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it's cold and it's time to putter
I know it's ten degrees right now but do you remember when we got a hefty dumping of snow in early November? I had 30 pounds of groceries and ceramics to carry home from Williamsburg that night, and refused to pay for a car out of a stubborn commitment to my nonexistent budget. What ended up happening was my paper bags from Whole Foods ripped and it took me over an hour to carry everything home. Everything was so heavy and I was terrified of shattering my pots. I eventually developed a system wherein I tugged my Ikea bag behind me like a sled and held a whole chicken in my arm like a football.
This wet and idiotic endeavor had the benefit of enabling one of the most pleasant solo meals I've ever cooked for myself. I made this Genius roast chicken, which I'd heard former coworkers blabbing about dreamily for years but had never cooked myself. I think I stuck some potatoes in the roasting pan, and they got sticky with chicken juice. I can't remember all the details, but I know I was very happy to be warm and alone in my little apartment with a whole chicken. I even derived a new way to sit at my dining table, facing the window at a diagonal, that made me feel like a little prince.
For most of 2018 I wasn't cooking. Multiple nights a week I was at the studio until 1 AM or so, and often on the weekends too; I didn't have much of a life, in that I was rarely free or "around", but enjoyed having something I was willing to sacrifice that life for. I knew I'd get back to cooking someday, and roasting that chicken felt like a tiny shift in my life’s orientation. Plus, roasting a chicken is a very nice thing to do for yourself when it's cold and dark.
Now, of course, I have more time to cook. I boil gobs of pasta and eat all sorts of elaborate toasts for breakfast, putter around while the rice cooker steams. I braise cabbage and bake cookies. I feel like I have my life back, and it rules. On Saturday I made braised short ribs (these), and polenta (this, sans mushroom thing), and a birthday cake for a friend (the brown butter buttermilk cake from Dining In, which I gotta say is a stunner of a cake you don't even need a stand mixer for). I cannot recommend this meal highly enough, though I will warn you it will take at least 5 hours from start to finish, so you should start early or at least have some nice cheese around for when your company starts looking expectantly towards the oven.
My friend Jo recently wrote about the joy of this stretch of winter, when you aren't really expected to leave the house and you're encouraged to do solitary things like knit or read or cook or whatever. “The months of January through March are the only time of year you can be both misanthropic and live free from guilt,” they write. “In solitude art is made, books are read, books are written, knitting is knit, weed is smoked.” I’ve got to agree: books and weed are awesome.
For me, this is the season of puttering: between my computer and the kitchen, between a book and the kitchen, between my bed and the kitchen. Right now, I am making ribollita from Saltie: A Cookbook, which is the perfect recipe for puttering, especially if you are on deadline. Over a span of four hours, you chop various things and add them to a pot; between each addition you have 20 minutes or so to do a lick of work. When you get restless, there is a heap of sliced cabbage to put into a gurgling vessel. I have to wait another 100 minutes to taste the finished product, but I'd bet my next direct deposit (very small) that it's going to turn out a wonderful pot of stuff. Caroline Fidanza is a genius and we have done nothing to deserve her.
Seven or eight years ago, in a past life, I lived with some girlfriends in a small house in Charlotte, North Carolina, a city that was not at all suited to me. I was just getting into cooking and out of a bad relationship, and spent all my spare time in our house puttering nervously around the kitchen. I wasn't really sure what I was doing yet, and for some reason—I remember this viscerally—I was painfully embarrassed to be spending so much time preparing food. My roommates never did anything to make me feel shame, I don't think, but I remember a constant fear of being caught in that room, once again, chopping vegetables. I'm not even sure how much I enjoyed cooking at that time; I just felt driven to do it constantly.
I think a lot about why I was so afraid to be revealed for what I was: a relatively average person who was developing a serious interest in cooking and spent hours a day reading food blogs. Maybe I was self-conscious to do something that none of my close friends did to the same extent? Likely I was nervous to be developing this new part of my self, unwittingly starting a new phase of my life that felt alien to me, and surely hilarious to anyone watching. Who knows! Being 22 is horrible. But, like an isopod that eats the tongue of its prey, the small part of me dying to be in the kitchen consumed the part of me that felt embarrassed, and now I am an enormous toothy bug who loves nothing more than to be alone and stirring a pot of soup. I might even bake a cake later, if I finish my work in time; it's freezing in here, and I'm dying for an excuse to preheat my oven.