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Jul 20, 2005 03:59 PM

Becoming Aunt Gertrude

  • d

Lately, as I eat in restaurants, I've been finding myself channeling the spirit of my great-aunt Gertrude.

All together now: "Eh, this is okay, but I could make better at home."

I'm a fairly good cook, if I may be forgiven for saying so myself, and I'm very good at parsing out the flavours in food: the nuance of chervil, the hit of five-spice.

Part of me -- the scientist at heart -- relishes the challenge of creating the dishes we enjoy at restaurants in my own admittedly small kitchen. My wife encourages this behaviour because it means we spend less money eating out : if I can make it at home, then why spend the money to go out?

The other part of me, the rebellious young man, rails against this slippage into the realm of curmudgeonly antics : you are still young, do not behave like a crotchety old malcontent.

My questions to you are these : am I the only one with this dilemma, and should I take arms against it?

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  1. r
    Robert Lauriston

    Did you ever read this book? One of the authors claimed to be able to produce the recipe of any dish she tasted in a restaurant. Among other things it includes a recipe for William Shakespeare's favorite sauce for cold mutton and the Virgin Mary's original recipe for spinach spread.


    1. Nope, not the only one. I've always been that way... that is why I hate going out to lunch. For the last year, I've had a job where I never travel and has 'regular' hours. So now I have time to make and pack myself a wonderful lunch. I HATE the idea of buying a sandwhich or something when I could make a MUCH better one for SO much cheaper!

      That being said, the way I counter act this is by being even more adventurous when I go out to eat. I order things I couldn't make at home or go get some ethnic eats. PLUS, there is always my comfort foods, that even if I can make at home better, a quick fix will make me almost as happy! :)


      4 Replies
      1. re: Dommy!

        Hey, Dommy, let's hear more about those lunches you take to work. I'm just beginning to pack my own lunch and I could use some ideas. I prefer hot food and invested in a great thermos that has four covered containers inside so I could actually take a four course hot meal with me every day. I'm all ears.

        1. re: georgeb


          I perfer hot food as well... Luckily, I have a plenty of fridge space (and respectful co-workers), microwave and toaster oven at work... So I can put together things no problem...

          For the most part my lunches are just left overs from what I made for dinner or take from the freezer. I've become a master reheater (Cover items with wet paper towel so you get some nice steaming action) and 'toaster' (You can broil really nicely in a toaster oven!). I also perfer to eat small lunches, so it's usually made up of a very small salad/veggie and simple entree. Nothing dramatic... Here's what I did this week...

          On Sunday I made a bit of stickey brown rice. On Monday, I brought a bagged field green salad, salad dressing, pine nuts and a good blue cheese to use up for the week... Entrees so far:

          M: Brown Rice smoothered in Yucatecan Black Bean Puree with mexican cheese sprinkled on top
          T: Korean Marinaded Pounded Chicken Breast over Brown Rice with Kim Chee on the side
          W: Spicy Corn Chowder
          R: Sandwich with boars head premium ham, mexican cheese, jalapenos and spicy carrots, mustard on organic wheat bread.
          F: Haven't decided yet... Going to the Mexican Supermarket tonight...

          I like to be creative and keep things varied so I don't get bored and keep the cravings at bay, but I also use similar ingredients so I use things up and keep costs down.

          Hope this helps!


          1. re: Dommy!

            Thanks, Dommy. I'll give some of those a try. I don't want to use the microwave at work since our staff room could use some cleaning up (and I'm being kind).

            1. re: georgeb

              Interesting things to take bring for lunch would make a great topic on the General Topics board. You would probably get a ton of responses there. (link below).

              To the OP, I second the suggestion to try mom and pop places with different cuisines and dishes you might never have heard of.

              There is a sameness in upscale restaurants even when they supposedly cover different cuisines. Not that I don't enjoy them, but, even I, who can't boil water, start getting bored and thinking I could do better at home.

              After a while I get burned on the mom and pops and happily go back to the upscale places for a period.

              Maybe go to some of the restuarants on the board that you've never considered. I am currently fascinated about ramen discussions on the SF board. There is just so much interesting food out there.

              Of course, if you are in an area with the Chowhound guides, that is a good way to find something new and exciting to eat.


      2. m
        Morton the Mousse

        It totally depends on the food.

        Sometimes, I know I couldn't make something at home because I lack the equipment. Wood fire pizza and smoked meat come to mind.

        Sometimes, I know I couldn't do something justice at home because I didn't grow up cooking the cuisine. Ethiopian comes to mind.

        Sometimes, I know I could make something at home but it would take so many hours it's just not worth it. There's a Moroccan place I like that makes their own couscous and phylo dough, and it is fabulous. I'm not going to spend 12 hours in a kitchen trying to roll out phylo dough and couscous.

        Sometimes, the chef is a master. I can cook, but I do not begin to approach Gary Danko or Thomas Keller (neither does Aunt Gertrude).

        In short: I won't eat out for bacon and eggs, I will eat out for Dim Sum.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Morton the Mousse

          I agree, Morton. We all have our areas of expertise in the kitchen, and I, too, generally choose to eat out at places where I wouldn't make the food at home. The other thing to consider is that eating out can be about more than the food, and sometimes it's really nice to have someone else do the work, and just relax and enjoy.

          1. re: lala

            I agree, but I think that another factor is price. If I'm paying $12-15 an entree, part of what I'm paying for is not cooking, being served, not cleaning up. If I'm paying $30 an entree, I want it to wow me by being something I couldn't have done myself. I'm becoming increasingly disenchanted with upscale "New American" restaurants, because I always feel like I could have done better at home.

          2. No, you're not the only one. The more my cooking skills advance and the better access I have to great ingredients, the less impressed I am w/ restaurant food in general. With so many great cookbooks, farmer's markets, online info, and mail order options out there these days, most people could make restaurant quality food if they had the time, $, motivation, etc.

            That said, I still love to keep abreast of the restaurant scene, read reviews, and try new places to eat. I love a night off (and HATE to do dishes) and sometimes it's more about just having a good time out w/ friends or my honey. There are also some things that I can't or don't want to bother to reproduce at home, plus it's another source of inspiration. Things like an array of sushi, wood-fired pizza, real smoked BBQ, ethereal croissants, artisanal bread. Of course, there are lots of ethnic cuisines that my cooking doesn't even begin to approximate or I'm too intimidated to even try.

            So, embrace all sides of your chowishness, label yourself a "Renaissance Hound," and thank Aunt Gertrude for her lessons.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Carb Lover

              Gee, Carb Lover, I wish you lived in Brooklyn. After reading your great posts on Zuni, etc., I'd love to have the chance to cook with you. I guess it will have to be a virtual cookfest.

              1. re: micki

                Aw, thanks micki, I'm flattered. It's amazing what I've learned and how I've been inspired from this virtual cooking club. Happy cooking and eating!

              2. re: Carb Lover

                I almost never order something in a restaurant that I can easily make myself: pasta, chicken, omelette.

                My grandfather was the youngest of 12 and was sent to live with his oldest brother. He learned early on that he had to earn his keep.

                So my grandmother lucked out that he did all the cooking and cleaning. And a good cook he was! I still miss his tuna salad sandwiches. He also washed our clothes by hand in the kitchen.

              3. Embrace your inner curmudgeon! Enjoy every moment of crankiness! Make it better at home and be proud!

                Your Aunt Gertrude was probably a great lady.

                Really, there's nothing to resist. Better food, lower price, probably higher sanitation practices, and you can control the ingredients, buying local, organic, free-range, grass-fed, whatever you want. Eating at home is where it's at. And cooking ends up being your entertainment, too.


                1 Reply
                1. re: curiousbaker

                  And YOU get to pick the music!!