Let's Get Strategic
Last week, Samin wrote about the modest cuisine of Tuscany. I want to comment on another type of modesty. I too have recently returned to the mat after an injury and have also struggled with an ego that would like to believe I can and should still do the advanced poses I was doing six months ago; I'd like to put my feet on my head, or balance on my hands in contorted pretzel-like shapes, or disappear into my own folded body. And maybe I could, but it certainly wouldn't be a nice experience. As one of my yoga teachers says, "It wouldn't be strategic."
The funny thing is that I'm very strategic in the kitchen. It's been a few years since I've worked in a professional kitchen; lately, I have spent more time slaving over my books than over a stove. I'm perfectly comfortable with the fact that cooking isn't as natural as it used to be. Can I still bust a move in the kitchen? You bet. Is cooking still an extension of my own body? Not so much. As such, I'm a little more careful in the kitchen; I don't try to do things as quickly, I don't try to whip egg whites with one hand and sauté mushrooms with the other, and I don't try to concoct countless courses à la minute for my dinner guests.
Have you ever wondered why people who don't normally cook invite their friends over for a nine-course meal? Me too! It's not pleasant for the cook (let alone their guests) when they reach so far beyond their comfort level and their abilities. The question is not whether people who don't cook every day deserve to serve delicious, homemade food. They absolutely do. The question is how to be strategic, how to set yourself up for success. Perhaps a soup as a first course, which can be made hours or days (and be even more delicious) before your guests walk in the door, or an elaborate salad as an entrée. This is a tactic I often fall back on; all of the components for a lovely salad can be lovingly and carefully prepared well ahead of time, the cook can highlight the bounty of the farmer's market (let nature do the work!), and can be plated beautifully into a painterly palate. If, at the end of the night, you have wonderful food, are relaxed and have happy and full dinner guests, who's going to take you to task for not taking on the anxiety of trying to prepare a soufflé at the last minute?
Strategy for a Salad
Go to the farmer's market and pick whatever looks, or tastes, most delicious. (Since spring produce is just around the corner in many parts of the country (not my own), so I will give suggestions related to this season.)
Prepare all your vegetable well ahead of time and allow them to sit at room temperature. Take a large board or platter when you are ready to serve, and mound your prepared vegetables in lovely little piles: artichokes braised in lemon and wine; carrots roasted and tossed with Aleppo pepper; finely shredded fennel dressed with olive oil and lemon; fava beans cooked and tossed with chopped dill; roasted asparagus; crumbled goat cheese; dark salt-cured olives; gently boiled and halved eggs, etc. Toss arugula, or your favorite lettuce, with a delicate vinaigrette and scatter amongst the piles of vegetables, creating a vine-like tangle that links the colors of your palate.
Relax and enjoy.