The brains are almost entirely texture -
like savory marshmallows in a crisp crust.
Tossed with salty capers and drizzled with a sweet buttery sherry sauce,
they play tricks in your mouth.
I make them whenever things are going badly.
They’re a lot of work, but they’re worth it.
They remind me that life is full of surprises -
and that there is always hope.
~ Ruth Reichl in Comfort Me with Apples
Uncertainty comes without warning. Nothing is ever really guaranteed. I mean, we all plan for the future and hope for the best, but tomorrow is not a promise. Best laid plans can be turned to shambles in an instant. That much we all have in common. What’s different is the way each of us deals with that uncertainty.
I cook (see my previous article FOOD FRIDAY: In the Kitchen With Moby Dick). I seek the comfort of the kitchen, where things are familiar and everything works in ways that are usually predictable. Remember this scene in the movie Julie & Julia: “You know what I love about cooking? I love that after a day when nothing is sure, and when I say nothing, I mean nothing!, I can come home and absolutely know that if I add egg yolks and chocolate to sugar and milk, it will get thick. That’s such a comfort.” Comfort indeed.
Not having an audience to cook for, I resort to reading about cooking. Probably my favorite author on the subject is Ruth Reichl. My copies of her books Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, and Garlic and Sapphires are very well worn, betraying the amount of uncertainty I have faced in my not-so-short life.
Ruth Reichl’s writing style is a comfort to me all its own. Her books aren’t filled with complicated recipes. In them the food is tightly woven into the events of her life. She draws you in, painting vivid pictures of food, cooking and dining, as experience, as comfort, as poetry. Her writing is human and touching and painfully honest. Even her tweets are achingly lovely. What can one say in 140 characters, you may wonder? Take this one for instance: “Cool. Gray. Thunder coming. Warm congee. Bits of pork. Spark of chile. Crunch of peanuts. Splash of soy. Ready for the storm.” Can you see it? Can you taste it? I sure can. Just like cooking, that’s such a comfort.
Faced once again with uncertainty and anxiety, I am taking to my ways of comfort. I have been cooking up a storm, roasting chickens, using unusual spices, pickling odd things, composing salads of kale and kohlrabi, stretching my own cooking boundaries. I re-read my worn copy of Comfort Me with Apples yet again, drawing on Ruth Reichl’s experiences and struggles and triumphs for inspiration. “Haven’t you noticed that food all by itself is really boring to read about? It’s everything around the food that makes it interesting. The sociology. The politics. The history.” Yes, I have noticed.
Tonight, I made a simple caprese sandwich for dinner: fresh sun-kissed tomatoes, hand-made mozzarella, lots of basil, really good balsamic vinegar and olive oil, a touch of salt, artisan bread. As I made it, I thought of how many people’s hard work went into the perfect simplicity of my dinner. I thought of how many things had to come together just right: perfect ripeness of the tomato, creaminess of the cheese, many years of aging the balsamic vinegar, green spiciness of the olive oil. My fingers are still fragrant with basil. Perfection is never easy, but always worth it.
Do you hear me, uncertainty? You don’t scare me because I can roast a perfect chicken every time! Step back, anxiety! I have Ruth Reichl in my corner, with her sing song writing and honest humanity. Are you still here, insomnia? You I don’t even mind these days because I live in Chicago. My Chicago, this beautiful, soulful city keeps me company in the sleepless hours. Its streets offer up comfort and encouragement and discovery and deliciousness. There is never a dull moment in the life of Chicago lover. With these three on my side, my life is no longer uncertain, it is wide open and full of opportunity.
Possibilities are endless. MY possibilities. The world is my cookbook.