Peter Panning (featuring an Herb Marinade and Bread Starter)
“Ok ok, Alison, just hold the pen steady.”
“Put the date up there. Oh fuck, what is the date anyway? You should have looked before you took out your checkbook, Alison.”
My pen hovered above the space, motionless.
“It’s the 8th, ma’am.” The car dealer smiled at my husband and then back at me.
“Right right right, they know. They’re on my side or at least the side of getting this check into their money-hungry little hands. Ok, date: done. Now the amount. Go slow, Alison, it’s a long one. You have to get it all in there with your stupid big block-letter handwriting. So and so thousand, such and such hundred…”
I always resented my parents for not teaching me how to write a check. My folks moved away when I was 16 and, though I figured out 99% (ok, 83%?) of the important stuff on my own, I’ve always been sure that everyone else’s parents had prepped them better than mine had. It felt so nerve-wrackingly adult to write a check. When I looked in the mirror I didn’t see the confident grown-ups my parents were when they deftly penned payment after payment. I still don’t.
It’s been on my mind a lot lately as I’ve been settling in my new home in my new city with my new husband and my old demons. Have you ever wondered how it is you got this far? How it is that you’ve achieved what you have in your life? I know I have done all of this before, but the memories of the annoying minutiae went out with the trash. I’ve taken tests at the DMV before, I’ve applied for insurance. I’ve chosen doctors and purchased cars. I’ve made a ton of big decisions for chrissakes– I’m 46 years old. But it all feels new and scary and very fail-able. It seems like everyone else knows how but me.
Then I realize that my brain is Peter Panning. I conveniently forget the processes of adulting in order to glorify the freedom of pretending to still be a child. I don’t have a 9-5:00 job, I’ve never made that much money, I love to binge-watch crappy tv shows and eat dozens of my homemade cookies while in my jammies. I like to do what I want. And yet… the only way I’m actually capable of feeling free and childlike is that I’m good at adulting. Laying around eating junk food while watching tv in lounge-wear can become suicidal quickly if you don’t have anything better to do. Believe me, I know. I’ve been there. It’s much more fun to take a day off SOMETHING.
My relocation drama has been harrowing for sure, but not exactly distinctive. I was recently telling my parents (yes, the ones who neglected to teach me the check-writing skills), that if I wrote a screenplay about my husband Francis and I moving, it would be rejected by every studio in the world. It’s just not that interesting. Our contractor screwed us in a few ways: boring; everything cost more than expected: average; we got snippy with each other over our fear and discomfort: unexceptional; I gained a little weight by nervously eating comfort food: unattractive. I am consistently terrified I won’t know what to do, but I’ve amassed a beautiful house, a great used car, a gym membership, a bank account, I’ve registered to vote, got a license, and a job. Yeah, I’ve already gotten a little job. Maybe it’s going to be ok. Maybe I do know how to do this stuff. Maybe I figured out how to do it all in spite of no formal training or parental guidance (relax Mom and Dad, we all know if you had tried to teach me how to do anything I would have pushed you away). Writing a check isn’t actually hard. You just fill in the freakin’ blank spaces.
So here’s the reveal you’ve been waiting for… our kitchen. When I was still in New York, I went to my parent’s holiday party and overheard my mom quietly telling one of her friends that my husband was building me my “dream kitchen”. Then another friend leaned in and asked what they were talking about and the term “dream kitchen” got a bit louder. By the time the news hit my side of the room, the expression “DREAM KITCHEN” was being shouted with full voice and carried with it the highest of expectations. I found myself calming everyone down. It’ll be the kitchen it is, ladies, we’re not loaded and we like to keep things within reason. But you know what? It’s my dream kitchen. It’s what Francis and I designed together while living on separate sides of the country.
I can’t figure out how to make this a slideshow, so please enjoy a scrollshow from day one to now…
My cooking life is just beginning here, but there are a few things that I always make when in a new space. Next to a decent olive oil and a big box of kosher salt, these are the building blocks of my kitchen.
Chicken Stock: Lucky Stock Time
Gooey– This is a fresh seasoning base that can be used in a million applications. You can marinate proteins with it, slather it on veggies before roasting or grilling them, you can use it as a sauce base or a sauce finish. You can toss it with some vinegar and more oil for a salad dressing or into some yogurt or sour cream for a dip. You can add more intense herbs to it for more dominant flavors like rosemary or basil. You can add a vibrant flavor like lemons or hot peppers to guide it a different way. I keep it unsalted so that I can always adjust the intensity. It is a building block of cooking. Thank you to my former executive chef, Judy Goldstein for teaching me about gooey and many, many other things. And, on a side note, gooey is called gooey because it’s a mush of ingredients. A server of mine once repeated the word a bunch of times to herself (“goughey?” “gooeouy?” “gouxeouey?”) and then asked if it was from the French. It is not French. It is not complicated. It’s just gooey.
- 1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, bottoms trimmed
- 3 large garlic cloves, peeled but whole
- 4 scallions, ends removed
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- very healthy grinding of fresh pepper
Put all the ingredients in a food processor and puree until the mixture is bright green and no large pieces remain. Put in an air tight container and refrigerate. Will last for about a month.
Biga is a bread starter that sets up in a day and lasts for about 2 weeks in the fridge. It’s not a starter that is fed like a sourdough (sourdough ONLY uses a starter whereas a lot of other breads use a combination of dry yeast and a bit of a newer starter). It gives a depth and personality to the breads I bake that you simply can’t get with yeast alone. I normally make a half batch and go through it within a few weeks but you can also freeze it in ¼ cup amounts and let it thaw before baking.
- 3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup warm (not over 110 degrees hot) water
- 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 1/4 cup cold water
Stir the yeast into the warm water and then let it stand for 10 minutes while the yeast becomes activated.
Place all of the flour into a bowl and stir in the yeast mixture and the cold water. Stir for about a minute until the mixture is combined and a little challenging to mix.
Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge for a day before using.