ready.
Baste occasionally, but careful to let the onion stay on top your meat so the flavors blend.
I’ll usually serve with corn and a cheddar-mashed potatoes, but add your own sides to make as you wish.
The combination of flavors seems to do well and I’ve never had any complaints.
Bear in mind that this is not a DRY RUB or a SMOKED BBQ recipe. This is a wet, sauce-based brisket. If you prefer the others, well, I will have to get working on that later on down the road.