You never know

I am tired from all the things I don’t understand.

Like how to deliver a perfectly timed dinner. which is important because I cook for my job. I think the issue may be, I want to let go of the idea of perfectly timed. Of perfect. It is limiting. Perfect leaves no space for all the beautiful things that perfect isn’t. It may mean, giving up my job.

I don’t like the idea of courses. I go for, “what do you want to eat?” and then, “let’s make it.” Unless of course it’s cassoulet, which you have to prepare for. But it doesn’t matter when you eat, with cassoulet. You start it three days before it is going to be ready, and then you can hold it until the cows come home. You can eat it whenever you feel like it.

But let’s say, your heart wants pasta. And there is nothing that would make you happier. Your heart doesn’t care about perfectly timed. Your heart just wants to watch you sift flour across the counter and crack eggs in the middle and roll it out with the wine bottle from a few days ago. You grate the cheese. You watch the water boil. There is no wine to pour before the food is on the table, and it doesn’t matter. There is wine at the corner. A fifteen minute hold up makes your heart beat faster. You ladle pasta water into the pan and drop in the cheese with a cut of butter and whisk, who knows how long. You drag the sieve through the water to catch every strand and turn the pasta into the next pan over, into what is more or less a sauce. Sauce enough. Plates are pulled from the cabinet and the kitchen towel is a napkin. When that is done you might think, “you feel like steak? you want some salad?” or you might think you have had enough and just want to go to bed.

the schedule

I leave for work on a Thursday morning on the 8 am train out of Woodside, bound for Babylon. Not the ruins of the ancient Mesopotamian city, now buried under modern day Iraq; the Babylon on Long Island. You can change there for the train to Montauk. I get off twenty minutes before the last stop, get picked up and driven to buy supplies and then back to the house to cook. In the morning, I don’t need to set an alarm, but I do. I get up to hear the birds, calling to each other. I sit on an old wooden bench outside the kitchen, and when it is time, I meet another car that takes me to the 6:01 train back to West Hampton. I drink a coffee, and then walk the dog. Feed the dog, and start breakfast. It can be anything, but it has always been oatmeal, huevos rancheros, or Eggs Benedict. The man of the house used to like buttermilk blueberry pancakes, but he hasn’t thought about them yet. It is early in the season. I wait to hear what is wanted. Breakfast is on a tray for one.

I open the fridge and think. Then drive myself to shop for lunch. It is four courses, plated. Sometimes an amuse bouche. Or an in between course of a sorbet, made from pears and lemons that won’t last another day. I have been wondering about what would happen with cantaloupe if I added a sugar syrup with sherry vinegar and vanilla bean. I have a genetic predisposition to consider a use for everything. Creativity comes, just because everything in the refrigerator is always on my mind. It is like the way you carry your letters with you from Scrabble, even when the game is over. You will be cursing the x and y, way after you have gone to bed, and then wake up at 3 A.M. thinking, “oxygen. I had, oxygen.”

One direction–the direction of the ocean–is the fish monger, the butcher, and the cheese shop. And Lidl. Which apparently, when it opened, was a problem for some people. They felt it didn’t fit. Lidl has the best olive oil for miles–it is $5.99–and parmigiano reggiano that has been properly handled. If I go the other direction, to Eastport, I get King Cullen. At King Cullen, the cashiers are friendly. They have good blueberries and Bob’s Red Mill.

My life is a schedule, at the moment. I have made it that way so that my feet have a direction and my hands and head, follow. I stop cooking, only when I can’t stand anymore. It is how I breathe.

My son calls, like the sun rises. His voice has the same low rumble as slow, distant thunder in summer. I try to listen to every word, but the truth is, I love the sound of it so much, that sometimes it is not possible. I get caught in the cadence.

I am back in Queens by Sunday, just after dark. I have leftovers in my bag from lunch. I had an ear of corn and soup, last night. When I came up from the subway, I bought chicken breast. My son was on the roof filming the span of 24 hours. On the phone he’d told me he had beef jerky and bananas for sustenance. “You don’t have to cook me dinner tonight. Mom. I mean, I am hungry, but I don’t want you to cook if you are tired.” I made the chicken with garlic, lime, and thyme, and finished it with butter and more lime to make a sauce. I packed it up with the corn and soup and carried it up the ladder to sit with him and listen to him talk.

I am so grateful 

for so many things now. I am finally living up to the expectations of the Jehovah Witnesses who came to the door on a Saturday morning when I was a kid and after I said hello, and they said I was damned for all eternity, they asked me what I was grateful for. I thought about it and said,  “Cartoons.”

It wasn’t enough. They wanted more. I really wanted to get back to the cartoons. Saturdays were my only chance, so I said, “I can’t think of anything.” That really set them off. “I have to close the door now,” I said, and even though they were still in the thick of it, I closed the door. I was damned anyway.

So now, I am making up the difference. I am grateful for air, for tiny cherry tomatoes, for dogs, for coffee with milk, for rose petals shaped like hearts that fall from their stems..everything. And love. Of course. How am I not going to say that. I am most grateful, for love.

And chicken. We slapped a brick on top of split chickens and roasted them at 400 degrees over a pile of garlic and rosemary. Made a risotto with soffritto and tiny cubed potatoes, and a salad of arugula, toasted almonds, currants and shallot. For dessert: crostata of cherry jam.

Queen of the pork chop

I like to make a fire with twigs and old leaves 

to start it, and then a bunch of skinny logs to make the coals. I put the pork chops on the fire with only salt. No oil until they are done. I like the coals to be hot enough to sear, but no flames. Just at the point when the chops are cooked through, olive oil to finish. And a good squeeze of lemon. We rolled out a table full of gnocchi to have first and tossed them with browned butter and fried sage. I should have added a little more salt to the cooking water and I would have known that, if I had tasted one. I get distracted when I am cooking inside and outside at the same time. I don’t get worked up the way I used to though, so I am not bothered by it. The pork chops were so darn good, I could hardly stand it. I think the table went a little quiet. On the side we had whole braised carrots with peperoncino and halved, caramelized, tiny red onions. Then a plate of sautéed lettuce with garlic and more peperoncino. And the tiramisu for dessert. I need a better whisk. I can’t whisk properly with a cheap crap whisk. The tines need to be skinny and there needs to be plenty of them. We sit outside to eat, because it cooled down just enough.  

Last night, on the border of Umbria and Tuscany

I made almost what I thought I would, but not exactly, so I will write it again. it was good, so it is not a bad thing to sing the same lyrics. penne with pancetta, fresh peas and caranna onions, finished with cooking water from the pasta, grana padano, and mounted butter. I made a second, of hand rolled fettuccine with wild and domestic mushrooms, slivered garlic and parsley. Because, why not have two pastas on the first night. Then slivered zucchini, the very pale, slender ones with even paler ridges, sautéed with basil leaves, garlic, lemon peel and peperoncino. Slivers of prosciutto over that. String beans braised with cherry tomatoes and garlic. Braised asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper and shavings of Umbrian pecorino. A plate of cantaloupe (also good with prosciutto, but I just wanted it as it was.) greens with shallot, fresh mint and basil leaves. Cannellini simmered with just enough water, olive oil, cloves of garlic and peperoncino, finished with lemon. Fresh fave, raw with a wedge of pecorino. And for dessert, cantucci with a side car of vin santo.

I might have to make tiramisu tonight, to use up the rest of the bottle. 

In the quiet

  • It is quiet now; the wind has died down like embers do. It sounds like it does in the wake of a storm that has passed. Everything has been left where it lies. I am still cooking. 
  • I found peas in their pods. I will make pasta with peas and pancetta and a special yellow onion, I don’t know the name of. Then prosciutto sliced thin, but not too thin, dropped over zucchini trifolati. Cannellini simmered with a whole peperoncino, a bay leaf, cloves of garlic and plenty of olive oil, and string beans simmered with grape tomatoes (i dateri), garlic and fresh basil. And for dessert, cantucci, dunked in vin santo. I rubbed the inside of a vanilla bean into the sugar and added a spill of white wine to the batter, to make the crunch more delicate.
    There is communal wine from Cortona, which just means everybody threw their grapes in together, and let be whatever came of it. I buy it pumped from the tank and use it for everything.
  • there are so many babies around my kitchen. three kittens that a mother cat brought yesterday, from some other hiding place, two puppies, and two tiny sparrows that just took their first flight from the nest and don’t look like they were given any other instructions. I will let them be. Every half hour I go back to where they are hopping, and tell them that I love them.

comfort

The grave has begun to sink

from the weight of the air above it. and the rain 

I suppose.

and my body lying on top of him

I know for sure.

I stay for hours

soaking up the warmth.

He holds me 

still 

I cook from the minute I get up, until the minute I sleep. roasting, braising, baking, stirring, chopping, and shopping so that I can start again.

with my whole heart

Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,

That looks on tempest, and is never shaken;

It is the start to every wandering bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his 

height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips

and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and

Weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error, and upon me prov’d,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

-Shakespeare