battle 5–day 1–zucchini

So after a couple of weeks of vegetables (or fungi) that had several varieties or were challenging because they were fake and I really had to work to incorporate them into a main meal, I’m back to a regular vegetable this week: zucchini. As far as I know zucchini is zucchini is zucchini, so I don’t need to experiment with different colors or types, although I’m sure as soon as I say that someone will point me to some totally obscure site with about a thousand varieties of gourmet, fancy pants, heirloom zucchinis. I don’t care about those. I only care about the ones they sell at Publix.

I got some really good suggestions for this week, and I thought I might have a hard time narrowing down the choices (I could just see myself spending the week baking muffins and bread and cakes….mmmmcakemyfavorite) until my sister came out of nowhere extolling the yumminess of beer battered zucchini fried in bacon fat. I didn’t really need to hear much past ‘beer,’ before agreeing that was an awesome idea, a great way to start the week, but it did sort of make me think: what is my own sibling—flesh-and-blood of the same two parents who raised me to eat like a freak—doing eating zucchini? Traitor. We definitely need to come back to this.

But before I could really get into dinner tonight, into frying, I had to do more research and preparation than I have for my other meals. The breadth of my cooking knowledge and experience is pretty limited and has proven challenging as I get further into this project, but I am at least nominally aware of basic recipe instructions (like, I can boil water, but I have no idea how to tell when what is in the boiling water is done…boiling?). For frying—despite the fact that learning how to fry every vegetable under the sun should have been a rite of passage here in the sunny South—my awareness is all but nonexistent. My only experience with frying is the occasional egg (does that count? is that actually fried?), which I’m terrible at, and at a couple of Super Bowl parties we deep fried turkeys (and anything else in the house that seemed fry-worthy after a few drinks) in Jon and Melissa’s turkey fryer. And by ‘we’ I mean someone other than me. So for zucchini week, Battle 5–Day 1, I needed to learn me how to fry some shit, real quick like.

To do this I turned to my best friend and fellow Southerner, Lauren, who is a consummate supporter, except during pepper week, and actually cucumber week, too, but who is mostly just my best friend. We’ve known each other since we were knee-high to a grasshopper (or toddlers in layman speak) and she’s never steered me wrong (although, she was present for the peanutbutter on the steak incident and she didn’t discourage me from doing that; I’m not saying she should be held responsible, but that’s a pretty close call). Although she won’t say it, I know it has really pained Lauren, who is basically a vegetarian, that I’ve been so aggressively anti-vegetable for so many years, and I think she appreciates that I’m finally starting to act like a grown up, now that we’re 22. Er, 24. Twenty-seven, we’re 27 and that’s my final offer. So when I asked her how I should make my fried zucchini she told me right away that I could have her fry daddy.

My. Very. Own. Deep. Fryer.

frying zucchini

I felt a little faint. I mean, it wasn’t in my possession yet and I didn’t know how to use it and I had no idea if I would singe my eyebrows off, but do you know what all you can make in a deep fryer? We’re not talking about tossing that shit all half-assed in a skillet on the stove, people; we’re talking a real, honest to goodness vat of bubbling hot oil. Besides fried zucchini I could make fried okra, fried avocado tempura, fried snickers, fried cheese, fried pickles (who knows?? I might like them if they’re fried!), french fries and….and that’s when I had the brilliant idea to have a fried food night. I would make fried zucchini and all that other awesome amazingness.

Because I could.

fried zucchini

And here’s what I learned almost immediately about frying food…it’s fucking glorious. You know what’s so glorious about frying food? The temperature and speed. Hot and fast. It’s the perfect way for me to cook. I don’t know why I’ve never fried anything before.

Melissa R. finally accepted my offer for dinner and she and Jon came over, bowl of mac-n-cheese in hand since Jon still won’t eat my vegetables, and we mixed and matched batters and vegetables and fried the nutrition right out of those earthy creatures all night. Tonight was the messiest, tastiest, most hodge-podge of all my meals, but I’m so super glad frying finally made its way into the mix. Now I know if I’m ever struggling with any of my vegetables, I can just toss them in the fry daddy and call them won.

okra and zucchini

Deep fried beer battered zucchini, won, won, won. Yum.


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become an fb fan

Thanks to all of you who are being so kind about this project. And maybe not so kind. And I apologize for telling the salad eaters to fuck off. Kind of.

For those of you who keep asking me to tell you when I’ve updated the site because you have better things to do than check 40 times a day to see if I vomited the night before but are still more or less kind of interested in watching this train wreck, I created a page on Facebook where I will post updates, and Facebook will tell you so I don’t have to.

To become a fan, click here; or click on the “become an fb fan” link on the left; or on Facebook, search Julie vs. Vegetables. Then click “become a fan” at the top of the page. It’s so easy my mom could do it. Mom, do it.

battle 4–day 3–cucumbers

I mean, did you really think I wouldn’t win cucumbers? Of course I would win cucumbers. I win shit.

I loved the first meal of this week so much, the avocado sandwich, that I had to have it again right away, so last night I kind of went back into battle with the same meal, which I think would be against the rules if I thought about it long enough, but since I already won cucumbers I’m not going to tax my brain too much with the rules. Live a little, Julie. Nevertheless, I did promise to give regular, non-drenched-in-dressing-and-mashed-up-with-cheese-and-avo cukes another chance, so I did that last night, too, right after this totally surreal, alternate universe thing happened:

Formerly-my-Biggest-Supporter-but-Suddenly-in-Danger-of-Becoming-a-Naysayer Melissa R. mentioned to me yesterday that she was thinking about having Pretty-Consistent-Naysayer Jon pick up dinner from one of our favorite watering holes. Historically, when our afternoon e-mails turn to what either of us might be doing about dinner, it usually means one of us is going to feed the other. And since I don’t cook, it almost always means she’s going to feed me. So when Melissa finally got around to saying she wasn’t sure Jon was going to be able to stop for dinner afterall, I offered up avo sandwiches. I was really excited about this. It’s such a rare, rare, rare occasion that we have food in our house, that I’m making dinner, that we have enough to share, etc, etc, etc, that I jumped at the chance to return the favor for the jillion times they’ve cooked us dinner.

But she turned me down flat.

And let me just quote her on why she refused my generous, generous offer: “…that sounds a little too healthy…” A scathing, horrible, awful, mean-spirited comment she refused to take back, even under threat of…well, I mostly just e-shouted obscenities at her. But they were mean! She also pointed out, cruelly, that my new favorite sandwich is, most unfortunately, meatless, which made me think it probably needs bacon.

So while Jon and Melissa were chowing down on fatty deliciousness at their house, I got back to the business of battling cukes at our house. I had three different cucumbers to choose from: the long skinny English ones, recommended to me by my mom; a more regular-sized fattish one; and a smallish, not-too-fat, not-too-skinny one. I decided to use all three.

Before dinner with my new favorite, meatless, healthy sandwich, and for last night’s actual battle, I cut up all the cucumbers and laid them out all pretty-like with my favorite hummus (Sabra, regular or roasted red pepper, you didn’t think I made my own, right? that would require know-how and a food processor, neither of which I have). At the last minute I added pita bread, too, because it’s my house and that’s how we do it at my house. And here’s what happened. I liked it. But that’s not the crazy part. I liked it because of the crunch. Looney. Tunes. And I kind of wanted to just shoot myself a little bit for actually enjoying cucumbers with hummus. I mean, sure, I was victorious and whatnot, but it was kind of bittersweet, because, ugh, I just have such disdain for cucumbers as a concept.

cukes and hummus

Still.

I won. And let’s not forget what’s important here. That’s right. Me winning.


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battle 4–day 2–cucumbers

Cucumbers are boring me. My Monday night cucumber meal was such a success that it really was a hard act to follow with a vegetable as boring as the cucumber. Like, this one time we discovered a vodka made with huckleberries, and I was like, huh, who knew huckleberries were even a real thing? Apparently they are a real thing. But then I thought, could they possibly be any better than they are right here in my hand in this bottle of vodka? And I determined, no, I will never try a huckleberry any other way, they’re perfect just the way they are right here, right now, in vodka. That’s kind of how I feel about my avocado-cucumber sandwich. I just don’t think cucumbers will ever be as awesome anywhere else as they are when combined with my three favorite foods (other than chocolate cake): tomatoes, avocadoes and cheese. Wow.

huck vodka

So in my book, according to my rules, that means I win. I ate them and liked them, more or less. But let’s just say sometime in my life I go to a party or a restaurant or something, and cucumbers are mixed in with a veggie platter or they’re on my salad, or…. this has happened a lot: cucumbers instead of pita bread are served with hummus (why do that?…I like the bread…I’ll even toast it and cut it into triangles for you at my house). So, let’s just say one of those things happens instead of my dream choice, which would be the avo sandwich every time I come within a hundred yards of a cuke. If I refuse or pick around them because, eh, then…I kind of lose. And we can’t have that.

So, ugh, to remedy this most unfortunate situation, last night I went to a Thai place in Decatur on Melissa B.’s recommendation because they had a spicy beef salad bowl with cucumbers and none of my other favorites (well, except tomatoes…and beef, I would say beef is pretty darn near a favorite). At the last minute David suggested I add some sushi just in case I didn’t like the salad. And then we both felt the earth move. What the? Do you think? Do I have to?? And then I….AAAAGH…or maybe it was a AAAACK…..or a GASP (it was more like a gasp)…… I have been ordering sushi sans cucumbers as long as I’ve been eating, sleeping, breathing, loving, devouring, worshipping sushi; is it possible that from here forward I just might be able to, might have to order sushi without saying, “86 the cucumbers”? I stood there stunned. I had never even considered this horrible possibility. I quickly went through my memory bank of items I like but don’t always eat with other foods. Ah, OK, great, here’s a good example: I love peanutbutter. I love steak. And one time I put peanutbutter on a steak. I don’t always do that. In fact, I don’t ever do that, it was just the once and I probably wasn’t sober. Nevertheless, I think what this means is, I don’t have to ever eat cucumbers in sushi. Phew. What a close fucking call.

The spicy beef salad bowl was super boring. The cucumbers didn’t necessarily have a negative impact on the overall taste of the meal, the whole thing was boring, so I can’t really fault them; they’re just guilty by association. So I’m voiding last night’s battle with regular cucumbers and calling a do-over. Mulligan. And I’m going back to the basics since that’s all anyone ever does with this rat bastard vegetable anyway. I’m going to dip it in some hummus, goddammit.

**********UPDATE***********

So,  last weekend, as we were wrapping up cucumber week and heading into zucchini week, I went to a party at Consummate Supporter Christa’s house. The main event of the party was a guacamole competition I’d been looking forward to all summer, mostly because it was my idea, and by “my idea” I mean someone else came up with it and I immediately agreed that we should do it, but also because I make the world’s best guacamole according to me. According to the other competitors and the judges, I make the 6th best guacamole in Decatur.

Here’s where I think the judges went wrong. They were drunk. Christa found this awesome, awesome organic cucumber vodka and contributed it to cucumber week, knowing that would win them for sure, because how can a cucumber ever be more perfect than when it’s in vodka (?), and we devoured it.

Cucumbers+vodka+asshole judges=skewed results. I demand a re-vote.

cuke vodka

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battle 4–day 1–cucumbers

Food historian Waverley Root wrote that the cucumber is “about as close to neutrality as a vegetable can get without ceasing to exist.” On the other hand, I have also been chastened for poo pooing cucumbers because they’re basically water, and water is the essence of life, and what do you have against life, Julie?? Although they arrive at their conclusions from different vantage points, Waverley Root and my naysayers’ messages are not dissimilar: the cucumber is an utterly useless nonfood.

Before I began the cucumber battle I begged my friends on Facebook to help me with this stupid list item. Many, many thanks to those of you who gave me good suggestions, because I had no idea what to do. I’ve only ever seen cucumbers in finger sandwiches and on veggie platters, and then most recently in an excerpt from the Julie/Julia Project blog when Julie was struggling with the fact that Julia Child baked them. This meant nothing to me (why can’t you bake cucumbers?).

The good thing about cucumbers being a stupid food is that most things you make with cucumbers are easy, and tonight I made the easiest meal I’ve made yet, avocado pita sandwiches, because all it involved was chopping, dicing, tossing and stuffing. I didn’t have to cook, bake, grill, boil, broil, roast, sauté or otherwise heat anything, which means I didn’t overcook, undercook, burn or ruin dinner just because “hot and fast” is not a recognized direction in most cookbooks.

cuke mess

I found the avo sandwich recipe on Sunday when I was looking for meal ideas (it was originally from the LA Times Cookbook), but as is usually the case with these things, it had a bunch of crap in it I either can’t or won’t eat, or veggies that are way farther down on the list and can’t be incorporated at this time, due to my strict adherence to the rules. So I improvised. I’m including the original with my modifications here:

  • 1 avocado, halved and peeled
  • 1/2 cup chopped cucumber (I probably didn’t really use a 1/2 cup…baby steps…also, I peeled them, everyone told me to and I’m glad I did)
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots (Eh, I didn’t use the carrots, I don’t dislike carrots, I just didn’t see how they were going to add much to my masterpiece, so I nixed them)
  • 1/2 cup chopped cauliflower (Ihaven’t done cauliflower yet, so I ignored it)
  • 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (I’m not sure I used quite half a cup, I didn’t really measure anything, but I was excited to eat mushrooms again)
  • 1/2 cup cubed Monterey Jack cheese (When they said “Monterey Jack,” I’m pretty sure what they meant was “Extra Sharp White Cheddar,” because cheddar makes everything better)
  • 1/4 cup bottled Italian dressing
  • 4 pita breads
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice (I never got around to the lemon juice)
  • 1/2 cup chopped tomato (I didn’t measure this either, I just used one whole tomato)

Dice half the avocado. Reserve other half.
Gently toss diced avocado, cucumber, mushrooms, and cheese with Italian dressing.
Slit pita breads and separate halfway around by pulling edges apart to form a pocket. Fill each with 1/4 of the mixture.
(I toasted the pita bread. Hey, look, I did heat something and didn’t burn down the house. Success!)
Mash remaining avocado with fork and stir in and tomato. Spoon inside each sandwich.

cuke sammich

Pure deliciousness. And by far the prettiest, most colorful dinner so far. We’re on an upswing.

As my project evolves (let me just take a super long parenthetical side note here to say what a remarkable coincidence it is that I turned 30 and decided to finally confront the demonic vegetables that have ruled my whole life, and write about it, on a blog, and call it a project, around the same time as the movie Julie & Julia hit theaters…and how fucking coincidental that we’re both named Julie…frankly, it’s an awesome name and I bet she has great hair, too), I’m finding it necessary to tweak the rules a little bit:

  1. Even though most of the best suggestions have been to make my vegetables as a side item or some secondary event on my plate, I really need recipes that incorporate veggies into the main feature so I’m not stuck making some elaborate salad and then still have to figure out what to do for dinner; I know some of you mouse-y, rabbit-like eaters out there can eat salad for dinner and be happy as clams, and fuck you for it, but A) cucumbers in vinegar does not a meal make, and B) I’m used to a hearty diet of meat and potatoes, so I need something that’s going to stick to my bones. So this isn’t a tweaked rule, this is a new rule. Vegetables need to be a part of dinner somehow, otherwise dinner doesn’t happen and we starve.
  2. The biggest rule I’m reconsidering is the one that says when I like something Day 1, I should be able to eat whatever I want the rest of the week, but I’ve been so excited by all the awesome suggestions and fabulous interweb recipes that I’m seriously considering reevaluating this rule. I mean, I still have to eat dinner every other night of the week and I’ve slowly, slowly come to terms with the fact that popcorn and beer also do not a meal make (news that will seriously depress my mother). So eating cucumbers two nights in a row, even though I didn’t hate them tonight would be a tweaked rule. Or an abandoned rule. I don’t know yet.


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battle 3–day 4–peppers

I really enjoyed pepper week. With squash and mushrooms I knew what I was up against since they’d been forced down my throat before, but I went into the battle with peppers armed with a lot of misinformation. That shit’ll getcha killed. Fortunately, peppers are but weak, meek little vegetables and I dominated them with my cunning and sheer determination to win, win, win.

dinner peppers

I cooked my last pepper meal, Beth’s roasted pepper pasta, last night and it was about as cumbersome as Melissa’s stuffed peppers. It wasn’t hard, but it was time consuming and involved several moving parts. I can only do about one part at a time when I’m cooking—I read and re-read recipes, I check and re-check ingredients, I wash and re-wash the cutting board—so dinner took a long, long, long time to get all those parts cranking to a slow crawl. And I knew pepper pasta would take a while, but I wasn’t in a hurry and that just gave me more time to….what the? Is David hovering? Is he rushing me?

Friends. Don’t hover. I had just gotten the peppers turned in the oven and the water boiling on the stove for the pasta (count that, two things going at once) when David said, “Do you think dinner will be ready by 8? There’s this band I want to see…” Then he started trying to help. I read somewhere once that positive reinforcement techniques used in animal training also work on people; the woman who wrote the article tried it on her husband when he was hovering in the kitchen, so I tried it on David. I directed him to the other side of the counter, cut up some cheese and crackers, put them in front of him, and said, “Stay.” He did. Score.

For the next several minutes we discussed whether it would be OK to use Pecorino Romano in addition to or instead of parmesan because I was running low on parmesan, and I had a whole block of Romano from last week when I tried to make mushroom risotto but couldn’t find all the ingredients at the farmer’s market (I basically only found the cheese…I don’t know why I bought it even though I couldn’t find anything else and it was looking likely that I would abandon the risotto…oh, yes I do, because it’s cheese). While I was grating what was left of the parmesan, I remembered Sarah’s golden cheese gem from last week—when it looks like enough, add more. So I decided it would probably be necessary to use all the parmesan and a bit (or half) of the Romano.

So. The peppers were roasting, the water was boiling, the cheese was grated and….plates were spinning. It was definitely coming together. I was feeling confident. I read the recipe, assessed my ingredients, washed the cutting board again and then determined I had enough time to throw a load of laundry in the wash before I had to read the recipe and wash the cutting board again.

I was feeling so proud when I was in the laundry room, singing self-congratulatory tunes to myself about how great I am (it was my own private party drenched in delusions of grandeur…the very best goddamn kind). I was cooking. I was cleaning. I was eating grown up food. I was reminding myself to tell David to tell me he was proud of me, too, when I heard, “MAGGIE!”

Maggie. The dog.

David said, “Hey, you had decided you were cool with Pecorino Romano, right?”

Then he made kissy faces at the dog, who had just eaten what was left of my parmesan. David and Maggie totally fucked up my mojo last night. I directed them both to the living room and instead of treats I gave them evil looks. “Stay.”

evidence

Beth’s roasted pepper pasta meal really is easy. There’s not a ton to do; it’s mostly a lot of sitting around and waiting for the peppers to bake or roast or whatever, a little bit of reading the recipe a thousand times, and then, right at the very end, everything comes together very quickly. Or at least it did for me. Or at least, I felt totally frantic trying to get everything just so and timed just right and just, just, just. But of course, I’m still me and I still don’t know how to cook, so there was just no way in hell I was going to get all those parts moving in my favor. I should probably also take this opportunity to mention that I only know how to cook at one temperature and one speed: hot and fast. I don’t really understand the physics of cooking, but it seems to me if you turn everything on high heat it will get done faster. Right? Many, many meals of mine have gone south (very quickly) this way. At least it was fast. So, right when everything was coming together—the pasta was cooked and drained, the peppers were peeled and diced—I burned the shit out of the garlic I was sautéing (it was absolutely the first time in my life I’ve ever “sautéed” anything). Seriously. Who came up with that word? Sauté?

So, I put everything else away, aside, on hold, and did what works for me: one thing at a time. I stood there and sautéed garlic. Slowly. On medium heat. It took forever. A minute or two at least. Then I added the pasta and peppers and voila….the hardest easy pasta meal you’ll ever make.

I really, really, really, really, really, really liked the roasted pepper pasta. We ate it all. All of it. Every last bit. I liked it so much better than pasta with red sauce. And I know I keep saying each meal was my favorite meal yet, but really, this was it, it’s my favorite so far. Beth has agreed to let me share the recipe here, so, enjoy!

pepper pasta

3 large peppers (1 yellow, 2 orange)
1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil
1 large clove garlic
1 package spaghetti noodles

  • Heat oven to 450. Put peppers on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Use tongs to turn peppers over. Bake for 20 more minutes. They will look burntish.
  • Remove peppers from oven. Chuck them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Wait 5 minutes.
  • Boil salted water and make spaghetti noodles according to package directions.
  • Pour cold water in the bowl with the peppers.
  • Pull the skin off of the peppers and remove seeds. This is all done, very easily, with your hands. Cut peppers into chunks.
  • Mince or press garlic clove.
  • Heat oil in large skillet. Add garlic and saute until just golden. Add peppers and drained pasta and toss to coat.
  • Serve with grated Parmesan cheese. (I obviously used Pecorino Romano, and it was great.)


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battle 3–day 3–peppers

You know how people say “I hate to say I told you so…” when really you know they are dying to say it? I’m not one of those people. I am more than happy to say I told you so, I told you so, I fucking told you so. This is probably not one of my more charming characteristics, but I’m OK with it because I have good hair. And I’m modest.

I beat the crap out of the green pepper last night. I mean, beat it down. Just like I said I would. Consummate Supporter Melissa R. and Infinite Naysayer Jon had offered to make for us Melissa’s family’s stuffed peppers, which were made up of ground beef, rice and Velveeta cheese. She confided later that the original recipe also included onions and celery (onions are never gonna happen and celery doesn’t happen until….oh look, I didn’t even put celery on the list because it’s either too much like onions or I just totally discounted it as a real food altogether), but Melissa is very accustomed to modifying recipes to suit my anti-vegetable, anti-onion diet, so she skipped those two awful additions (thank you, thank you, Melissa).

Melissa really slaved over the stuffed peppers, so I’m pretty glad stuffed pepper night went to someone other than me (huh….I’ve only cooked once this week so far…this is working out swimmingly). We walked in just as the baking peppers were starting to warm their house with a yummy, peppery smell, and then we stood around the kitchen and ate shrimp cocktail and brie while Melissa put the finishing touches on dinner. The peppers came out of the oven bubbling over with cheesy goodness and I have to admit, even though I was a little apprehensive about trying green peppers again and even though I’m always hesitant to put the first bite of whatever new vegetable I’m trying in my mouth, I couldn’t wait to shovel those peppers on our plates and chow down. They looked so great.

stuffed peppers

And they were so great. Holy peppers and meat and rice and cheese. I devoured them.

my lovely dinner plate

I guess one day I’ll really hate something and I won’t recover. But right now I’m winning the crap out of this war on vegetables.


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