Monthly Archive for March 2010
Lately, I’ve been flipping through the pages of The Craft of Baking before bed. This exercise is every bit as dangerous as it sounds: dinner has been eaten, the dishes have been washed, and there I am, in the glow of the nightstand lamp, hungry. As I turn the pages, I mention the most enticing recipes to Kevin, who typically murmurs his approval without looking up from his (much more suitable) bedtime reading. But when I mentioned a recipe for doughnuts the other night, he all but threw off the covers and sprinted into the kitchen. He was all in for the doughnuts.
This is the story of how those doughnuts came to be, told by both of us.
All winter long, a bowl of clementines sat on the console table just inside of our front door. Perched on the table’s corner, the bowl would be piled high with the little orange globes on Sunday, after we’d grocery shopped, and depleted throughout the week. It was a stab of color during drab, short winter days—a sunshine substitute, of sorts. It had become such a trusty fixture that I had taken to remarking that I would miss it when winter ended. Those clementines and the grapefruits I supreme for breakfast were pretty much the only aspect of winter that I would miss.
And then spring rolled in, too early, I knew. It was, as a friend recently dubbed it, Fake Spring, but it offered abundant blue skies and couteracted the snowdrifts nonetheless. We fell for it, just like we do every year—stashing winter coats in storage, buying daffodils by the dozen. Eventually, we knew, the jig would be up. Still, I indulged in Fake Spring with abandon: sockless feet, a scarf-free neck, talk of the season’s inaugural dinner on the grill.
It just sounds good, doesn’t it? It whips up visions of a tuxedo-ed bartender planted behind rows of bottles and glasses at a Gatsby-esque bash in a lush green backyard, or of sturdy tumblers filled with lime-pierced spirits sipped on a dock in northern Minnesota, or of crisp white wine poured on our deck as the sun begins to sink, or of bottles of beers cracked open at the beach, sand stuck to your toes.
I started to love grocery shopping at a young age. Too young an age, perhaps, but I was always doing that—wearing shoulder-padded blazers in the fifth grade, lining up an after-school job at a law firm at the tender age of 15, offering to balance my mom’s checkbook and requesting my own savings account well before I could drive. (If you think I sound like the female version of young Alex P. Keaton, you’re not the first to do so. For the record, though, I opted for backpacks over briefcases and, even back then, I surely was not a Reaganite.)
But back to my premature love affair with grocery shopping. I think it most likely began with the candy display stationed in the check-out aisles of most stores. If running errands with my mother involved a pack of gum or a bag of Skittles, I was so in. (Similarly, I could not resist the siren song of the drive-through teller tubes at the bank; again, so in.) That can’t be the only explanation, though, because as I grew up, the allure of sugar-free gum waned and, even still, I loved those grocery store trips. Maybe it was because I faded in and out of picky-eating stages and my physical presence in the store ensured that I would have some measure of control over what did (or didn’t) go into the cart. Or, perhaps it was the lists. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I have an unhealthy love for lists—for making them and, especially, for methodically working my through them, crossing out items one-by-one, with a swift swipe of the pen. And grocery lists are a particularly wonderful type of list—organized to track the organization of the store (please tell me I’m not the only one who does this), items checked off as quickly as I can pull them from the shelves.
The Internet is a funny place, especially the cranny of it into which the food-related sliver is wedged. That sliver is a small, small world. Take last Sunday, for example.
As far as weekends go, it was a swell one, and it was drawing to a peaceful close. There had been a little rain and too much work, but there was also a lovely dinner at home, an even better dinner out, a warm-ish jog, a sun-bathed omelet on Sunday morning, a million errands accomplished and … well, you get the picture.
A steady rotation of meals made up the dinner menus of my youth. My mother would try out a new recipe every now and again, but, on most nights, we returned faithfully to the old standby’s. Thinking about these meals conjures up in my mind’s eye a particular night or nights sitting around the dining table with my family. They’re time-and-place meals: hamburgers in the summer, eaten on the deck or at the dining table with the screen door allowing a cool breeze in; stir fry, a strictly-weekends-only meal that required my mom to pull out the big, well-worn wok, in which she would first fry wontons and then set vegetables sizzling; chili, usually eaten on fall evenings, with a pot big enough to signal leftovers in the coming evenings; BLT’s, served build-your-own and involving a painful wait for your turn at the toaster; my lesser favorites, like tater tot hot dish, sloppy joes, meatloaf.
It was taco night, though, that suited me to a tee. For one, there was order, something that pleased me even at a very young age. My mother would line up a long row of white cereal bowls on the counter, one for the shredded iceberg, one for finely-diced onion, one for cubed tomato, one for the shredded cheddar. And about the cheddar: that was another thing I liked. The task of grating the big orange brick of cheddar into a shaggy pile of curled whisps of cheese often fell to me. I’d climb up on a kitchen stool, set the big metal box grater on top of a dinner plate and scape the block of cheese along the side of the grater with the largest holes. I threw my whole upper body into the task and the tip of my tongue very likely peeked out between my pressed lips, a sign of my enduring concentration. I’d peer inside the cavity of the grater every now and again to check my progress, stopping when I had assured myself there was enough to fill the waiting cereal bowl. Naturally, I’d steal a lump of cheese to snack on—a reward for my efforts.
We’ve had several days in a row, strung together like a necklace I never want to take off, where the sun has beamed brightly and the skies have grown taller, bluer, clearer. The snow is melting and there is a very distinct feeling of hopefulness in the air. All of this delivers a spring into my step and a bursting feeling in my chest; prompts me to yearn for daffodils and the crunch of a spring radish, the snap of fresh asparagus; and inspires in me the hope that spring is a real, true, distinct possibility. Like, soon.
My belief in spring’s arrival was badly shaken by January and February, when the days were short, the snow was relentless and the sun was all-too-often absent. In those bleak days, it’s hard to remember that spring will indeed come, with summer close on her heels. Warmth in this town?, I’d wonder. Impossible! But then—and it always happens, some years later than others—the temperature tiptoes toward the 40-degree mark and, suddenly, you’re scarfless and breathing deeply, eyes shining, lips bent into an insuppressible smile.
You know those recipes that struggle mightily to slip vegetables in unnoticed, in order to ensure that husbands and children (because, apparently, the two groups have similarly vegetable-averse palates?) get their daily intake of nutrients without laying their eyes upon the offending produce? There are entire cookbooks dedicated to the subject. Well, those recipes are not really my cup of tea.
And this recipe is proof of that. I’ve taken mac-and-cheese, people, and added kale. Emerald green, ruffly, hearty kale. It’s an unapologetically healthful addition and its presence in this dish is far from subtle. I could’ve had the kale go incognito—perhaps burying it below a lid of rigatoni oozing with cheese, or pureeing it into the bechamel, imparting the slightest inflection of green. Instead, I’ve left the kale leaves largely in tact, poking out among the noodles like folds of green crinoline.