I’m not going to say it happens against my will. But I will allow that it’s an irresistible urge of mine to concoct recipes in my head, at the most inappropriate moment. I’m at a funeral, and I start to think about bananas flambe, already cooled, mashed, threaded with semi-sweet chocolate, showered with minced hazelnuts, tucked into phyllo dough triangles for the toasting. It’s kind of my image of death. It’s the way I bury things.
At a wedding ceremony, I think of whipped potatoes.During fights, I sometimes compose a fra diavlo sauce in my mind, which is the kind of spicy food I order thinking it will satisfy me, but I’m always disappointed when I remember that I don’t even like spicy food all that much. It’s meant to brighten and excite our palates, but it numbs mine, leaving everything to taste the same for too long.
A friend asks for advice, what should she do, it wasn’t planned but she had “an indiscretion” she says. And I think of clams. With a man she met in Barcelona. Then I add saffron. She can’t believe it, at all, yet she continues to feed my imagination with details about how, um, long it had been since she felt that way. I add bucatini, a long hollow pasta.
When I see my children at school, ready to be picked up, holding their peculiar art projects, I think of sprinkles. Then popcorn. Marshmallows when we hug. My little candy corn climb into their car seats, and we discuss who’s used the potty, who’s getting a sticker once we’re home. I drive past joggers and trees, through puddles, and around orange cones and construction signs, when a sense of quiet washes over me. Creamsicle. I notice walls built from piles of stones. Almond bark. No, no that’s not right. Oatmeal cookies–that’s it. It’s so fast I’m not even thinking about “cookies,” just the idea of a junk cake, a kitchen sink of a recipe. I’m reminded of science class, sedimentary rock, concrete, how we can take pieces of things, leftovers, to create something new. Then I think of paella and all the wonderful inventions that have come from what’s been discarded. I love finding a home for second strings, improving them, making them part of something spectacular, when all along they seemed so common.
And yet, with all these thoughts making long ribbons of taffy in my head, I’m commonly roped into heading to the food market without a plan. “We need things for the kids’ lunches. Come on.” And then there I am, with the panic-stricken face, staring back at the house as we drive away, wishing there’d been time to grab a cookbook. So I scramble to pull up iPhone apps with their recipes and shopping lists, but I never land on anything “right.” And so help me, the first person to comment about the myth of perfect, the fallacy of balance, or to preach to me about not getting it right, to focus on something else… that life is messy… I’m going to catapult you into my archives, where I’ll have said it better myself. This is my joy and my crazy.
Here’s the thing: it shouldn’t be this hard. I should know what goes together, beyond the basics of tomatoes and basil. Here’s the problem, I want to create things that go together in new and exciting ways. Sure, I want ingredients in the house for a proper salad, but not some boring usual suspect, I want something bright and inventive.
So, I’m posting this random scrap of paper I found amid all my writing notes. This way, the next time I’m yanked into a grocery store, I can pull this post up on my phone, and I’ll be armed with a shopping plan:
Salad of figs, almonds, orange zest, prosciutto, arugula
Herbs for eggs: chervil + chives + parsley + tarragon
Lamb: lavender + rosemary + pistachios
Asparagus tips + soft boiled egg + truffle oil + chervil + parmesan
Soft shell crabs: lemon juice + clarified butter + garlic + tarragon + champagne vinegar
Lobster: avocado + mayonnaise + tarragon + white wine vinegar
Lobster: brown butter + orange zest + vanilla
I’m not going to lie to you. I think when life becomes overwhelming and I need to find a calm soothing nook, I find it in planning menus for parties I might never throw. Like Mel Gibson in Pelican Brief, where he always needs a copy of The Catcher in the Rye to feel at ease, I turn to perfect flavor combinations to find a release. I feel like Ira + Barry from City Slickers, where it’s their job in life to know which flavor ice cream goes perfectly with a certain style meal. And they just KNOW they’re right. I love that. It’s as if finding the exact balance, the right touch, that one last thing–however small–just makes it, and you can now be done with everything. Because you got that one thing, just right. This is my crazy.