I keep thinking about my tendency to cook things that just go into a bowl. Like it is something a little bit worrisome. Clearly, I am not a real cook. Or something.
And I'm not compared to many of the people I know - they cook like art, cook like love, cook beautifully. And those are worthy, worthy goals, and I will be happy to feast on the end product if you invite me to dinner. Not you you, I mean a global and generic 'you'. You know. But me, I just want to cook good things to eat. If its just for me, I want to be quickish. Get back to the knitting. If it looks nice, that's a bonus, but not a necessity.
Mostly, it goes in a bowl.
Lentils and Rice, with a bit of balsamic and butter, spinach with feta and paprika, roasted butternut squash mashed up with a bit of nutmeg and fried onion bits, that chickpea and kale soup, brussel sprouts tossed with salt and pepper and oil and roasted til brown and crispy and soft (add some walnuts for the last 5 or 10 minutes). The ever popular vegetable stir fry. In the summer, fresh tomato slices and ceasar dressing and walnuts, or nectarines and plain yogurt and wheat germ and a little maple syrup.
I'm a fan of a large green salad with almonds and chicken and tomatoes and scallions and a goddess dressing.
There's a rosemary thing with parsnips and fettucine. That is oily but good. Must find the recipe.
And that Mahogany stew. I never cook that any more, too much for just
me and it is rather a lot of meat. But the carrots that have been
cooked in are about the most delicious thing in the world. I've been meaning to try it again with some parsnips too.
(The parsnip is undervalued in American cooking and it is really a damn shame.)
Oh and the mushroom and white bean and tomato sauce/stew. With a bit of lamb sausage.
All in a bowl. Not, obviously, all at once.
I got thinking about this today after reading this NY Times article about some of the cook books out now (I want to go buy them all).
I have a couple of friends who are notable cooks and I find myself shy around them, of cooking for them - because I don't think of myself as a real cook. Almost every one of the things I mentioned above are things someone fed me or told me about that I just plain old stole. I guess I think real cooks invent more. And garnish.
I bought an Ottoman cookbook last year - not that I've done much with it - and one from Elephant Walk in Boston - THAT was a notably good meal. And a good read as well. More than I knew about Cambodian culture than I did before.
What do these things have in common? Mostly bowl foods. Things with legumes and vegetables and rice, things that ladle, things that need an edge to hold them.
I had this moment at thanksgiving: I kept forgetting to call my mom to review the stuffing recipe of my ancestors (very good, by the way) and in the end I went to the store and threw more or less what I'd need in a cart and added some chestnuts because I like them and just...decided to figure it out. I've made stuffing before. I've eaten stuffing before. It was kind of a new moment for me as a cook, one of those tiny moments that turn out to have larger repercussions
We were being vegetarian, so I was thinking about adding mushroom stock for depth of flavor, but in the end Mom talked me out of it - thought it would be too damp - and you know what? I was right. The stuffing as OK, but it could have been better. And I didn't need a recipe and instructions from my ancestors, I knew. But I'm not a real cook, so I gave up the idea too easily.
After the holiday I took the leftover stuffing and the leftover soup and the leftover everything else and threw it all together (with some mushroom stock, thank you very much) into a pan and made this weird vegetarian stew. Which I ate out of a bowl. And you know what? It was a bowl of brown mush, but it was enormously tasty mush.
I find bowls warm and comforting (I love handle-less tea mugs for the same reasons, cupping my hands around them makes me feel grounded and safe and connected and aware) and I like stews and noodles and roasted vegetables and mashed up legumes with lots of savor.
I wonder where this idea comes from, the idea I have that the way I like to do something is not just automatically OK? I somehow have to go through these mental gymnastics to recognize what's good and personal and reflective of the self about the things I do, and that there is no need to align it with anyone else's ideas or habits unless I want to incorporate something I find good and choose to adopt.
I was talking to a male friend over the holiday and though he has just as many questions about his own life as I do, he doesn't have that...sense of apology that so many women do. That I struggle with sometimes.
That's something I'm grateful for this year, that I am learning to be friends with men again. And also? I can cook.