The last time I incubated of future generation of my family, my OB’s office — a place you cumulatively spend a spectacular amount of time over the course of 40 weeks — was diagonally across the street from the Upper West Side Shake Shack, and I only ate there once. I understand if this means we can no longer be friends; I am personally embarrassed to know this about me too. Where were my priorities? I have spent years mourning this missed opportunity to not only eat a weekly Shackburger but to have made better use of my last weeks of kid-free leisurely lunches for years to come. The reason is even less sympathetic: I didn’t like hamburgers, or so I thought. They were so thick, so dauntingly large and one-note, so soft and damp inside, I couldn’t for the life of me imagine what made them popular.
I’m pretty sure I’m the last person in the cooking-obsessed world to get Sean Brock Fever, the chef behind McCrady’s, Husk, and Minero in Charleston. Worse, this is probably a good time to admit that I was sent his first cookbook, Heritage, when it came out and rejected it on sight alone. There was something about those sleeve tattoos cupping the sacred rainbow beans, an image I’ve seen variations on countless other farm-to-table cookbook covers and magazine spreads, that put me off. Skimming the recipes didn’t always help. Your red peas, cornmeal and gold rice should be from Anson Mills, and if not, at least the cornmeal should be fresh from a gristmill. Your tomatoes should be home-canned, or at the very least, San Marzano. Your pork should be from a heritage pig, your buttermilk and goat cheese should come from a local farm, as should your Red Bliss potatoes; this is your heritage after all.
I realize that if you’re scouring the internet this week looking for something romantic to cook for that little Hallmark holiday this weekend, the words “pot roast” probably didn’t cross your search threshold. It’s not sexy food; nobody is writing aphrodisiac cookbooks about bottom rounds and boneless chucks. But if you ask me, it’s something better, something cozy, warm, and classic, which neither steals the show nor keeps you from enjoying it. It’s for people who long ago stopped aspiring to entertain in multi-course and completely exhausting meals (for host and guest) and turned instead to comfort foods that surprise and delight on sleety winter nights. Sure, those individual gratins, galettes, microgreens and shooters of soup look elegant, but none of them have ever gotten the reaction that a massive batch of spaghetti and meatballs, from-scratch lasagne or great big short rib braise with a green salad did. No dessert, frosted, layered or crimped has ever had the delighted reception of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies (dough prepared days before, shh), still on their baking sheet. Why are we pretending we have a team of line cooks at our disposal, anyway?
Despite trying to provide ample evidence here, nobody believes me when I say that I get no special pleasure out of weeknight cooking — and guys, it’s like my chosen career, which doesn’t bode well for those of us who are no place near a kitchen all day. In an ideal world it would be relaxing, a way to unwind as we talked about our days while snapping ends off asparagus and rinsing rice before we cooked it. We’d make food that surprised and delighted us, food that exceeded our humble weeknight expectations every time and righted all of the day’s wrongs. And then the dishes would magically wash themselves. In reality, weeknight cooking is usually about practicality; hurried and hastily chopped, and all too often with a 4.5 year-old having a hangry meltdown at my feet because he didn’t want baked potatoes with broccoli for dinner, he wanted spaghetti and meatballs. Please send in the violins.
I don’t mean to shock you, I mean, I do hope you’re sitting down for this, but it turns out that when I asked my husband to choose between a caramelized cabbage dish, mushroom tacos, or a beef stew whose ante had been upped with butter, bacon, Dijon, cognac and a splash of red wine as his ideal homemade Valentine’s meal, he chose the beef stew. I could hardly believe it either. I mean, between my delivered flowers, his cufflinks and the kid’s heart-shaped candies, I might have to mix things up next year just to rage against predictability.
Guys, I am in the weeds this month. After a summer of lazy, a summer of two vacations and a husband (eh, unpaid assistant) always around, making life fun and easy, a mess of busy (new job, work travel for him, book touring for me, a spate of solo parenting of each of us, new preschool, new babysitter, and very important birthday party allatonce) has descended on our recently idyllic lifestyle and, no, I am not handling it with the effortless grace you’ve come to expect from me. Quit laughing. Stop it. I could be effortless or graceful! I mean, there was that one time… Okay, fine. I’m handling it as predicted: with equal measures of bourbon and complaining on the internet. I never claimed to be a model human.
You guys, I owe you an apology. It’s been nearly a month since I first encountered this grilled bacon salad and I couldn’t find a window to tell you about it until now. That wasn’t right of me. When you try it, you’ll understand.