Cooking became easier when…I asked my husband to fill in the blank. ‘When I started to read recipes,’ was his answer. Figures. Exactly opposite to my own answer, ‘when I stopped reading recipes.’
A marriage of opposites, attraction of polarities, is such a cliché, but stereotypes and truisms come from something. My husband and I are definitely such a pair—almost like a children’s book. He’s tall, I am short; he has blue eyes, I have brown eyes; he has white skin, I have brown skin; he has curly hair, I have straight hair; he’s neat, I’m messy; he’s shy, I’m outgoing; he’s quiet, I’m loud. Our path to a common kitchen was one of convergence from vastly different places.
When I was first interested in cooking in middle school, our local PBS channel was auctioning off cookbooks from the local bookstore. The auctioneer was one of those types—neat short hair with carefully placed blond highlights, brightly flowered pants, and scarf knotted purposefully around her neck. She spoke in slow, unpunctuated, short sentences. You need these books, she told us. These are the cookbooks, she explained. As I lay on my mom’s bed, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer tucked under my elbow, I felt a little giddy. I would love to have the cookbooks of the year. In my mind, I was already flipping through the books, planning out my summer entertaining plans. Never mind that I was in sixth grade and I didn’t really have the wherewithal to host a summer garden party.
Time was ticking at the auction in a quiet, calm PBS sort of way. Running down to my mother, I hatched a plan. This was a win-win for her. She needed the tax break. Who doesn’t? And, I would be able to learn to cook for her to relieve her of some of the load at home.
My pleading must have worked; I still have most of those books. I also have the sense-memory of the giddiness I felt when the box arrived at my house. I spent many after-school days eating cereal and reading the books, marking up the recipes with ripped pieces of paper—kitchen napkins, notes from classes, paper previously used to practice my autograph. I loved those recipes. They were a promise. Soon I learned promises could be broken. The first recipe I tried was a raspberry barbeque sauce. The blend of costly fruit and molasses was surprisingly and completely flavorless. This failure was followed by a particularly sad primavera. I had been prompted to preboil the vegetables (rather than blanch them.) I was told to drizzle olive oil over the resulting soggy mass. The dish looked like fall leaves and twigs stuck in a mass of oily grey hair. And, it sorted of tasted like old lady too.
This however was the beginning of a fabulously fruitful revelation that recipes are a suggestion to be thrown away at a whim and a fiction to be enjoyed for what they are. I started to just cook by feel and smell. I grew to learn when ‘brown slightly’ should be substituted with ‘roast until crispy golden’ and ‘sautee’ could be substituted for ‘serve raw.’ And, when pasta primavera could be delicious. But first, we need to pick up on my partner in crime.
In his childhood, my husband was not camped out indoors watching television. His rural Connecticut life was the stuff of Norman Rockwell. He was wrestling copperheads, jumping fences and basically being Tom Sawyer. At sunset, his mother would open the door to beseech her children to return for dinner. The evening meal was one of order, linens, manners and routine. Ham and potatoes were passed around with Dad served first.
College was a time of food explorations for J. He broke free from dinner brought to you by onion soup mix and Campbell’s. He began cooking from feel, hoping to channel his Nonna. Early cooking experiments certainly moved his audiences. Hearing J in the kitchen would call his roommates to action closing their bedroom doors in fear. His cooking was cacophony rendered in food. Rather than my overcooked, uniformly yuck pasta primavera, his version was disturbing for its heterogeneity—undercooked asparagus, overcooked beans, burned anchovies. I don’t know if it was a slow realization or a flash of lightening, but somehow, J came to think a recipe was the way to go. For him cooking was nuture, and being taught to cook from recipes, rather than nature, and having Italian genes.
At this point in the story, my husband andI met each other. There were those coffee dates where we talked about making our own pasta, traditional paella, the perfect tiramisu, handcrafted sushi. Then there were dates spent in the kitchen. When J would say, ‘the recipe says add the spices now’, I would scoff. When I would say, just add all the vegetables now, J would say, ‘no the recipe doesn’t say that’. There were tiffs and sighs. There was teasing and laughter. And then there is now…
I started this pasta dough when my husband was in his study. He walked into the kitchen to find me elbows high in shifted flours. I mean, there was corn flour dripping down the kitchen cabinets. He didn’t yell, he didn't wince, and he didn’t ask me what the recipe was (he knew there wasn’t one). Instead, he came over to watch, and then help knead. We talked dough for a minute—too soft, underworked, so smooth. The next evening, we saddled up to the kitchen table to roll out the threads, joined in our cooking by Belle. There we sat, Tiger in her chair, Belle, J and I in happy action, chitty chatting, giggling and making our dinner together by hand.
A decade in our joint cooking life, I wouldn’t say that J is steadfast to a recipe and I would guess that I give recipes a little more credence now. Ours is now a blended cooking life that grew over time. In marriage, though, it’s the common ground that holds you together. These are often the unspoken, expected, unquantifiable truths of your life—so normal that they are givens. For us, it’s the making, the doing, the living in art and food. We just do. They are part of the life of our joint kitchen.
Our Pasta Primavera
Make the corn pasta.
Combine 2 cups white whole wheat flour with 1 cup corn flour and sift onto the counter.
Add 1 tsp yeast.
Make a well and put in 6 egg yolks, some drops of oil and some drops of water. Break the yolks with your finger, and the start pushing in the flour until you get a stiff dough. Knead until you feel like you can’t anymore. Then knead more.
Rest for 2 hrs. It won’t rise extremely. Accept that.
Break off acorn sized balls. Roll them into snakes on the table like you are starting a coil built pot in summer camp.
Pinch the snakes into three inch pieces.
Boil corn cobs in salted water. Add pasta. Cook the past 2 minutes past when the raise to the surface. Add beans and cook until very al dente.
Sautee garlic, onions, mushrooms, pumpkin seeds. Add this to the cooked pasta, de-cobbed corn and beans. Then finish with 1 T yogurt and a large handful of basil and a few more sliced uncooked mushrooms. Salt it all.
I wrote this as part of Gluten Free Girl's writing prompt monday. I am also submitting this to yeastspotting from Wild Yeast.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Labels: Vegetarian recipe