This past weekend an unexpected change of plans was the springboard to a welcome change in attitude. On Saturday we had hoped to visit the famous Kimball’s in Jaffrey, NH to celebrate my aunt’s birthday. While we were certainly sad that she came down with the stomach bug and had to cancel, we decided it best to make the most of this bit of unexpected free time, extending sleepovers, setting up play dates, finishing up languishing projects and mopping floors that had long been crying out for some soap and water.
By seizing this time we managed to start a trickle of activity that steadily increased over the next 2 days, bringing about creativity and project completion, organization and comfort. Yes, much of this had to do with ordinary household management and checking some of those ‘big’ things that you never seem to have time for off the list. But the satisfaction of tackling these jobs also brought about a sense of calm, comfort and oddly, ability and adventure. I realized that lately, as we’ve been preparing for the transitions that inevitably come with the end of the summer season (read: the start of school), the cooking of meals had become simply a necessity, losing its happiness and creativity. I was glad to have found it again - perhaps all that mopping set it free?
Simply, here are the things, some old favorites and some new adventures, that were joyous for me to cook and eat after my transformation this weekend:
Chinese Take-out: Sometimes there is nothing better than making the decision that you aren’t going to cook. I generally have to convince myself that I have no other option, but this past Saturday, other options or no, I figured that we had all worked hard and deserved a treat. There is nothing quite like the whoops of kids when they find out that dinner will be arriving home soon in white, folded cardboard boxes. The luxury of it.
Baking bread: Filling the bread drawer with fresh, homemade bread while filling the house with its intoxicating smell. Delicious.
Asian-inspired rice noodles: Not being a fan of heat and humidity, but tired of ‘the usual’ grilling, I decided to play with a recipe I had jotted on my grocery list as that had been the only paper available when I found it in a magazine. Even through the deciphering of words written over words, these noodles are quick and easy to make, the vegetables interchangeable with what you have on hand. I did serve them with plain grilled boneless chicken breast, but it seemed so much more exciting on the plate with these noodles. The leftovers were fantastic! Cook half a package of rice vermicelli in boiling water for three minutes; drain and rinse with cool water. Thinly slice a cucumber, matchstick half a red bell pepper, slice a few snow peas and a couple of green onions. Make a sauce with 3 tablespoons canola oil, 2 tablespoons lime juice, 2 tablespoons fish sauce, 1 tablespoon brown sugar and a clove of chopped garlic. Add some chopped basil and cilantro and carefully toss all until well coated.
Movie night popcorn and ice cream: Indulgence within reason. We may have had to miss out on Kimball’s ice cream, but there is nothing like a Girl’s Night at Home watching a movie, even if it is Christmas themed. The whole salty/sweet, crunchy/smooth, hot/cold contrast of fresh popcorn on ice cream is still one of my favorite combinations.
Waffles: It had been a while since I’d gotten out the waffle iron and, as always, I was enraptured at how delicious fresh, hot waffles are. Now we need more maple syrup.
Plums: Our heirloom apple CSA from Scott Farm came topped off with delicious plums this week. There is something about popping an entire plum into one’s mouth that feels so illicitly decadent. Sweet juice and tart skin, I spent some time looking at various compote and tart recipes but somehow just couldn’t bear to transform them into anything.
Potato and Zucchini Frittata: A homey meal of eggs and vegetables, this frittata came together very easily, making a comforting dinner that can be adapted to fit any veggie combination. I sliced an onion and then slowly cooked it in a non-stick skillet over medium-low heat, caramelizing it with a touch of sugar to help the process along. While the onion was cooking, I peeled, diced and boiled 2 potatoes until tender. When the onion was almost cooked, I added one small summer squash, very thinly sliced. It cooked until softened as the onions finished their cooking. Then I added the drained potatoes and poured over all 9 eggs that I had beaten with about 2 teaspoons of water. Letting the frittata cook on the stove over medium heat until set, I preheated the broiler where I finished the cooking until golden brown. Sliced into wedges and served with a green salad, this was the perfect simple-solution dinner.
And while not exactly cooking or eating, I finally sat down on the kitchen floor and went through the huge basket of recipes that I have been collecting for years. I was ruthless, throwing recipes that no longer appealed to me, or that I had found some other version elsewhere and tried, into the recycling pile. I began organizing the remaining recipes into the binder my family had given me for my birthday 2 years ago. I found 3 copies of the special sugar cookie recipe from my friend Jill that I had asked her for at least three times because I couldn’t find previous copies. I also found my missing recipe card that my grandmother had written her biscuit recipe on as well as the stuffed cabbage recipe I had been looking for for years. I now have a somewhat organized pile of recipes to launch me into the new season, including a bunch for the slow cooker, that handy kitchen device I always swear I will utilize more.
As I avoid looking at this as a lesson on the evils of procrastinating and over-scheduling, I am happy to be reminded that there is a ‘reset button’ and that you never know what will push it. Digging into those things on our to-do list helped me to brush aside negative and exhausting feelings that I wasn’t even aware were there and I was able to view life with a new sense of energy, contentment and clarity. This good mojo worked its magic through our house and our selves, putting a happy and contented spark back into most everything we do. Whether brought in the water of the mop bucket or maybe simply the acceptance of being where we are at right now, I am happy to be able to look ahead to a season of enjoying the comfortable and trying the new.
Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn’t have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at email@example.com.