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:
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.)
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.