Hello from 30,000 feet! I wrote this on my 23rd airplane flight since November 2012, but here’s the part where you can be certain at last that I’m as weird as you already suspected: I still love flying as much as this guy. How could I not? At the time, there were perfect white puffs of clouds below us (I always call them Simpson’s Clouds, because they remind me of the ones in the show’s opener) and the sky above the clouds, as always, was piercingly blue. The day before, it was snow-sided mountains down below, and before that, circular fields inside perfect grids, fern-like trenches and mosaics that stretched to the horizon. That I also get to hang out at awesome bookstores and meet really nice people who indulge me (but really shouldn’t, lest I feel encouraged) by laughing at my terrible jokes only makes it more fun.
Is everyone on vacation without you? Are your social media feeds one big blur of the freckled faces of people you once thought you loved basking in the Caribbean sun, showing unintentional contempt for you, back here, shivering and damp? Do your so-called friends in warmer climes gush about pea tendrils and new artichokes while your local market has shriveled roots that last saw the unfrozen earth in October? Of last year? Maybe, just this one time, an exception should be made and a tidy, brief pity party would be acceptable. I have just the elixir.
Prior to November, what I knew of stuffed cabbage rolls were limited to the Jewish/Eastern European variety, which I make the way my mother-in-law does. I hadn’t given it further thought because as far as I was concerned, it was never broken, and needed little improvement, and when there’s little room for me to tinker in the kitchen, I quickly lose interest. But if I had, it might have occurred to me that cabbage, being one of the ultimate peasant foods, has probably been wrapped around meat that’s been ground and then stretched (always budget-minded, those peasants) with other ingredients and cooked in a sauce in a zillion different ways over the centuries. And oh, the fun we might have been having this whole time.
If you have a thing for chocolate, the world is your oyster. On this very site, 86 of the just over 800 recipes boast a significant chocolate component and entire sections of bookstores will be happy to fill in any cravings I missed. If you have a thing for bacon, the internet would be overjoyed to find you places to put it, zillions, even, although I’d proceed with caution before auditioning a couple. But if you have a thing for something slightly less of a prom king/queen ingredient, say, tiny white beans, well, it can be tough. It’s not there are no uses for them, it’s just that when you’re very much in love, there are never enough ways to be together. And if you’re me — someone who sometimes ups and makes a mega-pot of white beans just because you feel like it, presuming you’ll find things to do with them later — you sometimes end up scrambling, yanking down nearly every cookbook in your collection but still coming up bereft of uses outside the well-trodden soup-and-salad territory.
Every year around this time — well into the winter season, but long after we found it charmingly brisk, as it is when you do googly-eyed things like ice skating around a sparkling tree at the holidays — we get some sort of brittle cold snap in the weather that catches me by surprise. Even though we live in New York, a place where a cold snap or two a January is as predictable as being hosed by some unspeakably awful puddle of street juice slush by a car spinning through an intersection; even though I’ve lived in this exact climate for every one of my thirty-I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-it years; and even though I have the audacity to look forward to winter every sticky concrete-steaming summer, when I walk outside on that first 20-degree day and the wind gusts into my face and renders it hard to exhale, the very first thing I do is audibly holler in rage and disbelief, “WHAT THE WHAT?” I am nothing — as we joke when my sweet little son tries to clomp down the hallway in his dad’s massive boots and immediately falls on his tush — if not Harvard Material.
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.
There are about as many recipes for chicken noodle soup as there are people who enjoy it, which is everyone. Well, everyone but me. I understand that announcing that one does not like chicken noodle soup is tantamount to saying that one dislikes comfort, thick sweaters on brisk fall days, well-padded shoes for long walks and sips of tea from a steamy mug. I get this. But in my defense, I am not the one who broke it.