I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mojo.
Cookingwise, that is.
Wild stinging nettles picked by my friend KG for a delicious pasta. She recommends gloves.
(All pix in this post will, of necessity, be of other people's food.)
I dont know how it happened but it's no longer possible to ignore. It started, I think, this past spring with the Great Coffee Collapse of 2011
, where I realized that I had completely lost the ability to make a decent cup of joe. I tried everything. Different makers (drip and french), different brands, even the $16 Illy Coffee our cousin J swears you can't ruin. I consulted experts and applied all techniques faithfully. I poured the hot water in a circular motion. I waited for the "bloom". I timed everything to the minute. I measured. Blech. Dark, bitter, weirdly consistent sludge. In the end, I threw out my press in despair and have been shamefacedly stockpiling Via Instant Coffee packets from Starbucks. At the moment I see no end in sight.
Flooding in NJ, post-Irene. ie, An actual disaster, just so we can all keep perspective here.
That was just the beginning. The downward spiral has involved ordering in, storebought sandwiches, pre-grilled chicken breasts, 'heat and serve' london broil in a packet (yech-who am I??), and indian masala "simmer sauce" in a jar. A simple beans-and-rice dish? Ruined by failing to, oh, COOK the beans after soaking and before "simmer sauce". (Crunchy lentils anyone? I have two containers full.) A beautiful blueberry/spinach salad? Ruined as I artfully dumped in kalamata olives' marinade before remembering about the blueberries. Even my tried and true, go-to stuff is failing me. Muffins? Come on! My bread and butter (and sugar and chocolate chips)? The foolproof, perfect recipe of summers past? Black bottoms. Failure to fluff. Whole batches left out overnight to become gummy and stale.
Pizza made (for me!) by a guy who makes pizza, dough and all. Mushrooms and red onion.
Cracked egg and truffle oil to finish. Yes.
It's gotten to the point where even the idea of chocolate chip cookies fills me with fear. I'm eating buttered saltines, brown rice cakes with peanut butter, carrots with hummus, raw kale, fake parmesan straight from the can (the can!), anything I dont have to prepare or think about. It's not good.
Still Life with His and Her whiskey bottles: possibly part of the problem.
Whatever. It was a gift. Also, I admit nothing.
The worst part, though, is the total lack of ideas. I think to myself, come on, Boo, now's the time. You're between gigs. Let's make ...
I have Food Block.
Time to bring in Julia Cameron.
You might recall this exercise from the Creativity tome The Artists' Way. I use it all the time for, you know, Art, and I see no reason why it can't get me (literally) cookin' again. I give you:
Blasting Through (Food)Blocks
The Boo, via Julia Cameron (author, The Artists' Way)
1. Write down any and all FEARS you have associated with the project.
OK. I'm afraid I never really was good at cooking anyway, just eating. I'm afraid that my new gentleman friend is a better cook than me. Ok, he is, and I'm afraid when he finds out he will leave me for a saucier. (A saucier what? Haha, ok focus.) I've been losing my balance a lot as well as my ability to balance flavors, and what if it's an inner ear thing. I haven't worked since early July and I'm afraid that I'll never get another acting job.
2. Write down any and all ANGER, or resentment, you have associated with the project.
I'm angry that I totally wasted a stick of butter on that batch of muffins. I resent that bag of beans for not having more explicit instructions on it. I'm mad at that agency for rejecting me after I totally thought they would sign.
3. Is that it? Write down anything you haven't said.
I think that's it.
Oh, also there was that giant roach. I'm afraid of attracting another one to the kitchen.
Let's not even get into the THREE FOOT RATS in Brooklyn.
4. Make your deal. 'OK, Creative Force, I'll take care of the QUANTITY of this endeavor. You take care of its QUALITY." Date and sign it.
So I'm getting back in with my most go-to recipe of all which I can't believe I haven't posted yet ever. Make this before summer is completely gone. (I often halve the recipe).
Chase's Tian of Just Picked Vegetables
3 medium zucchini, sliced ¼-inch thick
3 medium summer squash, sliced
1 large eggplant, sliced ¼-inch thick
5 ripe medium tomatoes, sliced
¾ cup olive oil
2 large yellow onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
Topping: 1 bunch fresh parsley, minced, chopped zest of 1 lemon, 1 C grated Parmesan
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the zucchini and summer squash in a bowl, sprinkle lightly with salt, and toss to combine. Let stand 1 hour. Repeat the process with the eggplant and tomatoes in separate bowls. Meanwhile, heat ¼ cup of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.
Stir in the garlic, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes longer. Remove the onion mixture from the heat. Stir in the breadcrumbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle half the mixture over the bottom of a 12-inch round or oval grain dish. Drain the zucchini and summer squash and pat dry with paper towels. Repeat with the eggplant and tomatoes. Alternately layer the vegetables over the bread mixture in the dish. Sprinkle each layer with salt and pepper and drizzle with the remaining oil. Top with the remaining bread mixture. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Combine the parsley, lemon zest and Parmesan cheese. Remove the foil from the dish and sprinkle the parsley mixture evenly over the top. Bake uncovered until the top is nicely browned and the vegetables are tender, 20-25 minutes.
Let stand several minutes, and then serve. Serves 8-10.