I am so not that blogger. You know, the one who makes stupendous, dazzling, dream-fulfilling, frenzied dance inducing deliciousness every time I enter the temple of cookery and take skillet in hand. The artiste-de-cuisine whose documentation of each morsel of impending salivary serenity is preened and primped into further gleaming gloriousness and photographed more glossily than a phalanx of supermodels in swimsuit season. The doyenne of dining, the poet of pumpernickel, the queen of quenelles, writing elated paeans to the plate that stimulate the appetite and soothe the spirit simultaneously, every word a twinkling, perfectly faceted gem of gustatory wisdom and love.See, what my heart is cooking and what my hands and brains are genuinely capable of producing are not necessarily identical in nature, not wholly synchronous. I start out with a perfectly innocent yellow capiscum, intending nothing more sinister than to slice it into tidy segments and give it a friendly saute in a spot of sweet butter, and I think to myself, Why, that’s a mighty pretty bit of golden sunshine! I really ought to take its portrait. And sometimes it cooperates moderately well, and at other times it becomes something of an extended exercise in abstract thinking to even discern that the resulting portraiture is indeed of a sweet pepper, and a rather tasty one. It refuses to be anything other than a poor defenseless bell pepper mauled malevolently by bad knifework and lying listless, awaiting its ultimate destruction in a frying pan. I mean well, really I do.There was, for example, an incident the other day involving an attempt to make (for the first time in a verrrrrry long time, mind you) crepes for supper. I wanted to make them without flour, since I’m making a sincere effort to battle an addiction to wheat and offset the unkindness it seems to do to my stomach. So to the eggs I added only a splash of cream to thin them a bit, a pinch of salt and a touch of vanilla for depth of flavor. So far, so good. But of course, not having made crepes in eons, I made the first one so far too thick that it morphed quickly into a leather-thick omelette of unwieldy proportions and promptly subdivided into continental shapes and semi-detached crevasses when I attempted to force it to wrap around the roast-chicken chunks anyway. The second was more successful, but given that the crepes were already going to be fairly huge and there were only two of us coming to the table, I’d only made enough batter for two crepes, so one remained a geographical disaster area when plated.
It’s hardly the worst sin I’ve committed in the cooking realm, but even the vegetable-mushroom medley in herbed tomato cream sauce being lapped over the top and sprinkled with shredded mozzarella to melt couldn’t exactly disguise the rocky profile of the crude assemblage underneath. Ah, well! It tasted fine enough that (given the huge portions) chopping up the remainder in a little casserole with some added tomatoes and more sprinkled mozz and cheddar to melt in made a perfectly serviceable (and actually, prettier) pseudo-lasagna for brunch the next day. I keep reminding myself that aroma and flavor, not good looks, must always remain the chief arbiters for the biters of the dish.
But I can’t help but judge a dish on its beauty, still, and neither do any others unless they’re genuinely starving. Christmas Day’s standing rib roast of beef (above) was as tender and juicy and flavorful as any I’ve made, and in fact the gravy was a delicious simple reduction of beef juices and Cabernet finished with a bit of butter, but they didn’t impress with their devilishly handsome appearance as much as they might have done if I’d more intelligently plated the meat on top of the sauce, especially in the company of such homely looking side dishes as sweet coleslaw and brown-butter mashed potatoes. Presentation remains elusive, and capturing it on camera even more so. I must continue to learn!
Meanwhile, back at the oven, there are more serious disasters, ones that if compounded one with another and another as they were last week for some infernal reason beyond my ken, verge on apocalyptic. The centerpiece of one such Perfect Storm of kitchen failures was the day in which I managed to mis-set two crucial cooking elements at once. The end result of the first was that the wrongly timed egg boiling created not the expected hard-boiled eggs (a simple enough thing!), not even soft-boiled eggs mind you, but implosive mutant mush that was unsalvageable and decidedly unpalatable and went straight from kettle to compost in a trice. I was relieved that the Dutch oven finishing its long time in the sauna at least held a nice batch of broth that had been simmering overnight–that would cheer me up–relieved, that is, until I discovered that I had apparently jostled the lid out of place the night before and left just enough gap that not only did the liquid all vanish in a beautiful cloud, it left behind such a blackened, smoking pile of bones and charred vegetables and meat bits that I not only had to chisel out what I could and soak the pot for two days, continuing the excavations until I could scrub it back to a recognizable enamel surface, but I could also literally not photograph it at all. It was the perfectly even black of deep outer space, offering not a single change in surface that could reflect the light required by a camera lens for recognition. The smoke released when I opened the pot took days to clear from the house, and the only upside I can think of is that the pot was too tough to die despite its trial by fire.So any time you are feeling a little blue, a little inadequate as a chef or depressed as a foodie, take heart. I have not only managed in spite of myself to keep self and fellow diners alive and un-poisoned for all of these years, even without resorting to the antique cure-all elixir waiting on the apothecary shelf, but have even occasionally risen above my faults and produced some memorably tasty, yes, even prettily presented, treats that people who didn’t even owe me money complimented. I’d show you the best of them and preen a little, but documentation still remains my weakest suit, and of course there’s that perpetual problem where the really good stuff gets eaten before you can say Photo Op! and dash for the camera. Later, perhaps. Dig in!