My mother – an English professor – would tell a story about her first year teaching. There was another young teacher with whom she shared an office. He taught three sections of Freshman English – the same workload as my mother. Each class had about twenty students, and every week the students had an exam, a Blue Book exam (remember those?)
So, there were about sixty blue books to grade Every. Single. Week. Somewhere in the middle of that first semester, that other teacher was carted away by the men in the white coats. Complete nervous breakdown. His briefcase was stuffed with blue books, not a single one graded. After that, my mother graded every paper immediately. No lingering or procrastinating. That was a life lesson for her, and I heard the story enough that it became a life lesson for me, too.
Do you have binders or folders or boxes that hold your recipes?
I made these 25 years ago, and have been filling them with favorites ever since.
So, without a moment to spare, the first deadline looming, I am knuckling down to work on the book. After two weeks, I have 16 recipes fully developed. That’s a long way from the 150 or so that I’ll need, but it’s a (small) dent. I’m learning so many new things. Writing a book has forced me to develop a very disciplined life. I’ve got a calendar with goals for every week and places to make check-marks signifying WRITTEN, TESTED, and READY.
Thanks to my cookbook-writing sister-wife, Stella, I’m using a program called Scrivener, which is pretty freaking genius for organizing a complicated task into little digestible tidbits. I told Stella it was like the Container Store for cookbook authors, with a perfectly sized box for every thought.
My schedule is disciplined but sensible. I write from very early in the morning until about lunchtime, when I emerge to cook for the afternoon. Some days I just write and write and write, and come blinking out of my office pale and hungry, hoping for a leftover in the fridge that will make an interesting omelet or salad or souffle. Evenings are short (up at 5:30 AM means night-night at 9:30 PM.) I am one hot date these days.
It’s easy to become completely obsessed with a project of this scope, but I’ve promised to leave it all behind one day a week so Dennis and I can hang out … a movie, a drive in the country, a walk in the woods…
Beyond the book, the recipes and the writing, the last two weeks have been momentous, to say the least. I spent a weekend outside Chicago at Grrls Meat Camp, a genius creation of my good friend Kate Hill. You may remember my posts from last year’s Meat Camp in Gascony. This year, Kate brought all her good meaty sensibilities from Gascony to the US, with help from Chicago-based Kari Underly and Kathy Skutecki. (Kombucha maker and Kitchen Assistant Ally also attended, and wrote about her experiences here.)
Kari Underly (l), an exceptional butcher, and an amazing teacher. She’s showing Ally (r) how to separate muscle with a sharp knife and a sure hand. Ally asked “Is that right” and Kari replied, “It’s right for today.” Encouraging, providing feedback. I hope Kari will realize her dream of starting a butchery school.
The weekend was ramping up in the most fabulous way when news of Hurricane Sandy reached us and signaled an early departure for the East Coast Grrls. I was sad to leave this gang of incredibly inspirational women, but know that the connections are strong, and we’ll all “meat” up again soon. If you want to get on the list for the next Meat Camp (January, 2014), or just want to be a part of this exciting group, check out Kate’s recent post. And for even more, listen to Chicago-based Nina Barrett, James Beard Award-winning radio raconteur, who came to visit Meat Camp and produced a fabulous piece for WBEZ.
Hurricane Sandy came whistling through our backyard. It was high pitched and violent and very frightening. The rain was so intense it sounded like hail and the huge branches hitting the roof made us gasp. But when all was said and done, we had not lost power and the kitchen was full of food cooked while I had anxiety attack after anxiety attack. Cooking seems to calm me down. We were fortunate. We were spared. But so many were not. The devastation in New Jersey and New York is staggering. If you are looking for ways to help those affected by this storm, Food52 has compiled a list of ways to pitch in.
After the hurricane came the election, and regardless of which side you favored, I think the entire country was relieved to see Tuesday come, and go. The rhetoric was exhausting and the television ads were interminable. Now, on to Inauguration Day Party planning!
So, the book, the weather, and politics have made quite a stew in the last few weeks, and I’ve been “in-my-head” which is what Dennis calls it when I wander through the house muttering to myself. I will admit to being overwhelmed most of the time. I’ve lost one of my car keys somewhere in the house. It was in my hand as I went down the stairs to the garage, got sidetracked in the laundry room, and then in the pantry, and now it’s gone. I’ve also lost my credit card and my Iphone, but found them both within a few (crazed) hours. I forget to eat. Some days, I’m in my pajamas until noon, because I wake up and have to start typing out whatever is banging around inside my head. This can’t be sustained…. but I expect it will all level out as the workflow becomes more a part of life and less something new to learn.
One thing I have realized, and it is hard to admit, is that I simply cannot do everything anymore. Consequently, for the next year, I will not be teaching regular classes. Something had to give. I know I will miss my students and the superb interaction that has helped me understand teaching and writing about the craft of preserving. Sadly, I’m going to have to put the teaching on hiatus for the near term. My apologies. Know that I will miss you, my wonderful students, and I’ll be back and ready to go in 2014.
And now we get to the point in the blog when I give you a recipe. Except that cooking has been a little haphazard of late. But here’s one healthy quick supper that filled our tummies after a long day of writing. I was first exposed to this idea when I met Kate McDermott, the Pie Whisperer, earlier this year. When I stumbled into my kitchen last Monday, it seemed like a perfect option. Do I have a photo? No.
But here’s a picture of my first home-grown Meyer lemon instead. Awesome, isn’t it? There are two little citrus trees currently residing in Dennis’ office. There are two more Meyers ready to pick and two Eurekas gaining a marvelous pale shade of yellow. What an encouraging burst of sunshine in the midst of early winter.
Greens ‘n’ Eggs
3 Tablespoons good olive oil
2 medium shallots, sliced thin
3 shiitake mushrooms, sliced thin
1 bunch of kale, chard, or a mix of stir-fry greens, stemmed, rough chopped and rinsed
4 large, very fresh eggs
Salt & Pepper
In a 10″ cast iron, or other heavy, skillet, heat the oil until it shimmers.
Add the shallots and cook until translucent, then add the mushrooms and leave the pan alone until the mushrooms release from the bottom of the pan without a tug. Once the mushrooms are no longer sticking to the bottom of the pan, give it all a good stir.
Pile in all the greens on top of the shallots and mushrooms, then form four indentations around the pan and crack an egg in each one.
Now cover the pan and leave it be for about three minutes. Lift the lid and take a peek. Are the eggs done? If the yolk is nearly done and the white is not, tip the pan to grab some of the hot cooking liquid (made up of the oil you start with and the bits of water sticking to the greens after rinsing) and spoon it over the egg to help the cooking along. Uncover and raise the heat to boil off all the liquid.
Squeeze lemon juice over the whole thing, then good salt – Maldon or fleur de sel – and fresh cracked pepper, to your own taste.
Serve the greens and eggs in wedges with buttered toast or, if you have been to the store…. hunks of baguette and a lovely, runny cheese.