Food as ballast

Food as sanity. Food as pleasure. Food as ballast, continuity, novelty. To prep food is to focus. That’s benefit enough, but there’s also how assembling ingredients performs a kind of magic, a magic that is at once artful and one of the most pedestrian domestic chores going. How is that possible?

Furthermore, because we get hungry over and over again, there’s no scrambling for motivation. It’s built in. How great is that?

This year has found me regularly trying out new recipes. Nothing as disciplined as working through a cookbook, but still . . .

4 garlic cloves, sage, mint, oregano, S&P, EVOO, and lemon juice

Sage and mint from the garden, oregano from the cupboard. I cooked the quinoa with a little saffron. The recipe didn’t call for that but one a few pages later did and I don’t know about you, but I often fudge things that way.

Since I don’t always have some of the more exotic ingredients, I apply a loose standard and that’s fine, since it’s not about perfect replication but rather about stretching my palate and experimenting a little, getting out of my domestic ruts.

For example, this Ottolenghi dish called for Persian dried lime powder and sweet potatoes. I used fresh lime zest for the former and left out the latter. I can see how sweet potato chunks would be a tasty addition, but the salad was PLENTY good without them (see what I did there?)

I gushed over this one in my usual over-the-top way. Oh my god — this one’s restaurant worthy! [Moan] Wow, this is good. Too bad we don’t run a B&B! Served a little bit warm, rice on the toothsome side, the feta adding a luscious creaminess, trust me when I tell you it was outstanding.

A few cherry tomatoes gifted from a friend’s garden added a perfect dash of color and acid, tasting like summer and sunshine.

My husband doesn’t say much (and I guess I gush enough for the both of us), but when he gets up for seconds, his opinion is clear enough.

11 thoughts on “Food as ballast

  1. Liz A

    I confess to doing much the same, both freestyling on recipes and raving over the results … results that are due as much to good ingredients as any skill on my part (although I have long passed the 10,000 hour mark when it comes to time happily spent in the kitchen) … love how you describe your version, which I could practically taste through the ether

  2. RainSluice

    Sounds divine, darling!
    This gives me the opportunity to say that I believe, because I’ve very recently done some things like this, that I am learning to enjoy cooking. Started with, “oh crap I don’t have…”, but I have 5 other other things.Then my brain kicks in! and it is so much more fun to cook now! Though… you started at a much higher level (lasagna for example). I didn’t start cooking until my husband went GF which was hmmm, uh oh, more than 10,000 hours ago.

      1. Rainsluice

        Did I make that cauliflower thing? Somehow I didn’t think it came out. You know, when I’m under pressure I guess I can pull it out 🙂 🙂

        Thanks, Dee.

  3. and

    Food is what we do to nourish, is what we do to comfort, food, simply, is love…it is what we offer when life implodes. I think of Jose Andres and his World Central Kitchen, who had people on the ground within 5 hrs of the Maui disaster, giving food, traveling around the island as best as they could ,to meet with the people, to know what they would like to eat.In the two weeks that they have been in Maui, they have served over 60,000 meals.

    As for me, my Mom was a fantastic, instinctive cook, never used a recipe in her life. You would think, since I love to cook, that I would have her recipes but she never had a written recipe. Although she taught us the basics, I did not like cooking, could live on sandwiches; was not at all interested in cooking even though I loved and learned to garden from my Dad…

    How my dear husband survived our first year of marriage is a miracle (going on 54 years next year). I think back to the early days, I could make sandwiches, salads and scramble eggs. Rich liked to cook, self taught, he also learned from his sister in laws when he left the orphanage as a teenager and went to live with his brother and sister in law in CA.

    Slowly and with patience, he began to show me how to cook, not with words, but by doing and I began to take an interest especially when we started to garden and grow our own herbs, veggies and assorted lettuce and spinach. The connection between what you grow and using what you grow to nourish your family became real to me..

    Over time, the life examples that my Mom gave us, came to the forefront. My family would be considered a poor family in terms of money, Dad a janitor, my Mom a homemaker. We never owned a car, no TV until I was 13 but no one in our hometown ate better than we did. My Mom not only knew how to make do, how to stretch a meal, how to recreate a totally different version, she knew how to present what she cooked in a way that tantalized our senses. She simply excelled in weaving her culinary magic. I once asked her if she didn’t get tired of always having to put food on the table, she looked at me and laughed and said, “Food is love, it is how I can show all of you how I feel.”

    I took in her words and have tried to live up to them with just about every meal that I have prepared. Some have bombed spectacularly and during one of those culinary disasters, Rich once laughed and said, “I guess you don’t love us anymore!” My daughters are wonderful cooks and no matter how busy their lives become, their joy in cooking holds. My granddaughter and grandson, from an early age, were in the kitchen and now and then, prepare meals. Each has a role in the yearly Thanksgiving dinner and present their offerings with love and pride.. Food is ballast, food is love, the love of making food is tradition…

    1. deemallon Post author

      So funny Marti. I kept thinking “this is Marti,” “this has to be Marti” and was confused so thank you for popping back to say! I love your reminiscences about cooking and how we can tell our family history through our cooking. My mother was also an incredible cook and I also was extremely lackluster early on. I also make more than the occasional bomb. One of the take aways from your comment is how we might internalize things from our mothers without having actually been taught or putting into practice until years later. Years and years before the slow food movement, for instance, my mother was insistent on fresh ingredients. I hope my kids eventually translate having grown up in this house to an enjoyment of preparing food. So far it’s not that evident.

      Lastly thank you for highlighting Jose Andres. What a powerful example of food as love he offers us. You remind me to make another donation.


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