When was the last time you made yourself a really great meal? Just for you. Not trying to make kids or partners happy, not trying to please the diverse palettes of friends.
I have gotten into the habit of taking myself out to lunch in my own kitchen. Working from home, I have this luxury. And I have come to think of it as a luxury, since the food is tastier (not to mention dirt cheap) and the company is pretty good.
As I wrote in “Mindful Cooking Part 1,” Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal has helped me transform my refrigerator into what feels like a Lego box of potential. Here’s an example of a recent lunch date with myself.
I open the fridge and take inventory, pulling out an array of glass jars filled with roasted or grilled vegetables and a container of leftover sautéed shaved Brussels sprouts. Being in a risk-taking sort of mood, I grab a jar of marinated artichoke hearts from the pantry.
I drizzle olive oil into a pan, chop up a shallot and a clove of garlic and let them sizzle. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to mix these, but I do it anyway. I look at my jars and wonder which flavors would go best together. I can’t decide, so I go with the full Monty. (Wisegeek.com defines “the full Monty” as “a British slang term which means ‘the whole thing’.” Just wanted to clarify that I did have my clothes on for those of you who thought I was referring to the movie.)
I shake out an array of roasted jewels–cauliflower and broccoli florets, butternut squash cubes–and some of the smoky eggplant, cherry tomatoes, and red peppers I had grilled the night before. I add a spoonful of the Brussels sprouts. With a little burst of adrenaline, I toss in the artichoke hearts, throwing caution to the wind.
While the vegetables are heating up, I boil water in a separate pot, preparing for my greatest act of courage–poaching an egg. My favorite chapter out of An Everlasting Meal is titled “How to Teach an Egg to Fly.” Adler’s writing–interspersed with quotes from M.S.K. Fisher such as “Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken”–makes me utterly grateful to hold a free-range chicken egg in the palm of my hand.
I follow her instructions on poaching an egg–add a little vinegar to the water, crack the egg first into a thin-lipped cup, judge doneness with a gentle poke of the finger rather than a timer. Another favorite line in the book comes when Adler recommends poaching eggs in chicken broth, which she describes as “delicious if philosophically perplexing.”
Today’s egg is poached in water, and I pull it off pretty well. Just before I lift it out of the pot with a slotted spoon, I throw a handful of toasted walnuts in with the vegetables. I slide the colorful mix onto a plate, create a nest in the middle, and lay the egg right in there. Another drizzle of olive oil over the top, more sprinkles of chopped parsley, a pinch of Kosher salt, and some cracked pepper. Voila. The whole process took about 10 minutes.
Sitting down with my plate, I inhale the complex aromas. I take the first bite, and it’s heaven. The tangy artichokes blend beautifully with the tomatoes and offset the strength of the Brussels sprouts and broccoli. The egg yolk–warm and viscous, as deeply orange as a setting sun–serves as a creamy sauce, while the tender whites of the egg are the perfect foil to the bumps and ridges of the vegetables. The crunch of walnuts inserts itself like so many exclamation points.
I know this particular mix of textures and tastes will never be reproduced. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a unique creative act. Having my dog asleep at my feet is the final confirmation that I could never get this in a restaurant.