Food for the Soul (and Site)

12 April 2022

I made cookies from scratch for the first time yesterday! Previously, my sweet cravings were held at bay by batches from a grocery store bakery or a specific brand’s premade mixture—but now, I have taken the reigns into my own hands, putting myself on the path to transcending the need to rely on others for my pastry needs!

And the taste?

…well, it was a first try, probably the second or third attempt at baking something from scratch completely solo, so they weren’t amazing, or even great…just good. They definitely tasted like chocolate chip cookies though, which is better than the lemon pound cake you toiled over tasting a lot more like butter than lemon. The recipe I followed uses instant vanilla pudding mix, something I’m pretty sure is an atypical ingredient, making these taste a lot smoother than the typical cookie; although I think I messed up something in the mixing that gave most a weird powdery aftertaste. Not a reason to throw the batch away by any means, but enough to feel a tiny twinge of disappointment when you finish one.

I followed the directions to the letter the best I could’ve this time, save the light brown sugar it asked for. Nobody in the house uses it often—I remember buying a box to use to make sloppy joes and only pulled it out maybe three times—so it was all dry and hardened like its wont to do when you just leave it in a cabinet. I had to break off enough of a chunk, put it in a bowl, cover it with a damp paper towel, then zap in the microwave for 10 seconds at a time about 6 or 7 times to help break it up so it could be mixed in with everything else. Some of the sugar melted into something resembling a gooey filling in the process…sugar can resemble a powder in its intended form, so maybe that’s where the weirdness is coming from? (I would transcribe the recipe here, but it’s a proprietary one—you can buy it here for one American dollar if you want.)

Cooking is an odd activity to pin down. Probably essential to living, yet if you live in a metropolitan area with plenty of restaurants and convenience stores, apparently you can go about just fine without making your own meals much—as my siblings always defend themselves with when a family member gets on their case about why they eat out too much.

It was definitely essential for me up to a year ago, as a college kid living on my own trying to avoid ridiculously expensive brand-locked meal plans. The way I usually cooked didn’t leave much space for it to be a hobby; I had plenty of time to put something together every night, but the few recipes I knew when I set off for uni initially made lots of leftovers, so I would make something at the start of the week and eat the rest over the whole week. I still make food like this, though I don’t have to—especially since I can just bum off the house’s breadwinners in my current living arrangement.

I’m reluctant to call cooking a hobby—the fear of botching a whole recipe and being forced to spend another twenty-plus dollars to make something else for the week keeps me herded in on tried-and-true dishes with longevity. It’d probably be best to take this opportunity to try and turn it into something resembling one, before I end up living on my own and hoarding money again…

Speaking of food and university, there was an old friend I had those years who was suuuuper into baked goods. If I remember correctly, he had a dedicated composition notebook where he wrote down recipes from the internet and changed up the ingredients how he liked that I always asked him for but never bothered to make… He had encyclopedic knowledge of Kirby lore, made up stories about bugs and other critters, and was one of the few folks who actually liked the stuff we read in our British Literature class. He more-or-less disappeared from my radar like a lot of the folks I hung out with once the pandemic started, especially since he never used any gaming or social media platforms… I think he lives in the same region I’m in now, but when I tried reaching out a while back my message went to a different model of phone… I formally devote this section to him. If you’re reading this, I hope your life is going fine, your pastries are still delicious, and that the Forgotten Land was a good one for you.

I went to the 60th Annual Sakura Matsuri (桜祭り, cherry blossom festival) in Washington DC this past weekend, supposedly the biggest celebration of Japanese culture in the entire United States. There weren’t many cherry blossoms, if any. Disappointing, but the location wasn’t exactly a place where you could have many, stretching across a few street blocks north of the National Mall.

The day itself was another mix of enjoyment and disappointment…festivals like these have shows to watch scattered throughout the day, but the other main attraction is the surplus of vendors; and if you don’t have the money to buy a bunch of stuff, there isn’t much else to do. There were a couple tents with displays or people chatting about Japan’s infrastructure or a specific prefecture which were were constantly crowded, and most of the showcases felt more like advertising than informational. I would’ve stuck around a little bit longer than I actually did, but the wind made the already chilly day cold, and I wanted to avoid the glut of cars always crowding the way home. (I couldn’t, of course—I live about 60 miles south of DC at the time of writing, and good fucking god is getting around this area absolutely miserable if you don’t live close by).

However! I did get to try some nice food, and managed to find an unexpectedly delicious snack liable to become a personal staple: onigiri! They’re balls of salted rice packed into a shape and wrapped with nori, an edible seaweed used in sushi as well. A ball of rice looks plain on the outside, but like a lot of Japanese dishes, the rice is supposed to complement what else is in the dish, and the center of onigiri can be filled with plenty of different meats or seafood. The two I picked up were filled with shrimp tempura, a pretty standard dish for foreign tastes as far as they go. What few I remember eating were rather light on taste that surrounding it with the lightest of tasting foods in rice seems counterintuitive—but since wrapping what’s in the center spreads its flavor throughout the rice, the hints you get in every little bit of rice makes the entire thing filling. I really wish I saved the name of the stand I got it from…dunno if they’re local to the region or not, but if I ever recognize it I’ll have to go for another…especially since it seems like none of the Japanese restaurants in my vicinity serve onigiri.

Also, there was a blue inflatable chicken atop a sun deck looking out over the food section of the festival. This was about the most picturesque thing I saw, which probably says more about me and my nascent photography skills than the event itself.