I know you all think I must be immune to this, but I go through phases of Down With Cooking all of the time. Sometimes, I’m just extra tired. Sometimes, the food outside the apartment is way more tempting, as it has been since we’ve moved into a new neighborhood full of intriguing sandwiches, hummus joints and more new flavors than I could pack into a year. Other times, I lack inspiration, or worse, an appetite as I did through that needling first trimester. I have cold cereal for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly for lunch. I fib my way through it on this site, plugging in recipes I have backlogged and sticking to simple things like snacks of pickled grapes in hopes that if I do not force it, it will come naturally back to me. I fear cooking becoming a chore, though I know even this worry is a luxury exclusive to people who share blocks with six eateries.
Four days after we moved apartments and kitchens, we took off for four days in the country. I didn’t unpack the kitchen before we left and I didn’t unpack it when we got back. We were at a standstill, this newer smaller kitchen of mine. Nothing fits in it, including the fridge (though it’s in there anyway, ugh, I’ll discuss that mess when I’m able to without grinding my teeth). The dishwasher we’d swooned and were sold over was broken, we needed to buy a cabinet for the living room before we could even unpack our dishes, the sink was borked, the wall had no room for our pot rack and we accidentally forgot to unpack the entire bin of perishables (mayos, jams, boullons, mustards, yeasts, cheese, butter, shudder) finding the box 10 days later (post-heat wave with no air conditioning yet, to boot) suitable for nothing but the trash bin. It was not looking very promising.
My only hope was that one day I’d get hungry, hungry enough that I’d go back to my old self who never cared how little space I had, just that I got to make the food I wanted to in it. My strain of madness has gotten me through a wedding cake and a zillion projects better suited for kitchens with more than two square feet of counter space so I trusted it would not stay dormant forever. [I also trusted that it would not take three weeks to rouse from it slumber, but hey, I can’t be right all of the time.]
Well, it has finally happened, and not a second too soon. Oh, the kitchen’s not unpacked, far from it. But a bare minimum of pots and pans are, the dishes cabinet arrives Tuesday, the sink no longer sprays water to the ceiling, the dishwasher does it’s dishwashing thing, we’ve started buying bits and pieces of groceries again and, oh, this: The girl who thought she could never love a kitchen without a skylight on top has discovered that she’s actually totally smitten with the delicate, angled light that filters in from the kitchen window.
And I know we should get started with something more exciting than salad — yawn, Deb, really! — but sometimes it’s these basic things you miss the most when you let everyone else cook for you. I saw a variation of this a while back in Gourmet and was completely stuck on the pairing, which with it’s fennel seeds and bitter endive and celery probably couldn’t be filled with less popular ingredients if it had tried. But that’s what cooking at home is all about, getting to eat the food you’re excited about, even if it will never win a placement on a coveted menu and I, for one, am quite pleased to be back to it.
Endive and Celery Salad with Toasted Fennel Seed Vinaigrette
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
Despite my drive to make this, the grocery forces were not with me. The (awful) (yes I know I should be more poetic about it but it really is awful) Whole Foods I was auditioning in Union Square didn’t have Belgian endive (which is so gorgeous if you can find it) or frisee, and the paltry bundle of celery I got didn’t slice up to make half the amount the recipe suggested three stalks would. Fortunately, salads are infinitely flexibile and not requiring any kind of religious devotion to their ingredient lists and quantities, so have fun with this. Make it yours.
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, toasted
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons finely chopped shallot (1 large)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 pound frisée (French curly endive), torn into bite-size pieces (10 cups) [we swapped butter lettuce]
3 Belgian endives, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide slices [we swapped regular green endives]
1 bunch of celery ribs, thinly sliced crosswise (1 to 2 cups, depending on the size of your bundle)
In addition: Either an electric coffee/spice grinder or exceptional skill crushing spices in a mortar and pestle
Grind fennel seeds in grinder until ground but not powdery. Transfer to a small bowl or cup, then stir in oil until combined. Let stand 15 minutes.
Whisk together lemon juice, shallot, salt, and sugar in another small bowl or cup until salt and sugar are dissolved. Stir fennel oil, then add to shallot mixture in a slow stream, whisking until combined.
Toss lettuces and celery in a large bowl with just enough vinaigrette to coat. Season with black pepper to taste.
Pairing: I think this salad would be fantastic with maybe some shards of your favorite hard cheese and a poached egg on top, should those of you out there not be at a point in your lives when runny yolks are verboten. (Sniffle.)