I hope you didn’t think I forgot about you this week, or actually hopped on a plane to Mexico, as repeatedly threatened during last week’s taco fest. The truth of where I’ve been is far less interesting and could be roughly summarized as: man, am I a terrible cook this week. However, the week started out promisingly; I nailed a cookbook chicken dish on the first try (that I’d been certain would be no good at all) and brimming with confidence — maybe I should trust all of my cooking instincts! maybe I am good at this? — I decided to make a dish of slow-roasted vegetables that turn out should never have been slow-roasted, unless vegetable leather is your thing. Oops.
I would not say that previous to the last year, we were not taco people. I can think of several carnitas that have brought me nearly to tears (and definitely to tears when they stopped delivering) and we’ve been doing an egg-tortilla thing for years. But at some point in the last six months, I got bit with the taco bug bad and now I can hardly think of anything else to eat. Saturday afternoon and the toddler is napping and suddenly we’re hungry? Black bean tacos! Nothing but a couple zucchini in the produce drawer? Roasted zucchini tacos for dinner! I’m about thisclose to becoming the sort of person who puts peanut butter and jelly on a taco. The taco has become the answer to all questions.
What an awkward time for me to admit this, as no doubt these will grace some tables this week I’ve been gracefully invited to, but I’m not really into, well, mashed things: potatoes, yams, parsnips, root vegetables and other purees that serve as the piles to sop up everything awesome that runs off our main courses before our forks can catch it. I mean, I won’t pushed mashed potatoes away; it’s not that they actually taste bad. It’s just that I’ve never been convinced that they taste better than the sum of their copious amounts of various combinations of butter, cream, buttermilk, sour cream, crème fraîche, cream and goat cheeses. No, really, I mean copious. Jeffrey Steingarten, a man whose essay collections you should read if you have not already, found that the magic formula that elevated mashed potatoes to, well, the kind you’ll probably gush about on Thursday night fell somewhere between one and four sticks (a pound) of butter for every two pounds (two to three) of potatoes. I know, I know: “Deb, you are such a party pooper.”
Unfortunately, we had to come home from the beach. You see, I’d left my chef’s knife at home and seriously, people, I never knew I was the kind of person who had to have their creature comforts to cook. In fact, I get some sort of sick enjoyment out of making do with whatever’s in front of me (see also: my shoebox kitchen with a mini-stove, single tiny counter and a climbing baby over- under- and hanging-off-of-foot, putting everything he can find into his mouth) but I got bested last week by a drawer full of dull knives and not a sharpener in sight. You don’t want to know what the best of the lot did to some tomatoes — it should be ashamed of itself! Plus, there were the small matters of a city baby who refused to sleep in such foreign places with large rooms, crickets and scary flowers outside and the fact that we’d only rented the house for a week. What were we thinking? Two weeks! A month! More! Farm preschool, here I come!
[Er, croutons not pictured.] Here’s the thing: If you told me you were serving succotash with or for dinner, I’d inwardly groan. People, I’ve had all sorts of succotash — a summery stew of corn and lima beans, often with tomatoes, yet still so bland that no added butter or cream saves it for me, and when adding butter and cream don’t save something for me, you know something is terribly wrong — and can’t think of one that I wanted to run home and make for myself. It might be because it’s usually in the off-season, when the above come frozen and no, it’s just not the same. It might also be because I once had a roommate that would open cans of succotash, not drain it, heat it in the microwave and eat it straight and guys, it’s been many, many years and still, my stomach turns. Don’t ever live with me. I’m a jerk.
Let me tell you about something that always happens, and it’s the best thing, ever: A month or so ago, a reader emailed me and asked me if I’d ever tried a tomato pie. No, not the Italian-American tomato pie seen in New York and New Jersey — a thick, bready pizza dough slathered with sauce and broiled with Romano cheese on top then served in squares — but a Southern thing, baked in a pie shell. Where I’m from, “tomato pie” is the Italian-ish thing I’ve described it above, thus I responded that I’ve never heard of it before and added “but mark my words, not two days after I send off this email, I will have heard about it three times.”
I have an affliction of sorts; no matter how fantastic, transcendent a recipe has been or how much I’ve sung it’s praises from the high mountaintops, I almost never make it a second time. I thought I could blame this website, always pushing me forward and urging me to try new! different! shiny! things, but who am I kidding? I’ve always been this way. Though I always say I’m just looking for tried-and-true recipes to laminate, frame, and keep forever, those that will never fail you or me so that I can stop looking, it’s not true. I’m still looking. I’ll always be looking.