Simmering discontent: a remedy
The storms are pounding us, the government is falling apart, and I am ... learning how to cook again.
It seemed like as good an idea as any this week, after being battered around by our ongoing governance crisis, the pouring rain, the meltdowns on BART and Muni. Realizing my most reasonable response to the madness outside was to stay inside for a few days, I went into my kitchen, where I confronted the fact that I’d fallen into a deep cooking rut.
It happens to all of us, doesn’t it? You get distracted by life, and then you look up and realize you’ve been cooking the same three things for a few weeks or a few years.
In my case, even though I love food and enjoy cooking,
I’ve spent the past couple of years working on long-term writing projects, chasing after cultural events to feed my column readers, and being a good employee/friend/lover/ daughter/sister/community member. These have been the right priorities, but one of the results has been a diet primarily of avocado toast and scrambled eggs. That would not be enough while the windowpanes rattled outside and the forces of darkness gathered in Washington.
I looked at my shelf of cookbooks, blew off the dust, and started sending messages to friends in the food industry. “Found any good recipes lately?” I asked.
Their responses were the first sign of how far out of the loop I had fallen. No one had a suggestion that could be found in a cookbook. There were suggestions for a Brussels sprout salad on Smitten Kitchen, chicken recipes from Chocolate and Zucchini, fish recipes from Goop (“Don’t tell anyone I read Gwyneth Paltrow’s website, but the recipes are good,” was my associate’s addendum text for that one).
While I appreciated the guidance, I felt like a kitchen novice again. Who in the world cooks from website recipes? My cookbook pages are splattered and the spines are leavened with flour, because I bring them into the kitchen. Am I now expected to make a pasta sauce with my computer screen blinking nearby?
The other possibility, printing the recipes out, seemed at least as ridiculous. Who owns a printer these days?
So I shelved that idea for the time being and pledged to brave the rain for the farmers’ market the next day. I’ll be a good student of the Bay Area’s cooking traditions, I thought — looking for inspiration from ingredients in season.
Well, friends, I guess it had been a while since I’d gone to the farmers’ market, too.
Back in my antediluvian cooking days, I’d go to the Civic Center farmers’ market. Prices were cheap, and the produce was plentiful and excellent.
But times have changed, and so has this market.
In what must be an effort to attract the tech workers who now pack the Mid-Market corridor and haven’t cooked a day in their lives, the Civic Center farmers’ market is now full of food trucks, merchants hawking prepared foods, piped-in music, deck chairs, etc. I walked through and looked for my favorite farmers’ stands in vain.
“What’s happened here?” I asked myself. “If I wanted a farmers’ market with no farmers, I’d go to the Ferry Building.”
It was raining, and not all of the farmers come to the market during the winter. So I decided, mostly for the sake of my own comfort, to chalk up their absence to these factors. (If I return in the spring and find only two produce stands selling tomatoes for $8 each, then you’ll be hearing a different tune.)
As I fled, I glanced at the food merchants to get an idea of what people who have been paying more attention to food than I have were eating now. It seems that Paleo, which I’d dismissed as a trend for macho guys who didn’t want to admit to following the Atkins diet, is now a full-fledged movement, and people think that kimchi, an ingredient I love in Korean food, is the latest victim of our continued experiments with fusion food.
I pulled out my phone and sent a message to a friend — one who is not in the food industry, but who does love to cook.
“I can’t take it,” I told her. “I need to cook something easy and comforting.”
She made the best suggestion I’d heard all week. Check some Ina Garten cookbooks out of the public library, she said.
I turned right around, marched into the Main Library just off Market Street, and hunted down two of her books on the shelf. I knew nothing about Ina Garten’s recipes and would have, a few years ago, dismissed them as being too basic.
But that night, as the storm howled yet again, as I looked in my cabinets to see if I had the ingredients for simple recipes like lentil soup and lemon chicken, I felt the buzz of that fleeting emotion: delight. All I needed to get out of my rut, I realized, was to remove the pressure. What could be more simple than that?
Who in the world cooks from website recipes? Am I now expected to make a pasta sauce with my computer screen blinking nearby?