Sara Cooks

[Originally posted on Trimmings, my now-abandoned Tumblr blog]

I think I’m going to start keeping a cooking journal on this blog. I’ve been having a tough time professionally, and cooking makes me feel smart and safe.

I will try to tag all cooking posts sara cooks so you can block that if it sounds boring or upsetting.

And they won’t usually be so long, but I promised myself a cooking day this weekend.

I work a couple days a week at the Reading Terminal Market, which (if you haven’t seen it) is a big market of over a hundred vendors, housed in a hundred-year-old building in Center City Philadelphia. I wrote about a regional gothic post about it.

There are several different produce stands in the market, and two of them sell dollar bags of old or damaged produce. This is where I do my grocery shopping when my CSA is not in season. I appreciate the challenge of piecing together meals out of what’s available. This week, I bought two bags of groceries: a couple of big eggplants and two bags of green beans, a bunch of radishes and two bags of brussels sprouts, a lot of plums, a lot of tomatoes, some fennel, two bunches of spinach.

On Saturday my gentleman friend was over, and while we had our morning coffee I made a list and cut up the tomatoes and some red onions, placing them in the oven to roast. We made a splendid brunch of eggs and spinach and hashbrowns, and afterward I put on my clogs so I had good support on my feet while I sliced brussels sprouts. Like most of the dollar-a-bag produce, the sprouts were not in great shape. Preparing them requires a patience I can’t muster in most of my life, but on an unhurried Saturday morning it was very soothing to stand at the sink and peel off the browned outer leaves, checking for grit and bruises. Acceptable sprouts were sliced thinly, then tossed with salt to drain until their crispy leaves became al dente like pasta.

Interlude: Remove tomatoes from oven, blend, pour into jars. Drain the peach peels that have been soaking in vodka since last weekend. I had made peach jam in my slow cooker–too runny, I put in too much water–but the peels and a few pits infused the vodka with a beautiful coral color and a sweet peachy taste. I’ll mix it with black tea for a party, sometime.

Back to vegetables: I grated the radishes and a couple of old carrots, salted them to drain. I put some pumpkin seeds in the oven to roast, and rinsed the sprouts and roots. I wrung out handfuls of the stuff to squeeze out all the moisture, and mixed them together with the pumpkin seeds and some champagne vinaigrette I’d mad earlier in the month. I packed the slaw tightly into mason jars. It should be good for a few weeks that way, and I’ll have something crunchy and salty but fresh to snack on while at work.

That was enough for the afternoon, I thought.

Later, though, I drained some eggplant and chopped fennel and onion. My gentleman friend was staying for dinner and a friend of his was planning to drop by, so we sauteed the onion and fennel and eggplant together, added some spinach and little balsamic vinegar to them, then poured on a jar of the new tomato sauce. While that simmered, we made couscous and salad, and my gentleman mixed cocktails with the ginger beer I made last week. We settled down to chitchat and eat heaping bowls of eggplant stew, and there was enough to send some home with each of the boys. While I was on my second wind, I chopped up the plums for a slow cooker jam–less water this time, it turned out much thicker–and put the peels in an $8 bottle of vodka. That might be good in a green tea or some kind of botanical cocktail.

I’ve been working part-time this year while I finished my dissertation; I’ve massed a mound of credit card debt and have become a little antisocial, turning down drinks and movies that I’d rather not spend money on. But food is so cheap and so enjoyable to make, and it’s so satisfying to feel that I have something to give or to nurture with. I’m writing it all out so that I can remember when I feel discouraged and useless.

While I write, the runny peach puree is on the stove with sugar and pectin, waiting to set and become pate de fruits rolled in citric acid for a sour tang. The green beans can wait until I host my next writing session. Nothing will go to waste and everything that’s tense in my life is going to have to relax its grip, eventually.

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