Kiss the cook
Within the first few months of my au pair position, my knowledge of… well, a lot of things, expanded.
I must say that the one skill I’ve become obsessed with perfecting is cooking. It’s almost ironic since, honestly, this portion of my duties seemed the most daunting and intimidating part of the whole thing to me.
I have been with the family for almost nine months now and I have yet to get tired of working in the kitchen. There’s just something about creating a meal to satisfy and nourish ones close to you…it sparked something in me. It’s not only the food you are preparing, it’s the presentation and the comfort you’re providing as well.
Then again, coming up with a diverse selection of meals to suit a family’s varied tastes is not the easiest. I am given this great opportunity to serve whatever I please and at the family’s cost (literally). If there was ever a perfect time to learn how to cook, even if it was self-taught, this was it. I took full advantage of this situation and surprisingly enough, have thoroughly enjoyed it.
I am required to cook three meals a day, five days a week, for one whole year. And for someone who considered a frozen veggie burger served with bagged lettuce a meal,the idea of creating that much food seemed impossible. I don’t think I can express enough how lacking my cooking skills were when I started. Surely, I knew what tasted good and what didn’t, but how would I parlay that onto the family’s dinner table?
My first kitchen obstacle: the family does not eat store-bought bread. Obviously, cutting out bread from the family’s diet would be absurd, so it became my duty to make bread for the family. About five or six loaves were sacrificed before I could get the process and recipe down, but now I cannot imagine my life without a daily slice of freshly baked bread. There’s not a loaf in America that stands up to the deliciousness that is “German bread.” And because I don’t think I can put it into words how extraordinary this bread is, the recipe is included for you to try yourself.
Trust me, if I can make it, so can you.
I also realized early on that my new family loves to host dinner parties. Because many of our gatherings are held weekday evenings and since both parents work, the planning, shopping, cooking and plating is up to me. My biggest feat to date would have to be our Thanksgiving dinner. My guest parents were so enthralled with the idea of continuing this American tradition overseas that they invited 23 people.
It’s not to say that I wasn’t enthused about the idea, it was just the fact that I was the one to complete the task at hand.
The shopping itself was enough to give me a mild panic attack. Then add two small children to the mix, and my nerves were dangling by a thread. But then I realized that with any holiday or party preparation, things are bound to go awry, but you just have to roll with it. I needed to brush away all my negative thoughts. No matter how overwhelming things get I. must. stay. positive.
If anything, the next time I need to host a party of 23 people, I’ll have it in the bag. I wined and dined the Germans with traditional Thanksgiving dishes. And from what I could gather through the slurred German brought on by wine and cocktails, I had succeed.
Cooking has become such a creative outlet and I’ve come to appreciate the many details that go into preparing a dish. Food changes with seasons, spices change with food. Temperature, preparation, time, quantity and quality play their roles too.
Looking back, I cannot help but chuckle. The one thing I feared most about my job is one of my favorite parts of it all.
4-cups water (1 liter)
Bread starter (about 4 tablespoons)
(1 package of active dry yeast, 2 cups warm water and 2 cups all-purpose flour. Mix together in a large non-metallic bowl and cover loosely. Let the mixture ferment from four to eight days – the starter will be ready when it is bubbly and has a slight sour smell. Store in refrigerator).
8 cups flour (a ratio of 60% rye, 40% wheat)
3 teaspoons salt
A generous amount of sunflower and pumpkin seeds
1 cup rolled oats
Butter to grease two bread loaf pans
In a large bowl (or container with lid) whisk together the starter and 4 cups water. When the starter is practically dissolved, add the flour and mix. Cover the container with lid and let the mixture sit overnight.
Day two | (The dough should have risen past the bowl’s rim). ** Add salt and mix. Butter two loaf pans. Add just enough sunflower and pumpkin seeds to line both pans. Add the remaining seeds to the dough, mix together. When finished, divide up the dough equally into both pans, top with a coat of oats. Place a damp towel over both loaves for about two hours or until the dough has risen.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees and place a bowl of water on the bottom of the oven (a metal cake pan will do just fine). Bake the bread at 500 degrees for 15 minutes then reduce the temperature to 450 degrees and bake the bread for 45 minutes. Let the bread cool, slice and enjoy.
**Biggest tip here, make sure to take a couple spoonfuls of the dough to be used as the starter – place in jar and keep refrigerated until next use.