Last week was not my week in the kitchen, friends. I had great, ambitious designs on a rhubarb meringue tart that would be pink and pretty with a scalloped tart-shell edge and a meringue that looked like piped roses that had toasted petal tips. But as the week went on and as various really non-torments in the greater definition of the word but nonetheless tormenting to me mounted — thin curds, too thick curds, beige (you know, the color of pink rhubarb + multiple yolks) curd, slumped tart shells, wet meringues, useless broilers, blowtorches so close to empty, they emit the useless wisps of sleepy dragons, refill canister AWOL — my enjoyment of the project plummeted. But, because I’d like to teach my kid one day that he should follow through and finish what he started, I did, and lo, it was good, you know? Maybe I’m just not a meringue pie person and I forgot? None of this matters because the finished pie slid off the plate flopping face-down into the open fridge as I tried to put it away and then, as I crouched on the floor in front of the open fridge scooping fistfuls of meringue and curd into a garbage bag and questioning my life choices, my son walked in and asked what I was making for dinner.
It’s been over six years since I mooned here over a lost dumpling love. Dumplings are kind of a fixation for me; I am unwaveringly convinced that small pockets of food wrapped elegantly in a thin dough are among the universe’s most perfect foods; portable and petite, servings easily scaled, I dare you to find a nutritious food not improved by an adorable doughy package. The vegetable dumplings that I used to get at a chain of otherwise average west side Chinese restaurants were my all-time favorite; before they changed the recipe, I regularly rerouted my day to stop there for an order, and a beer. (Sidebar: Can we talk about how delicious a cold beer in a glass is with potstickers? No, different conversation, huh? Onwards!)
Anyway, I hope you haven’t mistaken my silence since on the matter as a sign I’ve found any peace. I have not. While I still cannot resist vegetable dumplings/wontons/gyoza/potstickers on any take-out menu, hoping to find within their centers the dumplings I once knew and loved, I’ve had enough mystery vegetable mush to accept that if you want spectacular vegetable dumplings, you’ll want to make them at home.
It probably goes without saying — but I will say it anyway; this is an internet weblog, after all — that a whole lot of the food I cook at home doesn’t make it onto this site. I like to use this space to talk about aspirational cooking — things that have fascinated me because they were different or better or even easier than I’d expected to make. At the very least, I hope they’ll have a good story to tell or get someone else as excited to cook as I was. The work-a-day cooking (pizza, lazy meatballs, oatmeal) that fills out our weeks is hardly noteworthy stuff.
I also prefer to avoid gushing about ingredients most people don’t have access to. No, I don’t mean truffles or anything so fancy — I’m not secretly flavoring my pasta water with fistfuls of the Himalayan pink salt I eschew elsewhere — I just mean something that especially short-seasoned and regional and it feels little will be gained by crowing about a dish that 95% of people can’t make.
What do you make yourself for lunch, if nobody else is around? I bet you’re hoping I’m going to say something ambitious, like “a gently poached chicken breast, cooled and sliced across a vegetable salad with a hand-whisked vinaigrette,” because that happens, ever. Or maybe you’re hoping that this is where I tell you about my secret peanut butter fluff with crumbled potato chip sandwich habit, alas, I’m not even interesting enough at lunchtime to be scandalous. The sad truth is, if I’ve by some miracle found a couple hours to get work done in relative peace, I’m ecstatic, and I find hunger an inconvenience. If I must succumb, whatever I make for lunch must be quick, and tends to fall into the Stuff On Bread category: avocado, olive oil, lemon and sea salt, peanut butter (always low-brow) and jam (always fancy), or, smashed soft egg.
I made a big fuss about poaching eggs a few years ago because I loved them but had a hard time getting them right at home. Once I did, I was triumphant, but nevertheless, have probably not made one in over a year, or not since I discovered that there’s an even simpler route to that cooked-white-loose-yolk-soft-edge nirvana. Soft-boiled eggs require no vinegar, no teeming water and no whirlpools, but they peel like a dream. My favorite way to eat them is broken open on toasted and buttered whole-grain bread, sprinkled with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
So, despite the fact that I gushed about The Breslin nearly a year ago and also in an interview for Amazon, and even though I’ve fussed over The Spotted Pig, I didn’t even consider picking up chef April Bloomfield’s* book, A Girl and Her Pig because the odds felt slim that it would provide me with anything close to the joy that her cooking does at a dark table in the Ace Hotel, with a grapefruit gin-and-tonic (swoon) in my hand.