When Everything in the Kitchen Goes Wrong

My regular readers will notice that I haven’t been posting recipes for the last few weeks. I would love to blame a busy holiday schedule but there is actually a more mundane reason. I’ve had a spate of bad luck in the kitchen.

It started with veggies. Here in Ecuador, we have to be extra safe with our local veggies. Many farmers still use techniques that rely on manure, both animal and human, so washing our produce is very important. I thought I had come upon a great method – I would buy my veggies, soak them in a disinfectant solution, dry them, then we would eat them within a day or two.

But around Christmas time, life started to get more complicated so instead of buying veggies every couple of days, I was buying in bulk. And disinfecting in bulk. This was when the trouble started. All those cleaned vegetables were disintegrating before my eyes. I would go grab a cucumber and it would pitted with soft spots. A carrot looked like some strange animal might have been gnawing on it while it sat in the crisper drawer. Lettuce? It was just gross. What was going on with my vegetables!

I think I was aggressively disinfecting. I could get away with this if we were going to eat the veggies within a day or two but I was leaving the produce more than a couple of days in the fridge after removing all bacteria, even the natural bacteria that could help preserve produce. Now I know that if I need to buy veggies in advance of a holiday, that I just can’t disinfect it until just before we want to use it. Life has been better since then. And vegetable consumption is back to normal.

And it wasn’t just my veggies. My sourdough pot took a dive. No, I didn’t drop it. I just couldn’t control how sour the starter was. It continually took over what ever I recipe I was trying to make. I knew that my Quito starter was aggressive from the very first days of its inception. It had taken off like wild fire. But when you make a loaf of bread or a batch of pancakes and the only flavor you get is sour, it isn’t good. My wild yeasts had taken over a little too much.

And it wasn’t just the sourdough. It was the baking at Christmas. Living at high altitude comes with many baking oddities. I had read about them all. I knew to add a little water because of the dryness of the air, to remove a little baking soda or baking powder to prevent an item from over rising, to reduce the temperature of the oven just slightly, etc. etc. etc. But it still didn’t help all the time. I baked the flattest Snickerdoodles I have ever seen in my life and I thought I must have completely forgotten the baking powder. But no, my next batch of chocolate chip cookies started off the same way… but I punted with those and managed to save the rest of the batch. I made German Springerle, my favorite Christmas cookie of all, and they turned out hard as rocks. And even candy can be complicated. I made fudge that didn’t set because I could never quite manage to get the temperature of the candy right. Cooking and baking at altitude is a challenge, to say the least.

So the last couple of weeks, I’ve taken some deep breaths and re-established a cooking regime with which I am comfortable. We are no longer finding rotting vegetables in the crisper drawers and the occasional batch of cookies are not only edible, they look proper. The sourdough pot is on hold… I’m getting ready to try again. I’ve found a source of raw milk to begin making cheese and have decided to start fermenting vegetables the proper way. In upcoming weeks, I promise to have some recipes to post! Thanks for being patient.

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5 thoughts on “When Everything in the Kitchen Goes Wrong

  1. Angie, I think you are a great writer! Coming from someone who doesn’t read ( at all! ), you have a way of capturing an audience.

    We think of you and speak of you often. Hope you, Scott, and Connor are well.

    Love, Kim

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  2. Despite the fact that we like your cooking section (it makes us long to be at your table), this entry in “Cooking Foibles” is very intriguing. I knew cooking at altitude was different, but it is eye-opening to read an actual account of where the difficulties crop up. Please keep us posted on your fixes, and I am all for sharing colossal failures. As long as they aren’t mine, of course.

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    • It is an eye-opening experience. I’ve learned that rice doesn’t like altitude either. And today’s batch of brownies. Shall we just say FAIL. They may become scrambled brownies after dinner tonight. I’m sure the unbaked bits will cook up just fine in a frying pan.

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  3. Love. I grew up at a very high altitude and had to unlearn those tricks when I moved away. Not sure if I could remember them now. Just when you get this mastered, it will be time to go. šŸ™‚ Good luck!

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