I spent some time last Thursday talking to students about the practice of painting, and how after all these years building said practice I have total confidence in it, even if as now I’m on a hiatus from working in the studio. That trust makes for a real absence of stress, since I know that it will be right there when I start to feel the pull to get back to it. It’s a dividend of all the time and effort I’ve invested in working over all of these years. And cooking is the same, in a way; I don’t beat myself up if I’m not really feeling it, and sooner or later I get it back and all is well. The difference is that taking a hiatus is not really an option, so when I’m not in the mood I still have to do it. But diligence does pay off, and sometimes a really good idea just sort of falls out of the sky.
Apart from the off-centering impact of too much away food, something else I noticed about traveling is the effect it had on some domestic rhythms, especially baking. The live sourdough starter does best when it’s getting fed twice or thrice weekly, and during my time away it got sad and neglected. A quick feed brought it back, and I’ll bake tomorrow, but it took me a few days to get to it; even the short interruption made the habitual task of feeding and then mixing/kneading/rising/baking seem kind of daunting so that I put it off all weekend. Establishing these sorts of habits takes some practice, and they remain vulnerable to the distractions that constantly conspire to interrupt my progress on so many fronts.
It’s full-on fall gorgeousness here, and mid-weight meals are very much in effect. The sun is warm, and the leaves are incandescent, but the shade has a chill to it that makes one glad for a layer and come sundown it gets brisk in a hurry. The garden is transitioning nicely into fall, with lots of greens and roots to make for a nearly full spectrum of colors and textures until the first freeze culls the tenderer plants and leaves a narrower but still plentiful assortment into winter. I’m setting up the hoop houses this week, and I’ll try to write a bit about it for anybody considering season-extension technologies involving a minimum of effort and expense. Meanwhile, food.
After the better part of the week away in Rhode Island–Providence and Newport–it felt mighty good to get home. Something I realize more and more is how dependent I have become on the garden; even lazy weeknight phone-ins often rely on a dozen or so vegetables in various forms. Now the Biggest Little has a burgeoning local food scene, and I’ve eaten at two of the better restaurants in Providence: New Rivers and La Laiterie. (New Rivers was on a previous trip). There’s some very good work being done on several fronts to create a viable and sustainable local food economy; hell, even my alma mater RISD is now sourcing a significant portion of their cafeteria food locally, and using an innovative delivery system to make it feasible.
But the exigencies of travel and meetings and hanging a show and generally being away from home meant that too much of the food I ate was subpar. This was no leisurely gastronomic tour; this was a business trip. There was a bad burger, a good burger, a dozen decent oysters, and one excellent meal at La Laiterie, but there was also some awful road food and too much bad coffee and a salad that deserved a tribunal at the Hague. And there was some food that was fine, but that in the aggregate just sort of dragged the average down so that when I got home I felt thoroughly out of sorts, if also somewhat accomplished. There’s nothing quite like home cooking.
I have been extraordinarily busy of late, with a show opening next week and an article due before I go to hang it and then swan around the opening looking artistic and important and the like. And this on top of the usual day-to-day, which seems only to get thicker and more obnoxious with the passage of time. The to-do list is metastasizing into a beast that will not be tamed. Anyone looking for an internship as my personal assistant is encouraged to apply; it may not be the sexiest position available but I promise that at least half of the things I throw at you will be good to eat.
Meatloaf is an interesting food. On one end of the spectrum, it can be a sad slab of factory meat on bland mashed potatoes drowned in burned, salty gravy at some diner. On the far end, it can be a terrine of elegant subtlety and refinement made from quality components, especially if it’s treated more like a pâté and cooked gently in a bain-marie. There’s plenty of room between these extremes, and that latitude allows a dish like this to be an excellent showcase for the only two things that matter in cooking: ingredients and technique. You get exactly as much out of a meatloaf as you put in to it.
The presence of smoked chicken carcasses in the fridge could mean only one thing: stock. And now it’s that most compelling time of year, with warm sun and chilly shade and mountains bedecked with autumn raiment under skies of impossibly clear and cloudless blue. Each season so far this year has been pretty splendid; summer got a bit too hot and dry for a while, but in all it’s just been gorgeous weather. And we’re having a stunning Indian summer that just goes on and on (and the best days have been hitting on the weekends). Last night was the first light frost.
I was going to got to my 20th reunion in Providence, but it didn’t work out. So instead some dear friends from Boston (one of whom predates college) came for a couple of nights, and festivities were in order. I didn’t have time to do multi-course extravaganzas, so I concentrated instead on making single-plate meals of high quality and opening serious wine to wash them down. It’s not the worst strategy.