I spent about five hours whipping up a feast last Friday and as I was busting my sweaty behind off, a few thoughts occurred to me. One: homemaking is (or should be) a hobby. Only after my kid grew up and moved out was I able to really dedicate time to all the stuff assigned to housewives. And frankly, I'm pretty choosy times I do play homemaker-- I don't do it often and certain corners get cut when I do. Let's just say I''m not exactly the Queen of Deep Clean. I am, on the other hand, pretty handy in la cocina. Another thought I had was that bit in Outliers where Malcolm Gladwell explains the theory that to do anything really well, you have to log at least an initial 10,000 hours doing it. As I prepped the pesto lasagna, quinoa & chard cakes, homemade brown bread, serrano-punctuated gazpacho, fried green tomatoes and Israeli eggplant salad, I tried to calculate just how long I've been cooking-- nearly 40 years ever since, as a middle child, it often fell to me to cook for the whole family o'eleven. So yeah, maybe I've got my 10,000 hours. I won't ever be a chef, but I've never met a clove of garlic that didn't send my pulse racing. (Don't you love how your fingers still smell like garlic the day after all that mincing?)
A third thought related to food service. Sometimes when I visit my friend Ross, who manages the Magnolia Cafe on Lake Austin Blvd, I recall my own days waiting on tables and managing the other Magnolia Cafe on SoCo. That was twenty years ago. Utilizing what folks in AA refer to as euphoric recall I still have the ability to romanticize not just my days at the Mag, but the fifteen years I spent slinging hash all over the place: Jersey, Florida, St. Louis and Austin. Never mind that food service is brutal business, breeds incestuous melodramatic relationships, and is peopled by more than a few addicts and felons. I can still smear Vaseline across time's lens and imagine how taking up the apron again would be a joyful thing. Fortunately for me, Ross-- who has been a voice of reason for me in many areas-- pleasantly dismisses any requests I make for a job. Being in my kitchen, standing on concrete floors for five hours straight, frying food in grease, putting out a grease fire I started-- all this was an excellent reality check for me. Go back to food service? BWAHAHAHA.
That said, the meal turned out swell if I do say so for myself. Swell enough that, once I've had a few months to rest, I'll do it again. (As for these homemakers who claim to do this sort of involved homemaking on a regular basis-- I have no idea how they do it.)
This here is a picture of the Simple Brown Bread I make using a recipe from a very good bread book. I'm not going to say what book it is yet because I swear one day soon I am going to dedicate a whole post to the glories of being infected with a passion for yeast (as in bread, not that other kind). In that post I shall reveal my favorite bread books.
Above we have the filling for my pesto lasagna. If you've read my other food posts, you know I have a thing for pesto. This is rooted in both a genuine love of basil and the fact that right now my YardFarm garden overfloweth with fresh basil. I used my own "recipe" for pesto (secret ingredient: cashews), this time mixing it up with about fourteen pounds of ricotta, mozzarella, and grated romano. This I layered betwixt and between your basic lasagna noodles, threw in the oven for awhile covered, then uncovered, and voila, a main course. This dish, along with several others that night, re-demonstrated an important lesson about food: whenever you pack a dish with salt, fat, more salt, and more fat, you can pretty much bet everyone's going to love it.
Here I am offering you a fried green tomato. (Don't be fooled, this is a photo so you can't really have a fried green tomato.) I did not choose to make this dish, the universe chose to have me make it. Why is that? Because the goddamned squirrels will not stay the hell out of my garden. Apparently they have mistaken my raised beds for the squirrel version of one of those massive Chinese Buffet restaurants. The other day I went out there with a spade saying firmly but seriously, "Get the fuck out of my garden motherfucker!" and squirrel just looks at me like if I don't back off he's going to call the maitre'd and have me fired. These fat tailed nuisances are fond of just taking a few bites of tomatoes and leaving the rest on the vine. Clearly they have no intention of letting any whole tomatoes remain long enough to actually ripen. But I was able to locate about a half-dozen unscathed green tomatoes and decided to harvest them before the little fat furry fucks scarfed them down. I found a simple recipe on the Internet (thank you Internet) that basically says the key to success is to dip the slices first in milk, then flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. I used Panko because it's fun to say and also because I hear Panko stays crunchier. Seemed to be the case for us.
I can't believe I didn't take any pictures of the quinoa cakes but that picture way at the top is me showing off all the chard from my garden that I used in the quinoa cakes to give the false notion that this dish had any redeeming nutritional value. Oh sure, we used quinoa, the new superfood. And we used greens. But we also mixed in about sixteen pounds of parmesan, a half-dozen eggs and, as with the tomatoes, fried 'em up. (I must credit Warren here-- he was on QC fry-duty and he did a great job of it). I got that quinoa cake recipe from NYT. I find the recipes I get there are kinda hit-or-miss but I'm happy to say that this one was most definitely a hit.
I'd like to say that next up in this informal series about eating from the garden will be a post about the stunning eggplant dishes I create. Alas, the GD squirrels ate my eggplants, too. So perhaps the next post will be how I transitioned back to meat eating with a nice squirrel brain casserole.