For the last month or so, my cookbook had been on a boat, an image which delighted me to no end. I pictured it heading to a dock at the edge of a continent, like Arya at the end of Book 3 of Game of Thrones, and hoping that someone would give it passage. I imagined it splashing through waters rough and calm on a long journey, like the one depicted in Lost and Found. And then I imagined it arriving at the shipping docks, unloaded by the likes of handsome Nick Sobotka in Season 2 of The Wire (er, hopefully under happier circumstances), its container being fitted to trucks or rail cars and heading to a warehouse where it would tap its feet impatiently until October 30th arrived and it could finally come out and see you.
We are at the beach this week and even though there was a point when we were trying to pile the toddler, his 55 favorite toys including a full-sized tricycle, me, my 25 kitchen necessities including, apparently, a meat thermometer and the serrated peeler one of you told me about a few weeks ago that I now can’t live without, the beach towels, blankets, umbrellas, sandcastle-shaped bucket, toddler bed bars, a box of groceries and my husband (happy anniversary, baby!) in our little car that we thought we should really just stay home instead, it wasn’t long into our drive onto the North Fork, passing miles of farms, leave-your-money-in-the-box roadside blackberry stands, dilapidated barns, impeccably kept houses, and more grape vines than you could count in your lifetime that we were unwaveringly certain we were back where we were meant to be.
In my humble opinion, there’s cooking and there’s cooking. (I know, I’ll just give you a minute for the staggering profundity of that sentence to kick in.) What I mean is, it’s one thing to turn banana bread into a crepe, that crepe into a cake, that cake into a vehicle for walnut butterscotch, drooling, diet-postponing, and seconds, and it’s an entirely other thing to find yourself at the playground at 5:15 p.m. and realize a) you don’t actually have anything in the fridge that you can turn into dinner, b) you, in fact, barely feel like cooking, in fact, your interest in cooking is only a single degree stronger than your desire to order in, so this better be easy, and c) the adjacent farmers market which you have heard from others boasts ramps and asparagus and spinach and other new! spring! delights! in fact, at the tail end of the day, boasts few things aside from a straggler of a single bundle of broccoli rabe. And you like broccoli rabe, you’ve warmed to it quite a bit since you’ve accepted it into your life, but you hardly excel in turning it into a lightning-quick, lazy, and completely satisfying dinner (or LQLACSD for short).
Where have I been, you ask? Did I fly off to a small Caribbean island again, only to return to rub it in? Did my book project or adorable distraction eat me alive again? For once, no. I have actually been out climbing another (slightly smaller) culinary Mount Everest for you, and I have returned bearing not one, but two recipes.
On a beach vacation that already feels like it was too long ago, I tucked into the collection of letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto and realized I’d inadvertently brought on vacation with me the very best book ever for my current brand of mental unevenness. Apparently, even the great Julia Child went a little insane writing her cookbook. She fretted over if varied and uneven ingredients would keep her recipes from working as she wanted them to in others’ kitchens and even had occasional bouts of frustration with her tiny, ill-equipped kitchens. And Julia is like my superhero! I was no less than 10 pages in when I already felt better about my choices, the work I had left, life itself, the universe at large… or perhaps it was just those no-good piña coladas and that blue-meets-blue horizon working their magic on me. Nevertheless, I thanked Julia.
High on the list of dishes I’d like to be able to make without a second thought, a special trip to a special store and that I hope to still be cooking when we spend our days in his-and-hers creaking rocking chairs, lamenting that Jacob never calls us anymore, is a hearty white bean stew.
[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.