Look: another sighting of my dinner, rare as hen’s teeth these days. It’s been strange getting back into the regular cooking routine after so long out of it. It’s not the actual making of dinner, which I have not in fact forgotten how to do, but trying to reconcile all the wild flights of culinary fancy that my mind embarked upon while my hands held sandpaper and brushes (rather than knives and pan handles) with the quotidian realities of wandering into the kitchen at 5:30 and making good food from a cold start. So much of what I rely on to lift my meals up a level or two are the various time-intensive processes and ongoing experiments and just plain old leftovers that are in the fridge on any given evening, so it’s taking a little while for those secondary rhythms of production to catch up and I feel a little clumsy.
Bread-baking never stopped, although there were some hiccups. The vinegars are thriving. Cheesemaking is back under way, which is grand, so whey is in the mix, and of course there’s plenty of charcuterie about for mincing into soffriti to lend that lavish depth in an instant: salami, guanciale, duck prosciutto, bresaola, and lardo. And the freezer always has something worth eating in it. What galls me most at this time of year really is the dearth of good vegetables; there are still greens in the garden, sure, and a few roots, but I daydream about being able to walk outside and load up a basket with all the fat bounty that is still invisible over the horizon. This mild hardly winter isn’t helping, either; I keep feeling like I should plant stuff. The birds and spring bulbs are equally confused. I’m sure we’ll get some monster blizzard in a few weeks after everything is all budded out and lose it all.
Meantime, comfort food is still on the menu, though this example was leavened some with a couple of summery ingredients to symbolize my yearning for spring and the ephemerality of life, man.
I trimmed and cubed some lamb stew meat and browned it well all over, adding fennel and parsnips and then deglazing with cider vinegar after a minute. Then I added olives, whey, leftover mashed parsnips, leftover sautéed pak choi, lots of garlic, herbs, some lamb-friendly spices (ras el hanout, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, mustard) and let it bubble. I love adding leftover mashed roots to stews later on; they thicken, enrich, and sweeten the result, adding some of that magic day-old flavor to braisey things that are not actually a day old. I added some grape tomatoes and hastily defrosted pesto to finish, and served it in roasted halves of smallish kabocha squash. Not so pretty to look at, but a hearty and nourishing dinner experience in about half an hour, which was (as is so often, alas, the case) the salient governing criterion.
I’m getting my feet back under me, though, and as I buy seeds and poke around for early edibles outside I expect to find the inspiration required to make some food worth clicking over to read about. There should be some new pottery soon as well, and then of course in March there’s the trip to France, which I suppose you’re going to want me to write about like the bunch of needy martinets that you are. Maybe I’ll even shoot video: I’m in talks right now to have Leonard Nimoy do voice-over narration of all my posts, like on In Search Of, on account of how invisible I have been. Stay tuned.