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1:46 PM Thu, Nov. 15th

Column: Extreme cooking adventures are metaphors for life

Can you substitute half-and-half with sour cream? Yes, Dear Readers, this was the Big Question that I had to answer this week. You see, I have decided to try six new recipes a month and it has not been easy. Cooking, gourmet style, is not a walk in the park. It takes, tools, ingredients rarely graced on the pantry shelves, luck and imagination. I have stacks of cookbooks scattered all over the place while I hone in on a few good meals. Oh yea, cooking delicious is more like an extreme sport than a hobby for middle-aged women.

Oh, did I mention that beef rolled up (with a scrumptious mixture of fennel, onion and mushrooms), tied with string and sautéed with a brown sauce is an entire afternoon's work? You have to pound the beef (my husband, Doug, suggested he use one of his hammers) and then tie the rolled beef in three places (again, he was running to the garage to get some string). Hold on! Man items need to stay out of my kitchen. That's why ladies like to go shopping and get special kitchen twine and meat mallets, which do look suspiciously like a hammer and string.

My most recent success was Sole Parmesan, which is a mouth-watering dish that takes a lot of preparation. Come to think of it, cooking takes a lot of time. Now I know that Rachael Ray says that you can cook anything great in thirty minutes, but she has a whole staff and stocked kitchen. Not fair! Just the other day I discovered I had no lemon curd and not every grocery store carries it. And chutney! Who knew that something so odd could be so critical to a recipe?

My mother is a fantastic cook and luckily, she wrote a cookbook for family and friends so we could copy her recipes. I have wandered away from her basics, but usually come running back when I discover how some "gourmet meals" can yield really strange results. Who would have guessed that angel hair pasta, shrimp, salsa, yogurt and feta cheese could be concocted in such a way that it is actually tasty? On the other hand, it is not actually "down-home" cooking. My husband, a brave man who will try anything, has asked on more than one occasion, "What am I eating here?" Which makes me think that maybe I have pushed the food envelope a little too far. Perhaps it's time to break open my mother's cookbook again.

I suppose I am in mid-life cooking crisis. You know, you've cooked this and eaten that, then all of a sudden you want to try something with tilapia and marmalade. (Don't do it!) Of course, cooking, like life, can be one big adventure. I did make my own spaghetti sauce from scratch, which while doing I admit I cursed that it was an awful lot of work. But, Mama Mia, I will never, ever buy a jar of Prego again! Sadly, my new experience with the "real thing" means that my life just got more complicated.

My daughter and a few of her friends have challenged me to a chicken enchilada cook-off. Their old, stale, tried and true version is pretty boring. I have taken a secret recipe from a Mexican friend and perfected it until my own family is pretty amazed. See what cooking can do? It can confound your friends and fool your family! My secret weapon? Cream cheese... but don't tell anyone. Cooking is a metaphor for life. One simple ingredient can magically transform ordinary into extraordinary.

All right. So there are bigger fish to fry (no pun intended) than improving cooking skills. I know that! But some adventures start at home. Like tonight, my husband may be longing for a simple meatloaf, but instead, he will be taking a culinary trip to Italy. Or maybe France. I'll pick the destination (I mean recipe) and whip up something unforgettable that will take us far, far away. With any luck, it will be a good trip. And a quick trip! Until next week... try something new. Bon Appetite.

Judy Bluhm is a writer and a local realtor who lives in Skull Valley. Have a comment or a story? Email Judy at judy@judybluhm.com.