November 10, 2012

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
Serves 2

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

1/2 lemon

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.

14 Responses to “greens ‘n’ eggs. or, have you seen my car key?”

  1. Susan

    Check the clothes dryer for the key. Or under the bed…I always tell my school kids to look under the bed for their books because they like to hide there. Really, they do. Maybe it works for keys, too.

  2. Warner

    Waiting on your book.

    We were very lucky, only lost power for 48 hours and less than a $1000 in damages, now repaired.

    I had resolved I was going to can the freezer if needed, but only did 7 or 8 dozen pints of stock before power came back on. Canning by candle light is not romantic.

    I did managed to can 4 quarts of a cassoulet, as with no refrigeration, it was the only way to preserve it. My first attempt at a canned entree, although I’ve been doing stocks and soups for years.

  3. Rodney Bedsole

    Thanks for the post and the update on your life. It sounds like things are getting pretty intense with the book and everything else that life always throws our way. Hurricanes, blizzards, etc. I’m glad to hear that you made it through the storm intact. So did Larry and I. We are blessed and are hearts break for the ones who lost their homes.

    When life gets crazy, it’s good to take a few moments to sort of check out and reboot. 15 minutes of quiet meditation every day works wonders.


  4. Sally

    Cathy, lost keys, etc.: I think mercury went into retrograde on November 6. At least that’s how I explain the mayhem around here. I just discovered scrivener too! It’s awesome for working on a big project, though I have not explored the recipe template yet.
    We dodged the Sandy bullet in MA. My rose trellis fell down, and the wind was fearsome, but all pretty tame compared to NY/NJ. I’m so sad about the Jersey shore, the place of my childhood. Thank you for leaving the link for how to help. I have dozens of cousins there, but everyone seems okay.
    Phew!! What a couple of weeks. Relieved that the election is over, too. I ate half an election day cake out of sheer anxiety.
    Now, if only I could adopt your discipline and write on a schedule. That’s the upside of a deadline, I guess. It’s such a long process, but yours will be worth waiting for!

  5. Kate Hill

    We missed you and the other hurricane Grrls on Sunday; Camp just isn’t the same without Mrs. Wheelbarrow! Next year we are banishing natural disasters. And I love this recipe for a ‘school night’. When I have been teaching all day with Dominique in the refrigerated butcher room, how nice to come home to a non-meat dinner, hot, savory and satisfying. Merci!

  6. kirsten@FarmFreshFeasts

    This sounds wonderful–fast and heartening.
    You sound very organized to me. Maybe you don’t feel organized, but looking at 25 yr old binders and hearing the writing discipline you’ve got, you sure come across as a very organized and together gal.

  7. Lisa

    Cathy, you are amazing! I have always admired your organizational skills, focus and discipline. It’s how and why you’ve made so many great things happen in your life. Good call on not teaching this year of the cookbook!

  8. kelly bakes (@kelly_bakes)

    I wish I had known about Scrivener in grad school when I was doing my Field Exam–I had a fortress of books in my living room, each stack taller than me. In fact, two years later, note-cards and post-its with thoughts on obscure Irish poems seem to fall out of every book I own and every drawer I open. My organizational skills left (and still do) leave a lot to be desired. And regular eating habits went out the door too; there were four months where I’m pretty sure I just lived off of aged stilton on club crackers at 3am.

    Wishing you boundless energy, daily visits from the culinary and writing muses, many cups of tea, and a very large glass of wine when it’s sent to print! xo

  9. Beth (OMG! Yummy)

    A belated hug and congratulations on your book! I’ve been stumbling around in that haze misplacing things and always thinking about something else for weeks (not because of anything as glamorous as a book) and finally literally stumbled and broke my foot SO be careful out there Cathy!

    Love the recipe – I do something similar with leftover grains but adding greens would only make it even better!

    Happy writing, cooking, and Thanksgiving!


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