Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Long-cut cooking

You know the face. It’s the one I plaster across my mug whenever anyone asks me for a recipe. It seems as though it should be a simple and civilized exchange, but it usually goes like this:
You: “This food tastes great!” Can I have the recipe?”
Me: “Um.” Pause. “Um.”

Oh, I get the picture, you’re thinking. She thinks she’s such a great cook that she can’t possibly be bothered to share anything with humble ol’ me. Or, even worse, she keeps all her recipes locked in the top-secret vault she dug under the compost bin because she thinks they’re all so brilliant.

Oh honey, it’s a lot less interesting than that, I have to admit. It’s just that I have taken the slow food movement to such an extreme that I have to confess that most of my recipes begin with, “Six days before you actually want to sit down and eat this damn food, you need to …” And then it’s off and running. Start the sourdough sponge. Gather up all the chicken bones before the sun rises if you want stock next week. Let everything marinate overnight. And then overnight again. And then so many nights that your dish might as well be standing in line to get the iPhone XIII, it’s been waiting for long.

I didn’t set out to be this kind of cook. My mother was a boil-in-bag, Miracle Whip, bundt-cake-with pudding-mix kind of gal, and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be following in her in-a-jiff footsteps. Or I could emulate all those people I see eating in restaurants – on schoolnights! – as I walk by on yet another trip to the grocery store.

So what’s my problem? That’s a long list, of course, so we probably don’t want to go down that road. But my main problem -- with cooking, anyway -- is that I’m a supreme cheapskate, and the thing about slow food is that it’s much, much cheaper then selecting ten ingredients at Trader Joe’s for a mere $75 (but lots of yuks while checking out, and plenty of Jimmy Buffet songs being piped into the parking lots!), then assembling them and calling it “cooking.” I have turned into the opposite of the semi-homemade, five-ingredients-or-less cook. I’m more the overly homemade, ingredient-list-that-eerily-mirrors-the-entire-contents-of-my-refrigerator sort of cook. It's not the shortcut, it's the long, long long cut that I find myself following. And I know, deep in my heart, that it’s just not right.

I’m  also keenly aware that what I do isn’t much like fine chef-ish cooking. I’m not preparing complicated sauces or elaborate terrines. Mostly I’m gathering some stuff that most people would consider marginal in the first place (a few grains of yeast, orange rinds, bones, stems), slopping it all together, and then forgetting about it. Then poking around for a bit, and repeating.

I once had a friend tell me she wanted to come over to my house and watch me make spring rolls, and I couldn’t imagine what to do but tell her to bring a sleeping bag, because it takes quite a while.

In my goofball kitchen, nothing is a recipe, and everything is a process. My freezer may be full of a ragtag assortment of mystery contents-to-be that will eventually become something that some poor soul wants the recipe to, but it’s woefully missing in all that swell stuff I could find in the freezer aisle of Trader Joe’s. I’ll be honest – I think it’s just as weird as you do, but, at this point, I can’t seem to help myself. And I don’t think I’ll ever learn to like Jimmy Buffett music in the parking lot, anyway. 

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