I like to cook, but I don't really do it that much. When my parents asked me to help them cook something for a family that's coming over this weekend, I didn't have any clue what I should make. It's an Asian family, so I certainly wasn't going to try anything Asian on them. (How weird would it be if you went to a Chinese family's house in China and they cooked you chicken fried steak? You would probably be very curious to try it, but it probably wouldn't taste much like you think it should.) I don't think I'm still in charge of this meal, but my Mom asked me for input on what we should make. I still don't know, but I'll probably flip through some cookbooks for inspiration. The great thing about being in America is you can find the ingredients to almost anything in the cookbooks (even in a not-so-big town in Texas!).
I spent the weekend with my cousins in Denton. On Saturday afternoon, my cousin made a hot and yummy vegetable soup and cornbread for lunch. It was simple. She used V8 as the base and a vegetable soup mix from the frozen foods section with some browned ground beef. It was the perfect transition from a soft, gray sleep-in Saturday morning to a sunny afternoon out. It inspired me to cook more. One reason I didn't cook much this past semester is that my one burner gas range would often set itself on fire. There was some kind of leak in the fuel line. I had to watch it carefully and shut off the fuel tank as soon as it malfunctioned. So, it wasn't worth the effort to get all worked up about. I took it back to the store where I got it from just a few days before I left for the winter and they told me that I just need to make sure the gas tube fits more tightly around the point where it attaches to the stove. I tried it again after that, with the wire they gave me to assist in a tight fit, and it seems to be OK. We'll see what happens in my next semester of cooking. I can't get V8 or a pre-packaged box of veggies in the freezer, but I can make my own vegetable packets and stick them in the freezer for when I feel like vegetable soup. I might even try making my own tomato sauce before the semester gets too crazy.
Since I moved to China, I have had one lovely luxury. I have had a working oven. In Korea, I had a little toaster oven that couldn't make anything except toast, really. It made pretty good pizza with a little finagling (how do you spell that?), but no cookies or anything else. However, when I moved in to my room in China, though, I inherited a small working oven. It is marvelous. It took a few trial runs to get used to it, but it works great. I learned to make cakes, cookies, cornbread, and muffins again. I shared with the office and I made homemade cakes for my students and invited them over for coffee. They don't bake, so they thought I was amazing. I also had students over for Christmas cookie decorating and gave cookies to all my students for Christmas. The joys of having an oven. All of this was done in a little oven that will only hold a 9x9 square pan. I read in the Austin paper last week about people who are re-discovering their gourmet toaster ovens - how they are "perfect for just baking a few muffins at a time". I just laughed. We rediscovered them in China because that's all you can buy!