Sometimes at lunch these days, my colleagues ask me, What did you do last evening? These are the ones who dont know me well, the ones who just happen to sit next to me in our large, happy lunchroom because there is an open seat, the ones who havent really talked with me since the beginning of the school year. My friends, the ones who teach Spanish and French, Humanities and Calculus, cut right to the point: What did you cook last night?
Were all starting to drag a bit. Its clear that school being back in session is no longer a dream, a sweet little experiment. Were in for the long, long year, and summer vacation feels evanescent now, almost made up. In conferences today, students answered questions with desultory answers, until I urged them to wake up and tell me what they were thinking. By the end of todays faculty meeting, at 5 pm, every staff member desperately wished for a little vacation. But none is to be had. No break until Halloween. Were in for it now. And everyone looks tired.
But not me. Im feeling healthy and full of energy. Yoga helps. Full nights of sleep help. But mostly, Im driven forward by the happy urge to return home and start cooking. Cooking, for me, is deeply creative. When I walk into the kitchen, I cant drop my bags fast enough before I start chopping. Music on, school clothes off, the bus ride a good transition between work and homeIm making food. Lately, Ive been realizing more deeply that I love cooking and taking photographs and eating and writing about food because it makes me feel awake. Its hard to truly let my mind wander when Im chopping carrots or squeezing limes or pureeing fruit in the food processor. These simple physical acts keep me grounded, deeply. Far below that conscious mind, before any neuroses or habits of worry, there is smell. Did you know that our sense of smell is located in the limbic system, the one developed generations before the cerebral cortex? Smell cuts right through our intellectual surface and pokes at our primitive mind. And when Im cooking, Im smelling, suffused with memories that feel fully a part of me, not a hidden surprise. All of me is involved in the process. And I remember those moments far more vividly the next day, or next week, than I ever will the droning of a faculty meeting.
We remember the moments we were alive to, even the painful ones. –Vincent Passaro
Cooking, for me, like writing, is a constant process of discovery. I had no idea, when I sat down at the computer, that I was going to write about this. I thought I was going to write about sausages. But it all comes spilling out. The same way Ive been making up recipes.
Last night, I concocted a recipe Ill gladly repeat, based on one by MC for barbequed salmon and sausages, as posted by The Pragmatic Chef, for Food Fight Four. (You have to love the name.) The idea was that we would all send in our own creationsmine was the grilled cheese sandwich with amaranth leaves and blackberry sauce from Augustthen receive someone elses, and either re-create it or re-invent it. Since Ive already been trying to teach my new students that the process of revision is to look at something new (re-vision), instead of just changing the bad punctuation errors, I thought Id start fresh.
Also, I have no barbeque. As much as I love my spacious, second-floor apartment (the top of a house, actually, with windows in every room), Im starting to mourn the fact I dont have a little plot of land for a garden or a deck for a grill. Then again, its autumn now, and everyone is putting away the barbeque. And besides that, Scott asked everyone to interpret the recipes, so away I went.
The basic ingredients of the recipe were salmon, marined with lemons and lime juice. I bought a half-pound of Washington state troll-caught king salmon. (I know that all my Alaskan friends would disapprove of my fishs home state, and normally I only eat Alaskan, but my fish guy at the Wild Salmon Seafood Market recommended it to me on Sunday.) Plus creole seasoning. MC seemed to specify a certain brand, but I didnt own that one. And I still had some of my own mix left over from the New Orleans red beans and rice I made a few weeks ago. So I doused the salmon in lime juice (temporarily out of lemons), and shook the pungent creole seasoning on top. And then I set it aside to marinate for hours. Toward the end of Sunday night, I sauteed it on high heat and resisted the urge to gobble the entire fillet down in that moment. I may have nibbled some of the rosy pink bits on the ends of my fingers, but thats it. And then I put it in the refrigerator.
A & J Meats, here on the top of Queen Anne, makes these indescribably-good-but-Im-still-going-to-try-because-they-deserve-it apricot sausages. Apricot? Yes, and blueberry. During the holidays, apparently, there are cranberry sausages. I dont eat them often, because I shouldnt make a regular habit of eating sausages, but when I do have some, Im thrilled. And temporarily speechless. Theyre filled with rich sausage taste, but not too fatty, with a mild sweetness. I wish I could eat them every day. So even though the woman behind the counter raised her eyebrows when I said I was going to combine them with salmon, I still bought them anyway.
So I made up a frittata, based on a basic recipe. I bought an ear of corn, but somehow I forgot to make it. After all, the kitchen was a bit of a mess and I was just home from school. Writings like that too. I think Im going to address something specific, and then I find, in the act, that my original, stubborn point just wasnt that important. So there was no corn, but I threw in fistfuls of basil, another summer staple.
While it was cooking, my friend Dorothy came over for a cup of tea. We hadnt seen each other in weeks, since she had been in San Francisco for a massive computer conference. (And of course, the first thing I asked her was, So, how was the food?) But we never did have that tea. Instead, we talked about food and cooking and favorite recipes and Cooking Light vs. Saveur. And since I couldnt find a canteloupe this late into September, I spontaneously decided on a watermelon sorbet for this meal. And since Dorothy has made many more sorbets than I have, I asked her for advice: So, can I just put in sugar? Or do I need to do something different? She immediately stopped me, warning that just putting in sugar would make sorbet gritty. And no one wants gritty sorbet. So I grabbed the only clean saucepan in the kitchen and mixed half a cup of water and half a cup of sugar. Once it boiled, I threw it in the freezer to cool down.
It looked golden gorgeous, filled with chunks of salmon and lovely shreds of sausage. The basil had all risen to the top of the frittata, leaving flecks of green. We ate it, hot from the oven, along with a bowl of the heated-up tomato-fennel soup, much, much better the second day. Even more beautiful than when I wrote the post last night.
After eating, and savoring, we threw the chopped-up watermelon, lime juice, and the sugar syrup into the food processor, then poured the chunky mixture into the ice cream maker. I learned this trick from Nic: run the mixture in the maker for only fifteen minutes, then freeze it completely in the freezer. This makes the sorbet taste fully of the fruit, just short of bliss. But Dorothy and I had to eat some before it went in the freezer, so it was more like a granita. We munched on the pink icy treat in martini glasses and giggled.
So that was my version of MCs summer salmon recipe. Salmon/sausage frittata and watermelon sorbet. Id happily make it again. And Im happy to participate in Scotts competition. Hes a wonderful guy, that Pragmatic Chef. Early this summer, I wrote to him, responding to a post he did about celiac disease. And since then, weve been writing, about gluten-free foods and the joys/frustrations of having celiac. Because of this connection, Scott sent out his marvelous Survival Spice out to be tested, and Im happy to report that its certified gluten-free! And therefore, you should all buy some. Now. Seriously.
It was, spontaneously, a wonderful evening with Dorothy. I love how life unravels in ways you dont expect. Whether its cooking a new recipe from a skeptical set of ingredients and loving it, or meeting someone online who works to make his product gluten-free because of me, or writing something and feeling the sense of completion down in my toes when I thought I was just going to write something short this timelife always amazes me.
6 eggs 1/2 cup grated pecorino romano 1/2 cup grated pargigiana-reggiano splash of light whipping cream dash of salt fistful of shredded basil
° Sautee a half-pound fillet of wild-caught salmon, after marinating it in fresh lime juice and creole seasoning, in excellent olive oil, and a touch of salt. Sautee on high heat for three minutes on each side. Refrigerate for use the next day. °Cook three sausages in an inch of water in a small pan in a 400° oven, for about thirty minutes. Drain from the water and sautee the sausages. Set aside for use later. * Line a pie pan with parchment paper. Lay down your favorite fresh herbs (I used fresh thyme). This will be the top of the frittata. °Mix the eggs, cheeses, cream, salt, and basil in an electric mixer until well mixed. °Add the sausages and pieces of salmon to the egg mixture and stir gently. °Pour the mixture into the prepared pie pan. Bake at a 400° oven for 25 minutes or so. Let the frittata sit for five minutes and watch it sag into the finished piece. °Eat.
1/2 fresh, ripe watermelon (seedless, if possible) 2 limes 1/2 cup of sugar 1/2 cup of water
°Prepare a sugar syrup by heating the sugar and water together until the sugar has dissolved. Cool, in the freezer or refrigerator until cold. °Chunk up the watermelon into one-inch pieces and place it in the food processor, along the juice of two limes. Turn on the food processor and watch it liquify. As the pieces become liquid, pour in the sugar syrup. °Pour the chunky liquid into an ice cream maker and turn on for 15 minutes. °Place the sorbet in the freezer, if the sorbet makes it there!