At the beginning of this project, I bought myself a new stack of cookbooks for inspiration. It’s a bit of a stereotype, having a bookcase full of cookbooks and never cooking, but I wasn’t too far from the opposite. Aside from a few duds I’d picked up here and there over the years, I’d been getting along my entire cooking career on three cookbooks: Molly Katzen’s Still Life With Menu, which was the first cookbook I ever owned and which opened up my entire world, and Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything and the Vegetarian HTCE, which are my staples. I also have (and love) the Tassajara Bread Book and Dorie Greenspan’s incredible book Baking: From My Home To Yours. But, much loved as those resources are, they don’t get dinner on the table.
I’m not a “just throw things together, perfectly” cook. I’m more of a baker–I have a good eye for a recipe, which I then follow exactly. So, the fact that I hadn’t bought a cookbook since probably 2008 meant that things were getting a little stale. I’ve been working my way through the stack, more reading than cooking for a while. I’ve tried a few things with great success. Heidi Swansen’s WIld Rice Casserole from Supernatural Everyday will stay in the repertoire for a while, as will her summer zucchini pasta.
Sunday night was the kind of thing that changes a person, culinarily. Seriously, I made I think the best thing I’ve ever made. Suddenly I realized how very boring my regular cooking is (I adore Mark Bittman, but the very nature of an “Everything” cookbook means the recipes are fairly basic), and that I was capable of making awesome things.
I made this.
Changes: sautéed Swiss Chard instead of steamed spinach, our regular cane sugar instead of caster, and I didn’t put a lid on the fish (or use as much). Otherwise, as-is.
Today I feel like I’m getting in touch with my pioneer roots–Saturday as baking day. And I really liked it.
The tally wasn’t anything show stopping: two loaves of bread (one recipe), two batches of scones, two pizza crusts (one for dinner). It will set us up for a while, though. One of everything to eat, one of everything to freeze. A nice, simple dinner at the end to keep it from being overwhelming.
The really nice thing about doing the baking all in one day is that the mess is confined. I’m a floury disaster. I knead flour out of my bread board and onto every surface in the kitchen. When I bake three of four things in a row, I still only have to clean up once. I might feel differently about it if I were doing all of the dishes, but K does those. It was also a good way to chase away a total mess of a gloomy, rainy, colder-than-expected day.
It’s been a while since I made bread. I used to do it all the time. Even in my graduate school apartment, where my counter space was, literally, a 2×2 square of formica I made Molly Katzen’s Rich Baguette from Still Life With Menu almost every week. Then we moved here, and it was so hot that I would do anything to avoid running the oven. (Between those times was, sigh, the wonderful kitchen with the granite counters–which I hated unless I was baking–and all the drawers a girl could want.) It didn’t help that the local grocery store bread here is really good, possibly better than mine. Of course, it’s $4.00 a loaf or more, so it ought to be. I’m glad to get back to it. My regular recipe is from the Tassajara Bread Book, but I think my next project may be to gussy the bread up a bit. My Tassajara loaves are a bit heavier than I like, now that I’ve been eating fancy commercial bread for a while.
Scones I make all the time. I’ve fooled around with Kim Boyce’s recipe from Good to the Grain, which is excellent. My go-to, though, is Molly Wizenberg’s Scottish Scones from her blog Orangette. Today’s were grapefruit zest and chopped candied ginger. I love these because they aren’t very sweet, and they aren’t as messy as Kim Boyce’s layered-with-jam version.
And now it’s time to run the over one last time to get that pizza done…
I went to the dances at Chesterville,
And played snap-out at Winchester.
One time we changed partners,
Driving home in the moonlight of middle June,
And then I found Davis.
We were married and lived together for seventy years,
Enjoying, working, raising the twelve children,
Eight of whom we lost
Ere I had reached the age of sixty.
I spun, I wove, I kept the house, I nursed the sick,
I made the garden, and for holiday
Rambled over the fields where sang the larks,
And by Spoon River gathered many a shell,
And many a flower and medicinal weed–
Shouting to the wooded hills, singing to the green valleys.
At ninety-six I had lived enough, that is all,
And I passed to a sweet repose.
What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hope?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you–
It takes life to love Life.
Edgar Lee Masters, from The Spoon River Anthology, 1915
More often than I like these days, I find myself really, deeply envious of other people. It usually doesn’t even make sense. An acquaintance had a baby a while back, and I sobbed. I was almost literally sick I was so jealous. Which seems reasonable, maybe, except I have absolutely zero interest in having children. I mean it–I was sobbing hysterically over this baby that I, even at that moment, did not want. I was envious of what the baby meant, not the baby itself.
Which is a way of saying that I am deeply jealous of people who are more settled than we are. People who are at a stage in their lives when they can choose to have children, to buy houses, to put down real roots somewhere.
It’s at once a silly thing and not. Silly, because we’re in this boat on purpose. We stayed in school longer, and moved around more, than most people our age. The net effect is that we’re something like five years behind our (non-academic) friends. To the extent that it isn’t silly, I think I’m reacting to the fact that we don’t have any real future goals. I think not wanting children takes away the urgency of settling down, but my temperament is still one that really needs to do so. Our life is just, unfortunately and for lots of non-public reasons, not in that place right now.
I’m trying to do my “settling down” into this place I’m at right now, but it’s always a work in progress.
You’d expect a blog on this theme to tell you to, you know, let go of the list. Embrace the now. Go with the flow of the moment. I’ve found that, unfortunately, embracing the now leads to some rather painful laters.
About 60% of my new-old job is done at home. It’s the kind of work I’ve done for a long time, but I’ve gotten out of the habit after a year off. The rhythm of my work-at-home days hasn’t come back to me seamlessly. Which means that, suddenly, I’m having to do a lot of things that aren’t in the spirit of where I really wanted to be this year.
This morning I multitasked cleaning the house while I played with the dog, who hasn’t had proper exercise in a week. (For reasons largely beyond my control.) On Sundays, I cook three of four dinners, with a little irritation in my heart, because otherwise we don’t eat during the week. Those things aren’t really okay with me.
I’m finding a yearning in my heart for my old pal the To-Do list. Because problems like being irritated to cook, or too busy for the dog, come from not looking far enough ahead. I’m angry about cooking because I’m thinking about a stack of work that should have been done long before Sunday night. Which is a long way to say that a list helps to prioritize the time.
So, I’m going back to my friend, my buddy, my lifeline. But I’m wiser now, and more careful of myself. I know to make sure the list has room for the really important things: paying attention to my life, not just my day-planner.