Been building a chicken coop lately. Get home around 5:45, walk the dog around the block, 6pm. Work on the coop for a couple of hours, then dinner. So late! But, you have to work outside when the sun's out - especially in Seattle - even if it is only two hours on a weeknight. And then you have to eat, but what's fast enough, filling enough?
had bought some impulse produce at the farmers' market on Sunday. At
the time I was not sure if I'd even have time to use it, but it's
impossible not to pluck something from the piles. I was tired of the
same pink apples, tired of kale and chard that turned up each week
without ceasing. Pale, thin green and white leeks and sprouting
broccoli's deep green mix of bits and leaves proved to be the
irresistible choices this April in the Northwest. I'd succumbed to the
sprouting broccoli the week before too, and had some leftover
hollandaise I'd made for them then, out of 3 tablespoons of butter, a
touch of water, an egg yolk, and copious amounts of salt and lemon
juice. Leftover hollandaise, I'd found out, just solidifies back into a
near-butter state and keeps in the fridge, just like regular butter but
with a superior lemony, salty tang, and can be re-liquified with a
little low heat.
Quick trip to the corner store for
some whole wheat rotini and a can of Great Northern beans, for protein,
and we're off. Saute the leeks in butter and garlic, pour over some
vegetable stock, pop on a lid and simmer. Put on a big pot of water
with salt and cook the rotini. Chop a handful of sprouting broccoli and
add it to the leek pot (more vegetable broth if it looks like it needs
it, and a sprinkle of salt perhaps). Put the lid back on. Melt the
hollandaise, stir in a little half-and-half. Pour over the veg and stir
in the sauce and the drained, rinsed beans. Drain the noodles. Add a
few handfuls to the veg and stir. Eat. Eat a little more.
This is the kind of cooking I've always wanted to be able to do, drawing on what's around and making a meal that's more than just a starch, a steamed veg, and a protein - something that's actually a meal, pulled together. Balanced. With elements. I associate that a lot with 'having a sauce' but it doesn't necessarily have to. I like it also because it's useful - it uses what's there; it minimizes waste. It means that I have some grasp of eating and cooking that goes beyond following a recipe into actually understanding how a food works, and how a recipe is made.
I could write a more exact recipe, but that would conflict with the attitude of the meal, the easy way with which it developed, the intention of this post to encourage creativity and spontaneity. I love to read cookbooks that are like books with recipes sprinkled in, but in my book group some people said that those books are so hard to go back and cook from. That's not the point, I think. The point is that you learn to love food so you learn to improvise. And it would be just grand to be able to do this all the time, but the truth is, there's a really high rate of failure at the start. "I'll put these together... taste it... oh and now I'll throw it away and order pizza - that does not go together, nope." There was a significant amount of time where I thought I just would not get to this point. But like any thing, any art, any skill - the truth is that when you know how to follow a recipe and you've eaten good food in a restaurant, if you're not a trained chef, it will be a long time before your brain can truly absorb the knowledge enough to have your skills match your taste. It's like your brain is a tiny bottle of vodka in which you've stuck a delicious vanilla bean - you don't have vanilla extract later that day, or even later that week. But eventually it gets there.