Friday, January 11, 2008

Sunshine, One Way or Another

It has been gray here lately. I know, I know, everyone outside of the Pacific NW appears to be under the impression that it rains all the time in Seattle. And in November and December, blech. More often than not, we’re under a deep, dark blanket of clouds. Often, though, by January, things have improved. And I shouldn’t complain (too much. Leaving hockey practice Wednesday night in a 38 degree downpour certainly didn't quash my admittedly well-developed impulse to complain). There have been cloud-breaks that caused real (actual! bona-fide!) shadows for a few minutes today. And at least the clouds aren't low and thick today, creating gloom even at noon. However, a nice expanse of blue sky, instead of just a sucker’s patch, would be really nice.*
I looked over what we’ve eaten in the last few days, and realized that I am desperate for sunshine. It’s been a rare dinner lately that citrus (which, for me, and many others, has a bright sunshine flavor and scent) hasn’t wormed its way in, even when not actually in the recipe. I made a simple spaghetti sauce from Patricia Wells's Vegetable Harvest. The sauce was a nice cross (without trying too hard to be) between a pesto and a tapenade, with mint, garlic, parmesan and green olives. For some reason, despite reading the recipe, I was convinced there was lemon in it. Making the grocery list, I looked over the ingredient list and thought “well, we have some lemons to use, so I don’t need to buy them.” Reading the recipe as I started cooking (“cooking,” really. It’s a raw sauce), I thought that it was a bit odd that she didn’t mention what to do with the lemon. Finally, I realized that Ms. Wells was not being stubbornly coy; lemon not part of the recipe. I looked at the recipe, and at my lemons, and finally decided to taste it without lemon. My husband and I tasted it, and it was pretty nice without it.

But it was better with it.
Last night, we had potato-chorizo tacos with an avocado salsa. I am a very rut-bound person, quite often, and one of the things I love about cookbooks and other people’s food blogs is how it helps me move, even just a little, out of my well-worn rut. I have to admit, seeing Mr. Bayless’s super-white face on the cover of his books made me pretty skeptical, at first. Could the guy look less Mexican? And here I am, Mexican-American, checking with A White Guy on how to make Mexican food? Then I realized I was being ridiculous, on a number of fronts. I grew up in the burbs, and while I do remember the deliciousness (mmmm) of my grandmother’s burritos, and my dad makes huevos rancheros that for me and my sibs are pretty much the Platonic Ideal of huevos rancheros, I don’t really know much about Mexican cuisine. And Mr. Bayless is, quite happily (I mean this as a compliment), a complete nerd about it. Also, insisting that being a native makes someone more credible is absurd. So, I got over myself, and it’s been to my benefit. Because I’d always thought about potato-chorizo as a quesadilla filling, and I’d never really even considered making an avocado salsa. And although one of my beefs with the cookbook (this would be Mexico One Plate at a Time) is that he perhaps spends a little too much time nerding out discussing the food, it’s a nice highlights tour. I haven’t made a bad recipe from it yet.

And this brings me to a question (which, per usual, I might take a bit to ask). I realized, as I paged through both Vegetable Harvest and Mexico One Plate at a Time (colon after Mexico or not? I can never decide, and the formatting of the cover implies but doesn’t include one. I know, pressing questions! We’ll discuss dangling participles and misuse of gerunds another time), that I’m closing in on 10 recipes from both cookbooks. With Bayless’s cookbook, it’s been enough for me to decide that the book is a really enjoyable book, one I intend to keep. I diverge from his recipes with regularity, sometimes because I have a dim taste memory float up from my youth, and sometimes just because I do things differently. But with Wells’s book, I feel as if I’m just getting to know it. Which leads me to realize that hard and fast numbers might not work in assessing a cookbook. What do you think? How much cooking from a cookbook do you think it takes to really get acquainted?
*I have gotten a funny (and, hmm, that would be funny like crazy rather than humorously funny)form of sunshine lately. I realized, a couple of days ago, that I haven't been called a no-good whore (at least, not loudly enough for me to hear it) for months. It's been lovely. Uplifting, even.


cook eat FRET said...

is that 'no good whore' thing from your neighbor?

what is up with that???

Meg said...

I have (had, although she may yet return) an elderly neighbor with looooong-standing, severe mental illness issues. She mostly targets women near her, and tends to fixate on what she percieves as sexual trespasses. She also has a... thing for smearing and/or throwing excrement. Things came to a bit of a head this summer when I finally filed for a restraining order. When she was served with it, she trespassed and then attacked me which led to her arrest and commitment. We'll see what eventually happens. It's sad, disturbing, frustrating and funny (in a pitch black sort of way). But mostly sad.