Category Archives: cooking

Sufferin’ Succotash

“There are many ways to love a vegetable. The most sensible way is to love it well- treated.”  M.F.K. Fisher

Remember when the old refrain “eat your vegetables” could be heard ‘round and  ‘round the dinner table? How did we go from that to making salad an entrée, to going for the grilled vegetables even before the steak? Well, they’re all good now. Even Brussels sprouts. Especially Brussels sprouts! Turns out, it was all in the preparation.

Foodies have fun bashing the 1950’s, for good reason. With the exception of door-to- door milk delivery (even in the cities!), nearly everything was mass- produced, processed, and packaged. We’re talking Velveeta cheese, Jell-O mold salads, bottled salad dressings, and frozen t.v. dinners. Cakes came from a box, gravy from packets, whipped cream from an aerosol container, and unless you lived on a farm, vegetables from cans. One has to wonder where we would be in the U.S.A. today had it not been for Francophiles Julia Childs and James Beard. In an country infatuated with “instants,” their message was to take the time to cook good food, and to cook it right. Why, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that I even like lima beans now.

The old way was to over-cook (canned) vegetables. The new way is to eat it raw, or under-cook everything fresh. The old way was to peel vegetables. The new way is to leave them in their skins. The old way was to submerge the vegetables in water, over-boil, and then pour all the water down the drain. The new way is to sauté, roast, or grill the vegetables. Or if boiling, in as little water as possible, as quickly as possible, and know that whatever juices remain are beneficial and should be used—as stock, if not in that particular dish. The new way brought extraordinary color, flavor, crispness, and nutrition back to the vegetables. It got us growing our own again, shopping farmers markets, or organically. Washing, cutting and chopping, and creating a still life each evening in the kitchen as beautiful as any painting.

My husband and I are very fond of the artichoke, which can be grown in most any climate and harvested summer through fall. For this he has perfected an aioli sauce, and we like to dip the leaves in it while sitting on the sofa viewing Anderson Cooper’s news program at night. Eaten in this manner an artichoke alone can be filling, or maybe it’s the news. Artichokes remind me of my parents, when they were younger, and I was younger, and I’d come into their bedroom at night to find them sitting up in bed with pillows propped against the headboard, mom in her nightgown, dad in his pajamas, eating artichokes in bed. A dish of mayonnaise between them for dipping the leaves, and a small glass of wine on each nightstand. They too were watching television, a small black & white portable set well across the room. This was a ritual they must have engaged in frequently when artichokes were in season. Consequently, the artichoke is the only vegetable I associate with the bedroom, so much so that when we enjoy ours, I keep thinking we are doing something that belongs in bed.

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Filed under cooking, culinary disasters

What a Girl’s Got to Do

I am up early and watching the light come on in the east. The homes on that side of the street are utterly dark. All that is visible are the slices of light between the homes. It is much like reading a negative. I have noticed paradigm shifts like this occurring all around lately. Seriously, it’s almost seismic.

I have the most extraordinary girlfriends. One of them phoned this week to inform me that she has been offered an outstanding professional commitment for a year in Jacksonville, Florida.

“But did you tell them you are married and live in California?” I asked.

“They know that,” she said, adding “but I just might do it.”

I tried to think of how she could swing this. Yes, her children were grown and gone, but her husband is a partner in a firm and not exactly mobile. Their marriage is solid, and they are just now coming down the home stretch of a long remodel on their beautiful home, and I know she had been looking forward to that.

“How?” is all I could think to ask.

And she proceeded to explain to me how it just might work…

Perhaps I couldn’t see it at first because I am too tangled in my own paradigm shift. My role has been changing and I don’t have to go to Jacksonville to get it. It’s here. Graduate school sealed the deal for me. During those two years my husband became an exceptional cook. Now here we are. Me with my MFA in Creative Writing under my belt, and he’s still cooking and is better than ever—because all these things, writing, cooking, take practice. Anyway, every sign around the house seems to say that I am now free to write. I’m trying to get used to that and take myself very seriously as a writer, knowing that my husband may very well be retiring by the time we see my writing career take off.

Back to my girlfriend, the one who I honestly think is going to choose to go to Jacksonville. For one year. And rent a charming little bungalow. And decorate as she pleases by hopping around antique shops and such. This is their agenda, for she has her husband’s backing entirely: when she isn’t flying back, he will fly out and together they will explore The South. All the places they want to discover: Charleston, Savannah, Beaufort, South Miami and Key West. As she names them, I realize how much I have longed to see these places too.  They will have one year to do it all and will approach it as they have France or Ireland or any other country. Get a car and go—submerge themselves in the culture, knowing that in a year it will be over and they will both be home in California, all the richer for the experience, as with Ireland or France.

She left me feeling envious of her opportunity. I know what my writing room means to me; what married woman doesn’t fantasize about having her own bungalow? Imagine being able to spring for that. And the romantic interest that could occur looking forward to seeing your lover, your husband, on weekends. And too, all that autonomy throughout the week…

I think she’s going to do it. She’s brave and brilliant and her husband is, as I said, a gem. It’s funny:  I can remember when my friend wasn’t particularly fond of flying. And now she’s all over the map.

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Filed under cooking, girlfriends, paradigm shift, relocation, Writing