Emily. That’s me. A 23 year old, self-motivated, charming, unique spirit. Why am I the Tootsaroni? I credit my Grampa with that title. Tootsaroni Macaroni Chicken Noodle Soup. That was the jingle he created to accompany my nickname, Toots. The pages of TootasaroniMacaroni are created with him in mind. Remembering his simple, humble, caring spirit. Hoping to embrace a bit of his character throughout my adventures, my creations, and my thoughts.
I live in Vermont – always have. The rolling green hills, distinct mountains, picturesque sunsets over the Adirondacks, and eclectic communities are unimaginable. Litter-free highways with few cars in site. Neighbors knocking at your door to borrow an egg. Frisbees flying across the green, caught by girls and boys wearing bandanas and flannel. Farmers markets in every town with tables of fresh berries, local wines, homemade cheese, pastries, and breads, soaps, crafts and fresh squeezed lemonade, made right before your eyes. These are the finest details of Vermont, and are, together, impossible to find anywhere else.
I currently spend my days in the more central regions of the state, but I grew up in the most southern part, surrounded by my overwhelmingly large, but stunning family. My mother was (and still is!) always working hard, spend very little of her time in the kitchen, utilizing her “spare” time to paint instead. My dad rarely (if ever?) tested his baking skills, spending his evenings and weekends in the garage. The focus was never on the savory dishes that came from the oven, or the chicken fresh off the grill, but rather on the moments cherished with family, sitting around the table, sharing stories of our days. Yet, somewhere, somehow, I grew to appreciate the possibilities the kitchen can unfold. Though not a family of cooks, chefs, or bakers, there were a few moments of kitchen-time growing up, and I remember them well:
As a little girl I would stand on a chair, pulled up tight to the counter, to help add the spices, sugar, and flour that would soon form that flaky crust of Mom’s apple pie. She’d always nibble at the pie dough as we went. Every time I make a pie, I try some dough, thinking maybe one day I will understand why she loves it so much. So far, no luck – tastes like buttery flour every time.
At my uncle’s side, I would crack the eggs and holder the beater to cream the butter and sugar for cut-out sugar cookies. We’d make Santas, reindeer, snowmen and trees for Christmas; eggs, bunnies, and flowers for Easter; ghosts, pumpkins, and cats for Halloween. Plastic cups of confectioners sugar would line the table. I got to transform that powdery sweetness into colored icing. We would then spend the next hour as artists, strategically dripping the icing across the cookies.
I would watch my mom as she carefully rolled out dough onto a heavily floured countertop. She would flip over a drinking glass and press the rim firmly through the dough. How interesting… She would pass the perfectly rounded dough to me, along with a bottle cap. I would push the bottle cap into the middle of the dough, creating a doughnut hole. The hole pieces would get added to fry-daddy, serving as our samples. We would continue in this rhythm as the smell of cinnamon and fresh fried dough wafted through the house. I would pour sugar into a paper lunch bag, waiting anxiously for the doughnuts to be cool enough to toss. I loved placing them in the bag, shaking them up, then removing the perfectly coated treats.
My most memorable moment in the kitchen growing up was my first no-recipe venture. My best friend Janelle (with me at left) was spending the night (we were maybe fourth-graders at the time). We decided right then was a better time than any to begin our careers as kitchen queens. We got out this really enormous silver bowl. In went flour and sugar and eggs and oil. Pretty standard, right? We thought so. But we needed our cookies to rise. Baking powder and baking soda do that. After much debate about the amount of baking soda necessary to get our cookies rising, 1/2 cup went in. Yes, 1/2 cup of baking soda. You read that correctly. We tried out a sample cookie in the oven. Horrendous. We looked at one another with utter disappointment. We were not going to give up! We were determined to make it better. So what did we do? We needed to counter the saltiness, so we added Vermont maple syrup – still too salty. Chocolate syrup – still too salty. Strawberry ice cream topping? Sure. With nearly all possible ingredients utilized, we had to call it good. Our enormous bowl was now more than half filled with a murky pink batter. We had, literally, over a gallon of cookie batter to deal with. We tested our “dough” in the oven. The 1 inch ball of dough spread out to a thin 5 inch chewy, gooey mess. Maybe it still tasted good? We brought my dad a sample. He’s always a good sport. He took a nice big bite, excited to taste our creation. Within seconds he spit it out of his mouth into his hand. Apparently they were that bad. So bad my dad couldn’t even swallow a bite. We were in hysterics at that point. My dad, after laughing with us about how terrible our creation was, told us we needed to be quiet so my mom didn’t wake up and see how many ingredients we wasted. All that flour, sugar, syrup, oil, and baking soda… into the trash.
You can meet my dad at right. A cheerful guy, probably much happier about his lobsters than his daughter’s catastrophic experiment.
Janelle and I had clearly messed up big time, but we learned a LOT from that night. First, my dad will not eat anything as he always boasts he will. Second, cookies are not as easy as first assumed. Third, baking soda will never, ever be added to recipes in 1/2 cup quantities. Ever (unless baking for maybe 600 people or so). Lastly, strawberry topping is for ice cream, not for baking.
I have yet to attempt a second no-recipe creation. I’m slowly working my way through understanding the science of the ingredients. I have begun to alter recipes, substituting for unnecessary fats and sugars, experimenting with different fruits, nuts, and flours. I am straying from baked goods, to attempt the intricacies of cooking – roasting, sauteing, stir-frying, and grilling. These attempts and modifications are why I am here. I want to express myself, my ideas, to create, to share, and to gather new ideas.
Thank you for coming here, creating with me, sharing with me, and allowing me to express my wandering thoughts with you. You are the best listeners out there. If you have a spontaneous idea, feel the urge to try out a new recipe, have your own kitchen experiments to share, or just feel like letting someone else listen, send your thoughts my way: emanpo (at) yahoo (dot) com.
Keep coming back to browse, create, learn, and share with me! I look forward to your return.
~ Emily, the Tootsaroni.