Inasmuch as complex events can be said to have their roots in a single moment, I credit my first attempt at this delicious soup – an assignment for my Fundamentals of Stocks, Soups, and Sauces course at the ICE Culinary Institute some 10 years ago – with much of what I’ve produced in the kitchen ever since. I might as well call it my Butterfly Effect Soup.
Perhaps Will Shakespeare lived in Northern California and craved a salad in winter when he spoke of those days, green in judgment and cold in blood; or maybe I’m just projecting because, as recently as yesterday, I was talking about this salad I had made, borne of winter crops, which still I took to be a very-nearly-classic Salade Nicoise, but for the outrage of tomatoes in absentia, and it got me thinking: What, really, constitutes the One, True Thing, the Nicoise that casts its shadow on the wall?
The degree to which this – a Salade Nicoise, sans tomates – is, in fact, a Nicoise salad remains debatable. What is incontrovertible is that, while I won’t eat out-of-season tomatoes, I’m not waiting around until next summer for the league leader in salads-as-meals, and this, my Jack Frost version extant, still tastes damn good.
I’m not sure what (if anything) this strangely cool, damp year in Northern California says about global warming, but it definitively changed the relationship between the physical calendar on my wall and my erstwhile sense of the natural culinary seasons: I didn’t eat a ripe tomato until well into August, and I’m still picking chili peppers from our garden in mid-December. And, in a proximal vein, I managed to procure a Technicolor Dreamcoat of richly hued, perfectly ripened late-season peppers from Soda Rock Farms at our very last farmer’s market of 2010
Every once in a while, I’m lucky enough to find a combination of flavors that just works, a minor chord born of a Beatles-like marriage of flats and sharps. Many of the classics never tire, and I use and re-use them without apology – and then there are beer snacks, the holy grail of sports fans and wannabe man-cooks everywhere, the perfect balance of heat, salt, and icy bitter froth, a marriage to read about in the self-therapy section of an airport book nook.
A conundrum endemic to parenting and modern life in general, the home kitchen provides an object lesson: When preparing a recipe for the first time, particularly one from a celebrity chef like Tyler Florence, do I trust my instincts and override the recipe whenever something seems amiss? Or, do I remain humble, follow it to the letter, and hope for the best?
Producing a braise in your own kitchen is a bit like making porn in your own bed: It rewards practice, because when you get it just right, it’s the best you’ll ever see, and all the times you don’t, it’s still a very long way from sucking. Similarly, there is just so much to love about the braise: Purely from a gastronomic perspective, no other cooking technique so easily employed by the home cook comes close to creating the depth and concentration of flavor than does the properly executed braise.
Like the 49ers staring at a 4th-and-20, last Friday’s post ended with a whimper, a don’t think/just-punt sort of moment, as my employer’s requirement for some actual work and the post’s rapidly escalating word count dictated a hasty retreat from a recipe that I had the poor form to advertise and picture, but not to supply. So, think of today as a reprieve from the instant-replay booth – not exactly lucky, but fortuitous nevertheless.
Coaching basketball at the professional level, managing a United Nations peace-keeping mission, and getting kids to eat something for the first time – a category generally construed to mean anything with so much as a twig of the family tree in the Vegetable Kingdom, but often including everything not already vetted and approved via previous personal experience (a logical circularity seemingly lost on my own children) – all depend as much on the application of politics as of force:
As I’ve already confessed elsewhere and at length, I’m a pretty lousy gardener, but – as with most things in life – luck trumps skill, and Lady Luck planted a big, wet snog on my tomatoes this year. Seriously, to judge by my Green Zebras, she might even have slipped them some tongue.