Several years ago, my job required that I occasionally fly here and there for conferences and, oh, they were not fun. I know that many conferences today are wonderful events where wonderful people meet and expand their professional horizons but those for me were all about windowless conference rooms, buzzing fluorescent lights, and all hopes that I would be able to “get out!” and “see a new city!” dashed when I realized I would, in fact, need to file articles from my hotel room that night. On the lowest of these trips, I found myself gazing at a painfully unappetizing room service menu and came across an item called a “fried cheese collage” and this, I am sad to say, was the last straw.
A few years ago, I made ricotta for the first time. I suspect a good lot of you just read that — the part where I made cheese/played cheesemaker/fiddled with curds and whey in my shoebox kitchen, not because I maybe forgot about a carton of milk for a few weeks in the back of the fridge and conducted an unintentional science project, but just for a good time — inched your cursor to the little X of your browser tab and navigated away. Clearly, this wasn’t the act of a sane person, though that does seem to be the theme this week. The thing is, a good amount of cheese that we eat — mozzarella, goat cheese, paneer, cottage cheese — come down to milk plus acid. What you do from there is your art. Except my first ricotta wasn’t particularly artful. It was a little dry and coarse. We spread it on pizza with jammy caramelized red onions and ate it happily, but it wasn’t the kind of ricotta you dream of. I moved on.
My kid doesn’t like cheese. While this is in some ways a relief — I was dreading what seems to be the inevitable toddler mac-and-cheese habit, mostly because I would share it and lack his metabolism — it is in other ways disconcerting, as in, could this really be our child? Someone who doesn’t like cheese or sleeping late?
This is pretty much October on a parchment-lined baking sheet. They want to be packed in a basket so they can go apple picking with you and to sneak in the car to join you for a leaf-peeping drive. They want to come to brunch with you and deserve to be served with warm apple cider, whether getting lost in a corn maze or searching for the best pumpkin to carve.
On Monday, I went foraging. Well, urban foraging, that is, at the Greenmarket. I set out to find these mythical local provisions that many of you have assured me now exist in New York City, things like ramps and aspargus and even strawberries and I’m now convinced that someone is playing a mighty joke on me.*
I spend an unhealthy amount of time trying to figure out what makes a cracker a cracker, and how to drum up whatever I have most recently concluded at home. Is it a two-ingredient mix of spelt (or other) flour and water with some seeds on top? An olive oil-brushed flatbread with rosemary? A cheese straw rolled thin and flat? Need it be something sturdy and neutral enough that you can spread cheese or tapenade upon it? Is it acceptable if it is too tender, rich and loudly flavored to have anything piled on its belly?
I wore heels to the hospital when I showed up for my induction four weeks ago. Heels. And a sundress. Oh, and my mother and I decided to walk there from the doctor’s office, since it was such a nice day (we only made it ten blocks, but still). Heels. Sundress. A stroll on a lovely September day. I say this not to point out how ridiculous I can be — because really, I believe it points itself out — but to outline this thing I do where I get an absurdly ambitious ideal in my head and spend the rest of my time trying to close the gap between the dream and my reality.