Thursday, July 3, 2014

Wait, I Had Fun Doing What? - Ellen Hartman

I have this sister. (See photo at right. She's the cute one.) My sister is pretty amazing. She moved her family from Philadelphia to the middle of nowhere New York State just so we could raise our kids around the corner from each other.

Like I said, amazing.

She's also a little bit scary. I'm older by six years, but when my sister says, "Jump," I keep my mouth shut and jump.

Her schedule is changing when school goes back and she's worried about her time and responsibilities. I know this. So when she called and asked me to do a monthly cooking day with her, I said I'd do it, even though I hate cooking and it's the one job I've successfully offloaded onto my husband so I don't ever have to do it.

(What is a monthly cooking day? You cook a whole bunch of meals and then freeze them. The idea is to cook for the whole month in one day. There are many, many blogs about this. Here's one.)

My sister got us organized. We chose recipes, and she made an intimidating store list. We planned the schedule and decided on a day. With each thing that we did to make this more of a reality, I felt more and more strongly that I didn't want to do it. It's not just that I don't like cooking. I don't really like food. I'd happily eat cereal for dinner every night. Spending this much time thinking about and working on meals seemed like an enormous waste. But my sister needed me and I do like hanging out with her day.

Of course this thing happened at the crack of dawn on a weekend, and I grumbled, pouted, and complained as my husband drove me to her house. Yes, I did say she lives around the corner, but it's really almost a half mile and it was dawn on a Sunday and I was in a terrifically bad mood because of cooking day so I got a ride.

Anyway, guess what? I loved cooking day. I spent four hours with my sister and we had such a great time. (In addition to being cute, amazing, and a little scary, she's hilarious.) My sister understands the importance of dessert so not only did she let me include chocolate chip cookie dough on the schedule, she let me lick the bowl. But I also actually enjoyed the cooking and the end result. I went home with 13 meals plus 2 batches of cookie dough. I felt accomplished and organized. I'd do it again in a heart beat, or you know, in October.

This isn't the first time I wound up loving something I expected to hate. What else? I went through sorority rush because my roommate forced me. She didn't pledge anywhere and I became a Delta Gamma. I was guilted into breastfeeding, and then nursed my two boys for a combined total of five years. Shrimp. Wheat beer. Macs. The Grateful Dead. IM.

What about you? Did you ever try something you thought you wouldn't like only to find out it wasn't so bad? Let's hear about it in the comments. Alternatively, you can guess which three foods on the list below were my suggestions or you can explain to me why I am wearing that rain hat in the picture with my sister. ;-) Everyone who comments will be entered in the drawing for a copy of Married by June.

I know some of you probably are interested in food, so here's what we made.

1. Chili
2. Twice-baked potatoes
3. Chicken
4. Gnocchi
5. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
6. Lasagna
7. Other Chicken


Mary Preston said...

I actually felt like this about cleaning out the shed. I procrastinated like you wouldn't believe, but then the day finally arrived. I had so much enthusiasm & energy for the task. At the end of the day the sense of accomplishment & achievement was totally worth the effort.

Julie Hilton Steele said...

Beets. Roasted beets. Who knew? They are good, good for me, and it grosses out my adult children (who still don't eat them).

I made them for my husband who loves them and decided to give them a try. Wow!

Now I always try food I think I will hate. One bite can make a difference.

I did that cooking for a month thing when the kids were little and I was in school AND had a full time job. I only wish I had had company in the kitchen!

You are so blessed to have your sister near by.

Scarlet Wilson said...

I couldn't get past the part that talked about Cookie Dough. Can you send some to Scotland please??????

Ellen Hartman said...

Marybelle--yes! The sense of accomplishment is a wonderful thing. Tackling a big job and getting it done well. Yay!

Julie--funny you should mention beets. I really disliked them as a child. We belong to a farm co-op which means we get a box of veggies every week. Beets come in the box and I give them away. (Usually to my agent. They're her bonus.)

Someone told me how much their kids love beets and I decided I've been depriving my children, who have never seen a beet on the dinner table. So the last time we got beets in the box, I cooked them up. Ew. They smelled and tasted just as bad as I remember. ;-)

But wait. You said you roasted them. Maybe I should try that. I'm with you on the trying food thing. I don't like a lot of foods, but I am willing to try just about anything.

Wow! I can't believe you did monthly cooking by yourself. That's amazing. And you're right about the blessing of my sister. She's very dear to me.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Scarlet,

Oh dear. I wish I could share my cookie dough with you, but unfortunately, it won't ship. I will just have to keep it all right here at my house. Heh.

My sister is no dummy. She knew if she dangled some chocolate in front of me, I'd be more likely to show up for cooking day. ;-)

Kaelee said...

Ellen ~ My husband and I cook together. He gets the ideas and we make them happen. We try to cook so we will have leftovers. It's just as easy to make a big pot of chili as a small pot. The closest we come to a cooking day is in the fall when tomatoes and zucchini are ripening and need to be used. When winter comes we fill the oven with roasted veggies and some type of meat. We try to get at least three meals in at once.

I love the strip of pictures. It brings back memories of the photo booths in the Greyhound bus stations. I think your hat is cute.

EllenToo said...

OK let's try this again....
I don't cook...unless it comes frozen and ready to put in the microwave or oven. My poor mother tried and tried to get me interested in cooking but it just didn't take!!
However if you want to invite me over for a home cooked meal....

And as you know I have all your books so don't include me in the drawing.

sheandeen said...

Ah, chocolate--the great motivator. I'm glad you had a great time cooking with your sister.

I'm guessing 4 and 5 were your suggestions and maybe, 2.

Beets were the one thing I was sure I hated. I remembered them from my childhood... bleech! But my hubby's family had a one-acre garden every year when he was growing up. They would grow, freeze and can all kinds of vegetables when he was young and he LOVES beets. I told him to prepare them and I would try them. Yum, the key is fresh out of the garden, throw them in the pot, boil them and plenty of margarine/butter and salt when you eat them. LOL Beets was one of the early veggies I fed my babies and my girls love them. :)

mary sullivan said...

Ellen, you and your sister got a LOT done in just four hours! Well done.

I'm with everyone on the beets. I didn't like them when I was younger, but they are fabulous roasted! Nowadays, I'll eat them roasted any time they are offered! Ellen, they aren't great boiled, are they?

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Kaelee--Cooking with your husband sounds so wonderful. I like thinking about you trying new things together. My sister is trying to make two meals at a time now whenever she can.

I've been trying to remember where we took those pictures. I know there was a photo booth at the amusement park near Scranton called Rocky Glenn, but we look more dressed up than I think we'd have been for that. I think there was one downtown in the Globe Store. (One of our big department stores--You can Find it at the Globe.) Maybe that's where we were.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Ellen--one of the many things that made me resistant to cooking day was that I don't like to eat food that's made in the microwave. Odd, I know, but I can't get over it.

My sis was careful to pick things that don't need to be microwaved.

When I lived by myself, I hardly ever cooked at home. I ate a hearty lunch in the cafeteria at work and had something small like toast or popcorn at the movie theater (!) for dinner. That lifestyle suited my cooking habits perfectly.

I'd love to have you over for dinner. Maybe if your travels bring you to the middle of NY State sometime. :-)

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Sheandeen,

You've reactivated my beet guilt. I'm depriving my now-teenage babies of their beets. Sigh. Okay. I'm going to give them another try.

My sister also fed me banana-chocolate-chip bread for breakfast on cooking day. I must say, if you're going to do a cooking day, choose a partner who's an excellent cook. ;-)

You're a good guesser, but not perfect. :-)

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Mary,

I was shocked at how much we got done. The twice-baked potatoes are fabulous (we sampled the filling) and I would never have attempted those on my own. My family is in for a treat!'ve all convinced me. I'm going to roast the beets. Never say I'm unwilling to give things a second chance. My next farm box arrives a week from tomorrow.

Jeannie Watt said...

Ellen--Perhaps the question should be why wasn't your sister wearing a rain hat? (Great photos!)

The one thing I swore I would never eat was escargot. I did. I loved it.

I have to steel myself whenever my husband says never. He once said he'd never live in Denver (back in the oil company days). Guess where we moved the next year? He said he would never live in a trailer. Guess where we lived next? And once he said he was never going to live in the town that we've now called home for 27 years. I wish he'd say he's never going to win a million bucks, you know?

Debra Salonen said...

Jeannie, my mother would always grin--in that all-knowing Yoda way--when she said, "Never say never."

Ellen, your post was a delightful as ever but now I'm feeling a little blue. That's just the sort of activity my sister would have pulled me into. Sigh.

I'm the queen of leftovers. Left over chicken? Stir fry, baby. Or our new fave: WRAPS. Can you by uncooked flour tortillas in your part of the world? They are huge in my area. They make the most wonderful bread substitute.

I'm hungry.


Debra Salonen said...

Forgive the typos. I haven't had breakfast. ;-)

Darlene Gardner said...

I'm no cook, either, but there's a lot to be said for planning ahead. Good for you, Ellen! Have any of you ever heard of Dinner Done? I went once with a bunch of my girlfriends. You let the business know ahead of time what you'll be preparing and then the ingredients are laid out for you at various stations. We took wine breaks when I went, the best part.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Jeannie!

I wish your husband would say he's never going to visit Ithaca.

About the's possible I was wearing it for fashion, not weather protection. I was always pretty cool like that.

Ellen Hartman said...

Oh Deb, hugs. You have such good memories. Take care, sweetie.

We don't do enough wraps at our house. With all the growing going on at my house these days, we don't have many leftovers either. :-)

I wish we lived closer! I'm hungry, too, and we could meet for lunch.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hmm, Darlene. This Dinner Done option sounds more my speed. ;-) I haven't heard of it and doubt Ithaca is big enough to support a place like that. Sigh.

Perhaps if I can convince my sister that the next cooking day should start at a more reasonable time...say, the cocktail hour...we could incorporate some wine.

Mary Brady said...

Ellen, what a fun post! Garbo, dahling. You're wearing the hat because it gives you a very Greta Garbo-ish look. You're, of course, not old enough to be a first hand Garbo fan, but...

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Mary,

Thank you for understanding. You're an astute observer, that's for sure.

I wonder if Greta also wore barrettes in the shape of ears of corn? ;-)

Rula Sinara said...

Adorable pics! I think the hat was all about being fashionable ;) Unless of course you were uber practical at a young age. You know you don't have to hairstyle if you're wearing a hat, LOL.

I love to cook and I'll plan for leftovers, but I've never done the month in advance thing on meals. I have made homemade pickles and homemade sundried tomatoes (from my garden) in the fall and they lasted several months.

Things I swore I'd never try and still haven't...bunnies, snails, alligator and shark (chuckling at Jeannie on the escargot).

Rogenna Brewer said...

I just wish I had a sister :)

My mom and I have a Christmas cookie day in which we bake all our holiday favorites in one day. I really enjoy that.

EllenToo said...

Ellen...I just bought my first microwave and only because:
A~ so many frozen dinners now can only be heated up in a microwave
B~ it was on sale for half price
I still use the oven/stove for everything I can.

Who knows one day I may get up your way.

Jo's Daughter said...

I made carrot soup with rosemary and honey and cream. It sounded so sweet and strange. I wasn't sure if it would be good... But I loved it and make it occasionally for lunch.

Ellen Hartman said...

Dear Rula,

I dearly hope no one is eating bunnies. I'll give a pass to folks who eat rabbits, but bunnies...that's just wrong. ;-)

So did you actually pickle your pickles? I make refrigerator pickles, but I don't think they last for months.

Helen Brenna said...

I think I would've had as many reservations as you about a cooking day, Ellen. Glad you two had fun. I LOVE the photos of you and your sister. So cute!

This spring when I bought a road bike to do a race with my son, I didn't think I'd enjoy it at all. Turns out, I love it. Did 70 miles this past Sunday. Working my way up to that 100 miler in early September!

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Ro,

My sister is a real gift to me. I do appreciate her even if she forces me to cook for my family. ;-)

Your holiday baking day sounds great. My sister and I still make time to decorate sugar cookies with my mom during the holidays. Family recipes and time together are so precious.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Ellen--when you come by, we'll make sure to have a meal cooked in the oven so we're both happy. ;-)

Ellen Hartman said...

Jo's Daughter--that soup sounds terrific. I want to make soup during the next cooking day with my sister. I don't really get excited about many recipes, but for some reason I do like thinking about soup. Maybe it has to do with the whole idea of sticking a bunch of stuff in a pot and returning hours later to find a magical dinner?

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Helen--wow. That's a real conversion story, isn't it?

I used to ride my bike home from work when I was in Seattle. I worked in a suburb and lived in the city so the ride was about 35 miles around Lake Washington. It was so gorgeous. I don't have that much extra time in my day anymore, but I did love those rides.

(Full disclosure: The last mile or two to my apartment was straight up a huge hill. I used to lock my bike up and ride the bus those last few miles. I was fit in my own way, but no Navy Seal.)

Does your mind work on your books while you're riding? Mine does great work on long, solo drives. I wondered if you have a similar experience.

Unknown said...

That is a great idea! I have to cook everyday and I am getting sick of it. It's not the cooking so much as coming up with something different to cook. My hubby is picky. He has to work six days this week which means six days of cooking yuck!!! He stuck his nose up today because I fixed frozen chicken strips but I also mash patatoes and fixed peas with it.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Virginia,

As the non-cooker in my house, I have a firm rule about dinner. I eat what's put on the table and then I say thank you. ;-)

My sister is one of those people who loves to think about cooking and she's always coming up with new recipes. I was impressed with the things she dug up for our cooking day. Maybe the blog I linked in the post might offer some ideas. I liked the suggestion to cook more than one meal at the same time--one for the freezer and one for the table.

Good luck! Also, if you have any leftover mashed potatoes, can you send them my way?

Laney4 said...

Hi Ellen!
I feel like that every single time I have to work/go to work, but once I'm "in the thick of it", I'm actually enjoying it. Go figure: me liking to work. Shhh! Don't tell my family!

Ellen Hartman said...

Breaking sister is too shy to post, but she believes I'm wearing HER hat. Hmmm. A Greta Garbo wannabe at three years old. This explains a lot.

We're still not sure where we were and I'm not totally convinced it's her hat, but she was the preschool queen of hats-that-match-your-pants outfits. (My grandmother made a lot of her clothes. The hats 'n pants pattern got a good workout.)

Maybe my dad will come by later. He often knows family history we've all forgotten.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Laney--your secret is safe with us. (Assuming your family has no access to the Internet.) ;-)

I think it's such a huge bonus to do work you enjoy!

linda s said...

- Snails, for sure. I never ate them before I got married. Now, my family adores them.
- Squid - known as Italian onion rings at our house. I learned to eat them as they were my children's favorites while we were in Italy.
- My first trip to a country where few people spoke English... I was petrified and knew I was going to hate it. And had sooo much fun.

Joan Kilby said...

Great post, Ellen! I love the idea of cooking day. But I wouldn't have enough room in my freezer to store all that food. I do try to make enough to have leftovers though.

Beets or beetroot are common food item in Australia. People eat them sliced on hamburgers, in sandwiches and in salads. When MacDonalds brought out an Aussie burger it had beetroot on it. I'm not crazy about eating them like that. I think it's something you have to grow up with, like Vegemite. But I do like baby beets roasted with whole garlic, fresh herbs and olive oil. Then I crumble some feta cheese over them. Yum.

Joan Kilby said...

Me again. Had to comment on the photo booth. We just had our RWAustralia conference. Harlequin puts on a Friday night cocktail party and this year we had a photo booth. The theme was the Roaring Twenties. Everyone had huge fun dressing up and cramming in the photo booth to take pics in their costumes. Which reminds me, I should go put the photo of myself and my 'flapper' friends on my website.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ellen,

Both you are you sister are cute. I wanted to try cooking just one day a month, but my husband thought it would be like eating leftovers all month, so he nixed it. I am glad you and your sister had fun.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Linda--I love your comments about traveling to a place where folks didn't speak your language. It's inspiring.

The snails and squid are good ones, too. I bet they're on a lot of lists of things people think they'll hate.

Joan--I want to see photo booth pictures! Drop us a link when you have them loaded! What a great idea.

Okay, I'm getting more and more interested in the beets. Roasted garlic and feta go a long way toward appeasing my fears.

Ellen Hartman said...

Hi Tammy!

I said the exact same thing to my sister! I'm not a great fan of leftovers and wasn't so interested in eating them for a month.

However, my sister assured me that the meals we were prepping weren't going to be leftoverish, and they're not. Some of the things are just assembled and will need to be baked, like the lasagna and the twice-baked potatoes. The gnocchi is ready to go fresh. The chicken will get defrosted overnight and then can either go in the slow cooker or in the oven to bake for half an hour. That just leaves the chili and I think chili is pretty much the same on the first day or leftover. (I'm not eating the chili, but my family likes it.)

Maybe you can bribe him to test a month if you make sure to include some frozen cookie dough!

Ellen Hartman said...

Last update before I head off to my writing time. I just pulled three pans of chocolate chip banana bread out of the oven. One for the morning. One for the freezer, and one for my sister who made this all happen!

Thanks to everyone who dropped by! I'll check in again later in case any night owls appear.

P.S. My recipe ideas were 4-6. Still no definitive answer on the hat.

Snookie said...

LOL, my guess was lasagna and I was going to ask you what gnoccis are? never heard of them. I didn't think it was the cookie dough because your sister used it to bribe you!

I like to cook, but never seem to have the time or energy anymore.

liztalley said...

I actually like cooking...just not the cleanup. And at this point in my life, we're so busy that I really need a day to do it - and that day is for cooking only one meal. Can't imagine doing 13!

I try to have a good attitude about trying new things, and often times, I am surprised. Only thing I can think of off the top of my head is going on a cruise. Never thought I'd like it, but surprisingly it was good family fun.

Love the pics, Ellen. So cute!

JV said...


First, I don't know how I missed this blog post. I could have sworn I checked Thursday, but... Anyway, I always love your posts, and this one was no exception. You had me smiling and nodding my head throughout.

Second, may I come and hang out with you? No wonder you stay so thin! Maybe by hanging around with a person who eats to live rather than lives to eat, some of that would rub off on me. While I'm also a person who could probably eat the same thing all the time (or, at least, for a long time), unfortunately it would more likely be a cheeseburger than a bowl of cereal. Honeynut Cheerios every morning, however, is my weekday breakfast without fail.

Third, I've often suspected that we are sisters under the skin. Now I'm sure. I'm very much the person who just goes along with others. Much to my husband's chagrin, I'm always the one who says, "You pick where we go to eat. I'll find something I like wherever you decide." That's because I know we'll have to debate the relative merits of my choice versus every other restaurant in the city, but I'll be content with whatever he chooses, with a precious few exceptions.

That's not to say that I'm a sheep. When something really matters, I will deviate and do what I think is right, but on day-to-day stuff like what to do for fun or where to go to eat, I just go along with whatever somebody else wants to do. Usually, I enjoy myself, though I've gotten myself and him into some fairly long-term commitments as a result. My husband says I need to get "No!" tattooed onto my forehead (or else "Sucker"). I became president of the PTAs/PTSAs in my daughter's schools 3 different times because people asked me to, and I just couldn't turn them down. (That's where the "sucker" part comes in. It's a LOT of work!) The last two times, because I had a great bunch of people working with me, I really did enjoy it and made some fabulous friends.

That's the same reason DH and I somehow became the people who photographed all the cats available for adoption for a local rescue organization for about 6 years; our daughter volunteered and told us we might as well do that since we had to drop her off/pick her up there anyway. So, we did. (DH is pretty easy-going, too.)

I joined a sorority (ZTA) in college even though I hadn't thought I would want to because a guy friend introduced me to one of my eventual sorority sisters and asked me to at least go through rush. Turned out, I really liked them!

Over the years, I've volunteered for all kinds of things I didn't really want to do because someone asked me to. Years ago, I even took up running (which I continued to hate, by the way, for about a year and a half until we both finally gave it up) because a dear friend wanted a running partner.

I went to the free oldies concert at the state fair -- The Buckinghams, The Grass Roots, The Association, Mark Lindsey (voice of Paul Revere and the Raiders), and The Turtles -- because my daughter asked me to go with her, and that was really fun, even though it was hot and I was drenched in sweat after the walk there and the concert. (So much fun that I wound up spending a boatload of money to buy the CDs.)

Oh, yeah, and fourth, your sister is scary organized (but cute!) I have no real idea what your food suggestions were aside from the cookie dough, but I'm going to guess chili and chicken. (I would have guessed lasagna, but if you're someone who doesn't like to cook, then you probably wouldn't suggest a fairly involved and time-consuming dish. It would be way too much trouble for someone who doesn't particularly like food.) And you're wearing the rain hat because your sister asked you to? Just a guess.

Thanks for the laughs, Ellen, as usual. I really needed them.

JV said...

Oh, and you said, "So the last time we got beets in the box, I cooked them up. Ew. They smelled and tasted just as bad as I remember. ;-)" I'm with you on the beets. I've also tried some in the recent past that someone fixed and still didn't like them. If you try them roasted and change your mind, let me know. Maybe I'll give roasted beets a try, too. Garlic does make most things better!

I'm fairly adventurous with vegetable dishes in that I'm willing to try pretty much any vegetable (or other type of vegetation), even if I don't think I'll like it (and frequently don't), but with meats, I'm less adventurous. I've often said that if I hadn't grown up on beef, chicken, a few pork dishes, and fried whitefish, I would be a vegetarian now -- not because I'm crazy about veggies. (Wish I were!) It's just that I don't like to think too much about where meat comes from, so I'm not willing to eat any meats that I don't already eat. Run, Thumper! Run, Bambi, and even Squido and Crab Patty!

P.S. While I tend not to like things that are COOKED in the microwave (exception: broccoli, which is so fast and easy steamed there), I don't mind nuking my food to reheat something previously cooked elsewhere (exception: pizza, which must be reheated in the oven or eaten cold).

JV said...

P.P.S. I always cook to have leftovers for DH to take for lunch! Even though I enjoy cooking, I hate cleaning up afterward, so I consolidate!

Colleen C. said...

I have tried a few things over the years that I was surprised to find that I liked... one was zucchini bread... another was asparagus in butter sauce... I am a very picky eater, so I do not try things that often outside my norm...

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