Sunday, July 31, 2005

dry soup

Sundays I cook. I did not grow up cooking -- no indeed. When I saw ovens, I thought of Sylvia Plath. (I was a precocious child.) Okay, that's a lie. The word "oven" though does have seriously creepy implications for me, even now. Too much Jewish schooling.

Last August, when Mr. Ben suggested this as our game plan to save money and efficiently use time, cooking every Sunday in bulk, for the week, was an intimidating chore. I mostly followed along what Mr. Ben did, chopped vegetables faithfully and mixed sauces, under a cloud of fear that I would somehow fuck everything up. It didn't help, perhaps, that this process began when Mr. Ben and I co-habitated in Apartment #1 with the Supremely Untalented, Touchy, Passive-Agressive 30-Year-Old Graduate Student in Art Therapy Who Hated Us for Unknown Reasons. Her omnipresent bad art made her presence inescapable, even when she herself was taking one of her endless, expensive, frequent and apparently ineffective hot baths. (She hated us just as much when she emerged, wrapped in one of her purple towels.)

Our adventures in cooking proceded apace while we lived under her gloomy, disatisfied eye, to be sure. We made two risotos and one my favorite dishes to date, a pasta with a carmelized onion sauce. But I could never really enjoy the process.

But Mr. Ben and I have moved on to Apartment #2, our very own small but noble studio, and gradually, now that I'm in a happier environment, Mollie Katzen and I have come to an understanding. She doesn't tell me to do anything too difficult -- she tells me everything slowly and calmly and as many times as I like -- and I don't disappoint her.

Over the past few weeks, Mr. Ben and I have succeeded in making Italian gratins, Sicilian stir-fries, sweet-and-sour tofu with cashews, tofu with black bean sauce (from fermented black beans, if you please: no ready-made sauces for us!), brocolli with spicy peanut sauce, and this week, eggless egg salad and sopa seca, a Mexican casserole-type dish whose name literally translates to "dry soup." It has put me over the moon. Maybe it's simply because I don't do much that I can be proud of anymore, but it feels thrilling to put something together that works. And I'm going to work myself into a self-approving lather over it, if that's okay with you.

It has taken me almost exactly a year to feel more or less confident and comfortable with the kitchen. That's a steep learning curve. Next time I challenge a deeply-seated notion about myself like I Can't Cook I'll try to halve the time it takes.

Meanwhile, I've been appointed Vice Mistress of the semi-weekly card game I attend with the aging bohemians; my brother's returned safely home from China leaving only three people I know currently there; and it's going to be August, which means soon I'll get to celebrate One Year as a Budding New Yorker.


Claire said...

I second your adoration of Mollie Katzen--her books DO have such a soothing quality about them.

By the way, you seemed New York before you ever even got here. Regardless of how the Inner Ester feels, the Outer Ester appears self-sufficient and, when necessary, tough as nails.


jonah said...

Maybe it's simply because I don't do much that I can be proud of anymore...

This hits close to home. Thirded on Molly Katzen, though I also like James Beard's cookbooks where every third dish optionally requires goose fat.

Benjamin said...

You didn't tell me that this week was the point at which your kitchen phobia melted! I'm so proud! And it's funny that you mention Molly Katzen, because I noticed you gravitating towards her books, and it's true, the hand-lettering is soothing and friendly and the recipes promise that if you follow the instructions, it'll taste good.

Rebecca said...

oh, darling... i'm sorry i'm not there to witness it. i feel like maybe i told you so a long time ago (that you'd un-fear-ify) but that's just my innate desire to say "i told you so" generally.

however--i'm just a terrible cookbook snob. there, i've said it; i'll say more too!, mollie doesn't understand the proper use of salt, and moosewood dishes aren't ever properly spicy (when necessary). give me voluptuous vegan any day. or rather, i should now buy YOU a copy of voluptuous vegan.

shira said...

next thing you know we'll be enlisting your help for our currently non-existent dinner parties.

(bare minimum, we have to acquire a table before actually throwing one.)

Ross said...

eh, tables are overrated.

ester, it was great to read this post. nevermind rebecca, her cooking is too spicy and salty.

but, what i really wanted to say is that SUTPATYOGSIATWHUFUR is an excellent acronym.

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