5.20.2011

Back in the saddle

I’d like to tell you that I’ve been breaking in our new kitchen over this last month, but more accurately, it’s been breaking me in. Our refrigerator door, for one, is clearly out to get me. I’ll think that I’ve pushed it shut and turn my back, only to hear a faint rattle of jars and feel it thwack against my shoulder blades. Eli says the floor is slanted. That, or it’s personal. Also, I broke a plate. I’ve never done that before. I simply deposited it into the sink, and not with any particular enthusiasm or great show of force. I just put it down. One second, I had a plate in my hand; the next, I had only half of it.

As for the cooking, it’s been, well, erratic. I feel as if I’m training a wild horse. Just when I think I’m securely in the saddle – I did okay with those potatoes – I’m unseated by a spectacularly ho-hum coconut chiffon cake. Or worse. A few weeks back, I unpacked an old spatula that I should have tossed out a long time ago and proceeded to stir a pot of soup with it. A pot of beautiful, almost-done, intended-for-guests-that-night soup. The spatula melted. I poured out the soup. Then, later that day, back in the saddle. A triumph in trifle! A masterpiece in macaroons! Proof positive:



Giddy-up!

I forgot to snap a shot of the trifle, which really is too bad. It was so pretty. Also not pictured, though not at all too bad: an herbed loaf of bread that lived out its final days on our counter, struck down by the overdose of thyme that I inflicted upon it; a pasta salad so inexplicably, irreversibly bland that I nearly fell asleep eating it; and a batch of ricotta, strained with a new (and never again) brand of cheesecloth that frayed and sloughed off tiny bits of string, like dandruff, into the curds.

It’s been a rough ride. The dust is settling, though, and the kitchen – the whole apartment, really – is feeling tamer, like it’s ours. Slowly but surely, we’re starting to get our first whiffs of normal life here in this new place, and all I can say is breathe it in, people! It sure beats paint fumes. With this normal life has come normal lunch, the surest sign that our new home is, in fact, home. Normal lunch is what happens when I’m doing my normal thing: working like a normal person at my normal desk. It commences every afternoon with a faint tickle of hunger that scoops me up, drops me on my feet, and points me toward the kitchen. Normal lunch is almost always unscripted. I’ll bump around without a recipe or a plan, stick my head into the fridge, and scan the shelves until my eyes land on, say, a wedge of Parmesan. I’ll slice off a bite, close the refrigerator door (all the way!), and pass the time it takes to chew and swallow by considering what I might want to eat “for real,” that is, for lunch. Before long, it will hit me that the very cheese in my mouth surely fits the bill, that if this cheese isn’t “real,” then I don’t know what is, and standing there with one hand still pressed against the closed refrigerator door (one can never be too careful), I’ll think about the fact that Parmesan doesn’t get much billing as a by-the-hunk kind of cheese.

I seem to have slid into the future tense a few sentences back, which may have led you to believe that I’m talking about some hypothetical normal lunch, a potential normal lunch that hasn’t yet occurred. But it has. It did, just a couple of weeks ago. I stood there by the fridge and wondered why we, all of us, do not engage more often in high volume Parmesan consumption. Why a stolen bite of Parmesan from the fridge feels, in some small way, transgressive. Why we so rarely find ourselves with a wedge of Parmesan in one hand without a grater in the other. These are the things I think about on my lunch break. So much for normal.



For the record, I couldn’t come up with a single answer to these questions. (Can you?) On the other hand, the distinct pleasures of biting into a hunk of Parmesan are many. Parmesan cheese has texture, a lovely, nubby texture; it cracks and crumbles as you chew, which is fun, and has an out-loud flavor just itching to be heard in full voice – all features that are muted or lost when we grate it to smithereens. So. I hereby propose a campaign: PARMESAN BY THE HUNK! Who’s with me? The salad that I composed that day for lunch – strawberries, avocado, and Parmesan drizzled with balsamic vinegar and oil – is the perfect kickoff. The cheese in this salad is, admittedly, more ribbon than hunk, but that’s okay. It’s a start. If you wield your vegetable peeler with feeling, digging deeply into the wedge with each stroke, you’ll get ribbons that are more hunky than frilly, in any case. That’s what I do. Or, forget the peeler and use a sharp knife, instead. Either way, you’ll have a bang-up lunch.

EMBRACE THE HUNK! (Oooo, normal lunch just got interesting.)

Enjoy.

Strawberry and Avocado Salad with Shaved Parmesan

5-6 strawberries, washed, dried, hulled, and quartered
½ an avocado, diced
Several generous shavings (or slices, or hunks) of Parmesan
1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Arrange the quartered strawberries and diced avocado on a plate. Drizzle with the oil and vinegar, top with a grind or two of black pepper, and crown with the Parmesan shavings.

Serves 1.

14 comments:

Sophie said...

There is this little wine bar near where I live in Sydney, for dessert they serve a pear poached in spices next to a little pile of Parmesan hunks, it's WONDERFUL. Parmesan by the handful is the best.

linda said...

what you have going is a "new" normal…embrace it…this could work out just fine & be positive force in your life…i am living with a "new" normal & sometimes it is frightening, @ times rewarding & for myself...i try to go forward & not get "stuck" in the past….i hope this does not sound like a rant…it is not…rather just a virtual friend telling you to "go with it" & enjoy the ride…do not stress yourself out…in the long run…the sun will shine & shed warm & welcoming rays…
oh…btw: this salad sounds awesome!! :)

Tracy said...

I get all happy when I read your posts. Smiling right now. Need to go vacuum my car I feel so good :)

Molly said...

Don't know if I should be admitting this, but I am a cheese-hunk-gnawer when I mill about in the kitchen. (I have a slight addiction to popping pepperocini as I contemplate dinner, too.) My latest is a Dutch goat, replete with those tasty crystals. I had to do a little trimming this week because my husband is less than pleased when he opens up the cheese drawer and finds bite marks on the dairy products.

Rosiecat said...

I'm with you, Jess: shaved Parmesan is so much more satisfying and interesting than grated Parmesan. More texture, more flavor. Though melted grated Parmesan is in a category all its own...

Here's hoping you continue to tame that wild kitchen of yours! xo

Michele | Cooking At Home said...

I, for one, am so happy that you are back in the saddle.

Jess said...

Sophie! That sounds perfect. I just finished dinner, and the dessert you describe is precisely what I would like to eat right now. I'm going to have to steal that idea for my own kitchen table. (Thank you!)

Hi, Linda. We certainly are enjoying the ride! I hope everything's okay in your neck of the woods.

Awww, Tracy, you just made my day -- and made me laugh out loud. To inspire a good car cleaning, of all things! I didn't know I had it in me.

Oooo, Molly, you are naughty! I love it. I have also been known to nibble the last bits of cheese from the rind, but lately I've been disciplining myself to save those rinds for soups. It's a tough life.

You are a woman of impeccable taste, Rosiecat. Of course, I expect nothing less from you, my dear.

Thanks, Michele. Me too!

Julie K. said...

Parmesan with avocado is the most perfect combination of tastes ever. Thanks for the tip. But what is interesting is that from my experience, this cheese is something you either completely love or hate, there is nothing in between. I'm glad I belong to the first group.

A Plum By Any Other Name said...

I had a hunk of parmesan (okay, Parmigiano Reggiano) in Italy with a little swig of sparkling wine and it was transformative. The salty bits and the little bubbles were really something special when paired together. So happy to see your post!

Jess said...

Hi, Julie. I didn't realize that Parmesan is one of those divisive, love-it-or-hate-its. What's not to love? Then again, I feel that way about cilantro, Brussels sprouts, and beets, too, and I know plenty of fine folks who feel quite passionately otherwise...

Ah, A Plum By Any Other Name, thank you for transporting me from chilly, grey Boston for just a moment tonight. That sounds like perfection.

Andrea [bella eats] said...

Love love love the idea of this salad. And I just so happen to have a bowl full of freshly picked strawberries, straight from my garden, sitting on my counter. And avocados. And parmesan, which I must say is BEST eaten by the hunk or the thick curl. This salad is brilliant, by friend. Brilliant.

Martha said...

So happy to see you back to writing again. Yours is one of the blogs that I check every day. To my guests I serve a hunk of Parmesan with truffle honey. A very good combination. Will be trying to cornbread this weekend.

Jess said...

Strawberries from your garden, Andrea? How great! We haven't yet hit strawberry season full stride here (just another couple of weeks, I think!), so we've been subsisting on berries from farther afield. They're tasty enough, but what I wouldn't give for my very own strawberry patch...

Hi, Martha. Your note made my day. Thank you! Parmesan with truffle honey? You know how to do things up right! I'm so happy that you'll be trying the corn bread this weekend. I'll be making it again, too, for some friends from out of town. It really is a special recipe. If you think of it, do let me know what you think. I'd love to hear.

Julia Bake said...

I love this recipe! Can't wait to prepare it myself for a romantic evening with my sweet heart. Thanks!