Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cooking for yourself

*This is  repost of the original from April 25, 2012 that was taken offline in a flurry of spam frustration. Oops. Here it is again.*


As Remi has been away for the past day and a half, I have been thinking about what it is that I like to cook when I am cooking for one = me! Admittedly, most of the time when he is away from home, I put the kitchen in shut down mode. We cook in this house and because we both work from home that means two meals a day. Now lunch is usually of the salad variety but that can still require a lot of preparations, so it can do me a bit of good to just subsist on casse-croute, picking at bits of this and that.

The first evening I eyed the (albeit home-made) leftover pizza. Certainly that was the obvious option. But it just wasn't ringing the tummy bell. What about that bunch of broccoli that was languishing in the veggie bin? The one that I had bought even though Remi doesn't like it? Allez-hop! Now or never time. So I decided to make a pasta, arrabbiata-style. Why? Because, with the addition of a couple squirts of smoky harissa paste, I could make it as spicy as I wanted! As some of you might know, the French by and large (excuse the generalization) are not into culinary heat. Not so for this girl who used to go the East Village Indian guys so that she could gleefully cry into her curry. Another bonus? As the smoochee was nowhere to be seen I could spike my tomato sauce with as much garlic as I could see fit. And not just any garlic but le nouveau ail, the fresh variety, which frankly, I am addicted to. I can eat it raw like bonbons, just like some of the local old-timers do. A sauté of le bacon (think Canadian), yellow onions, fresh flowering thyme (a luxury in itself), herbs de Provence, red wine (I just happened to have some in hand, quelle surprise) and it all came together into just exactly the taste that I wanted. No photos because, even if I did think about it, it was in my belly too fast.

Not so the next day when I redid the same adventure for lunch. What do I want? Two other banned ingredients came to mind: red cabbage and raw pois chiches or chick peas. I added a little extra laitue that was on its last leaves, tuna, roasted peppers, shredded carrots, Trader Joe's salt-free 21 Season Salute (why oh why aren't there TJ's here? Why?) plus a simple vinaigrette. It took me back to when I was a young 'un living in NYC and I ate this salad all the time so I had the added contentment of memories à la Proust with each munch.  

Not that Remi is a food dictator, not in the least and he is more than patient with my no goes of beef, les abats and frog's legs (I have done it but no they don't really taste like chicken). True, he is the real chef in the family and is not afraid of attempting anything. Petits paquets de coquille St. Jacques au foie gras et bacon avec une reduction d'homard? Bring it on! I am just the comfort food girl, as you can well see. But it was really lovely to be a little selfish in my preparation and it got me wondering, what are your favorite tastes? The ones that you go to time and again for a little boost? That are "yours"?



39 comments:

  1. Hello Heather:
    How good all of this sounds. And what comes over is the obvious pleasure which you both take in preparing and cooking delicious sounding meals. We, as we think that you know, love to eat [almost anything] but hate to cook and if left to our own devices, which happily we seldom are, would most likely survive on the very worst kind of instant food. But not junk - we do draw the line at that!!

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  2. Thank goodness for Timéa!!! Like yourselves, I am far more interested in eating than cooking but when one is necessitated by the other, I try to enjoy the process. :) Hoping your weather is finer in Budapest than here in Arles...brrr....

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  3. Hi Heather

    I love your creativity in the kitchen. I know exactly how you feel. Long ago I read Nora Ephron's Heartburn and in the story she featured about 6 receipes, all excellent.
    Her pasta recipe has become my standby Nora Ephron’s recipe is titled Linguine Alla Cecca it’s just pasta with a raw tomato sauce. In a large bowl, pour about 1/2 cup of good olive oil. cut the clove of garlic in half so it can later be easily removed. Seed and chop and peel (by immersing in a pot of boiling water for a few mins. about 7 tomatoes and put the flesh in the bowl. Grind in salt, pepper, red pepper flakes; tear up a bunch of basil leaves and add too. Then leave this to sit. You want a minimum of one hour but all day is preferable I cook bow tie pasta (always pasta that is a product of Italy, the wheat differs from North American wheat) - drain pasta and mix. Add freshly grated parmesan cheese. (Heather, lately I have been adding a spoon of dijon mustard to the bowl and it gives a good flavour)

    It is also excellent as leftover cold pasta salad.

    Have a glorious day
    Helen xx

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    1. Oooh, thank you for this Helen! Peeling the tomatoes!!! *the sound of me thunking my hand against my forehead* I know this and yet I am SUCH a lazy cook. One of the things that I now take for granted in living in the South of France is that I can get great products from Italy because it is so close. So I usually rely on a pulpo di pomodoro as my base. But it isn't the same thing! So you have inspired me. Merci!

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  4. Bonjour Heather. I have not stopped by for a while, so looking forward to catching up with you and your travels. I just woke up in Seattle, and it looks like I have picked the right story! Miam! Miam! How lucky you are to have an "in-house" chef! I love to eat but the daily grind of cooking family meals every night wears me down after a while. I liked your descriptions in the post, but was even happier when dear Helen T. left the Nora Ephron's recipe in the comment section. Bonne semaine a Arles! Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

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    1. Merci, Vero! Glad to find you again too!

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  5. Oh I admire your adventuresome culinary spirit my dear! I'm afraid I'm pretty middle of the road when it comes to cooking. Perhaps if I lived in Provence, I'd do much better. Oh i KNOW I would! :)
    V

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    1. You definitely would Virginia--the ingredients are too yummy to pass up! And it's not like there is the easy out of ordering delivery here either--trust me, how I wish that there was!

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  6. Heather, I'm experimenting with cooking for one at lunchtime on the days when I haven't booked myself for lunch with friends. The funny thing is I've basically had the same meal to days in a row- once at home and once out. On Monday a simple plate of roasted chicken, cucumbers and tomatoes. And yesterday I ordered chicken kebabs and Greek salad at one of my favorite lunchtime restaurants. The latter was a bit fancier, but the basic building blocks of chicken, tomatoes and cucumbers is what I loved!

    Bon appetite!

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    1. Yeah for roasted chicken! I made one last night--it is a basic here in the house. Tomatoes and cukes haven't compltely hit their stride yet but that will be a staple this summer. And Jeanne, I thought of you purposefully in putting in so many French food words in for this post--got to get you warmed up for your trip next week!!

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  7. Wonderful post

    Feta cheese. I put it on almost anything, including toast.

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    1. YUM. I see you are salty more than sweet like me. Oh my, now I will have to have feta cheese. Too late for a store run but I know what will be on my salad for tomorrow lunch! Merci!

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  8. Mmmm!!!! And let me just add, say the word, and anything you want from Trader Joe's will be shipped from Ann Arbor asap!

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    1. Whoohooo!!! Really, Sister? You are so awesome. Me, I'm lucky. :)

      It is mainly just that 21 season salute spice mix--it is soooo good on everything! I will take you up on your offer when it starts to run out!

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  9. When I cook for one, I am similar to you in that I don't use meat and if I do it is either chicken or fish. I even went as far as experimenting with tofu which I didn't quite enjoy as much.
    My usual dish to make when I am alone is sometimes a cheese plate with some great bread but if I am trying to be healthy I really like chickpeas and beans with some mozzarella thrown in or just a simple capri salad.
    It is amazing how one tomato can fill me up for lunch.

    The Wanderfull Traveler

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    1. Girl, you can be filled up with one tomato? Really? Whew, I bow down to your wisdom because not me alas. I need protein! But I agree in that my protein of preference is fidh or volaille-by far!!!

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  10. Even sounds delicious. Heather you can start any time to write a screenplay for Ratatouille sequel. A few recipes could be a bonus.
    Just reading makes me feel like I already had a hearty lunch.
    PS. I like to add eggs and/or big green olives stuffed with garlic to salads when there's no feta around.

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    1. Oh of course your comment made me so happy! We both LOVE that movie!!! It is a natural with the Remi/Remy the rat link. :) And hard boiled eggs regularly top our salads too--yum.But the olives stuffed with garlic? Score one for Nathalie!

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  11. A giant bowl of good ol' home-made popcorn (popped in oil, no butter, a little salt), which my English husband thinks is obscene. I try to ignore him as he doesn't know what he is missing. Garlic. Scallions. Home-made tomato sauce with garlicky meatballs. Did I mention garlic? :-) Lovely fresh early leaf salads with scallions, cherry tomatoes, radishes, walnuts and vinaigrette, sometimes with strips of roast chicken.

    Your salad looks lovely. The new profile picture with Ben is adorable.

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    1. Popcorn! The real kind! Oh my, I could have it for breakfast. Do you know that here in France, they sell SWEET popcorn at the movie theaters? *shudder* Ew! And I think it is interesting that so many of us are tomato/garlic girls! Living life with gusto!

      I will try your salad, sounds perfect for right now.

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  12. Chère Heather!

    I am finally home so I can respond to my blog comments, which I love to do,and especially for a new face! I believe I have heard of your blog or have seen you around blogland, and I am honored that you stopped by and left a comment!

    YOU LIVE IN PROVENCE!!! I stayed in Nice and toured the South of France for a month and then my husband caught up with me and we then traveled into Italy, where I SAW and bought this tomato paste in a tube! I enjoyed my stay in France and being a French teacher, it was imperative that I go.

    Merci mille fois for your generous comment and for reading about me over at Karena's blog. I have a long way to go until I am really the WRITER and artist I want to be, but life is all about making changes and taking chances. AND I think your idea for a pizza is fantastic!!! BISES, Anita

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    1. Ah but you are on the path and not just idling by on the side, Anita--THAT is amazing and inspiring!

      How wonderful that you were able to spend an entire month in this gorgeous part of France. I still have only passed through Nice which I hope to change soon--the museums alone!

      Like you, I have wonderful readers and I too love to respond to them!!
      Thanks for stopping by!

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  13. That recipe with chickpeas looks delicious and is so pretty! I'm all about presentation, too! My favorite food tastes: fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, basil, garlic, green onions, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, hot pepper flakes. Mix it all together, spread on toasts with melted cheese and....bruschetta! Love, love the above ingredients! A comfort food is peach cobbler pie, made with fresh peaches with a dusting of fresh nutmeg. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and I'm a contented girl!

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    1. I can't eat peaches but ooh that bruschetta sounds divine--I am going to ask you all what you are cooking more often!! :)

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  14. What do you mean, raw chickpeas? Like as in dried, or what? We eat chickpeas by the wheelbarrow load - they go into pasta, curry, stir fry, salads.

    The other night I made a salad and wondered what you would think of it. It had chickpeas, tahini (the unhulled sesame seed one, SO much yummier than hulled), orange juice, chopped fresh red hot chilli, masses of Italian parsley, fresh sliced garlic (yep, I love it too!) virgin olive oil, lemon myrtle (that's an Australian spice, but tastes a bit like lemon balm), dried cranberies and balsamic vinegar - the really aged good stuff.

    It seems you are definitely not going the "cheese on toast" solo route - but are having a fine old feast while the boy's away! xx

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  15. There are moments when I read your first sentence that I think "it is time to hang up your hat old girl". That makes TWO basic mistakes in the same week--I swear I reread my posts before hitting publish--many times, I do! :O

    I meant cold chick peas, the straight out of the jar kind (because of the large North African population here I can get really tasty ones in a jar, no difference if I soak dry ones taste-wise). Here, they primarily go into my hummus although I am using them more and more otherwise--it is just that Remi likes them warm if I do. Last night I sauteed them in sesame seeds, fresh thymesun-dried tomatoes, pepper and the last of some zucchini with onion and it was INSANE! I'll be making that again. I am beginning to think that they belong in the "perfect food" category.

    Speaking of--your salad!! Whoooaaaa!! Oh course that sounds right up my alley, as you knew that it would!! But now I have to go and check if my Tahini is unhulled or not. It is imported from Lebanon by the guy at the market. He is totally amused that a white girl buys his goods! :) But sweet/salty plus tangy/spicy? Yum, yum, yum.

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  16. Dear Heather,

    What a fun and (obviously, given the responses) evocative post.

    Before answering your question, I should just flat-out admit that I'm generally known as a Very Serious Cook, with a wide-ranging repertoire and an established habit of throwing a dinner-party for six-eight twice per week (I work at home, so this isn't at all hard. Bascially, I just function as any aging grandmother would do on a daily basis in a household of eight mouths). In addition, we regularly (as in once per month) have large, full-buffet parties for 50-100....generally associated with fundraisers, the "art world", or Herve's work. I never use caterers. I do often beg the wonderful vietnamese lady who owns the unfortunately named (if you happen to have been connected with or in the gay world of 1980's Manhattan) "KS" restaruant to make me 100 or so of her Spring rolls.

    That said, and quite aside from the usual flurry of cooking and entertaining? there are long spells when Herve (who travels abroad about a third of each year on business) is just gone for ten to 14 days at a time....and I, without any distractions or excuses, simply buckle down to finishing neglected commissions, repairing things in this old house, and generally going underground.

    When I'm in this mode, I eat as I did throughout gradksool (which was a rather long 13 years, in my odd case). what do I eat?....

    Things. Just the things themselves.... boiled eggs..half a head of cabbage...a microwaved potato with nothing but salt and pepper..six carrots at a sitting...3 apples and a hunk of country ham with mustard. Essentially, I don't cook at all. I just forage, and I don't even bother to eat the things "together". Over the course of any particular day (and I'm lucky in that I'm never remarkably inclined to eat just a bag of doritoes), it's all quite nutritious (and there's probably a good reason that, during all the years I ate this way as a daily habit, I had to buy my 29" waist pants in the Boys' department of most stores). I do end up foraging about five times per day.

    One of my friends is a James Beard Award-winning chef/restauranteur......and he does the same when his wife and children are gone. In short, we both just end up sitting on the back steps, reading a book and eating what are usually regarded as ingredients of something else.

    Just a couple of nights ago (the last one before Herve returned from another long trip) I steamed a bunch of parsnips for supper, buttered them, and sat on the back porch, thinking "Oh, I'd forgotten how good parsnips are by themselves...why do I keep doing all these silly, fancy things to them?".

    Just for the record (and quite in contrast to my eating-alone habits, which I know aren't particularly edifying) there's a very fine and useful cookbook, by the famous food-editor Judith Jones (she was Julia Child's, Madhur Jaffrey's, and Marcella Hazan's editor), which is solely "About" cooking for one. Judith's in her 80's now, living alone in NYC, and all too familiar (like many single people) with the temptation to spend fifteen minutes, each night, standing over the kitchen sink while staring out the window and slurping a can of unheated soup into your mouth.

    It's a lovely, smart book. I've given away at least ten copies to various single friends (and one married friend who, like me, has a spouse who's gone as often as she's home).

    Level Best as Ever,

    David Terry
    www.davidterryart.com

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    1. Well, there you are! I was just about to send out the Ivory Tower police to make sure that you didn't get stuck up in there again. Heehee. And truly, what I would like to know is--are you buying that fancy old house or not? To have hints and then nothing more is too difficult on this little vicarious dreamers heart!

      Back to food (and it always comes back to food doesn't it?), I have a theory that forcing myself to cook alone throughout my nearly entirely celibritaire young adulthood (Sex in the City it wasn't) was one of the things that kept me sane and...friendly. I had and have a healthy relationship with food and the slicing and dicing grounded me, took me "home". So I wasn't stuffing myself. I was making something good for myself. Kind of like putting together a nice outfit just to run to the post office. Survival tactics! Yes, there were tough spells of 3 for a dollar ramen noodles because it was ALL I could afford. 30 cents per meal.

      As for foraging, I can't tell you how many personal trainers told me to eat that way when I was acting to stay skinny. And hello does it work. Just not terribly practical, especially when living with a Frenchman that is willing to start another revolution if we don't plan an entrée, plat, fromage et dessert for our guests.

      I will think also about what you have written the next time that I am reaching for the Mesa Rosa Chipolte Southwestern Smoky Blend spice mix. I could have been the redhead in the Spice Girls I love them (spices not the pop blunders) so much. But that means that I often write a whole different melody on top of an already orchestrated song (save that makes me sound like a far fancier cook than I am--sounds pretty though, doesn't it?). As you know, the ingredients in this neck of the woods, while simple, are fine on their own.

      I love that you are a true bona-fide down in your bones kind of cook! And I will gleefully invite myself to one of your dinner parties if I am ever in your neck of the woods.
      Tiptoeingly through the tulips as ever,

      Heather

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    2. PS. Although I spent far too many nights in the late 80s/early 90s in clubs both straight and gay (in '87 it was 6 nights a week, Monday's off), "KS" means nothing to me. For which I am grateful as I fear the worst.

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    3. Well, Heather....I think I'm a bit older than you, given that you were lucky enough to have delayed arriving on the scene until the "late 80's and early 90's".

      "KS" was short (so to speak) for Karposi's Sarcoma...which (like pneumocystis) was just one of those 2 or 3 things which "normal" healthy adults don't "get". Once it was diagnosed (which never took more than a day or a minute of clinical observation), you pretty much knew what road you and/or your friend was going down. Things changed, later on, of course; I'm speaking of the early Reagan years. I'm one of those extraordinarily "lucky" folks who wonder why I never caught so much as a cold and am still (having lost a boatload of friends in the early 80's) here.

      that said?...it's a bit weird to go to a vietnamense restaurant whose facade LARGELY displays a neon sign which reads "K.S! Come Enjoy!".

      I like their spring rolls, but I've got to admit that this olde queene shudders just a little bit everytime I go through the front door of the joint....


      ----david terry

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    4. P.S. #4444587:

      I forgot to add that the actual name of the restaurant is "Kim Son".....not that they ever use anything but the intitials.....

      ----david

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  17. P.S.....Judith Jones's "Cooking For One" is available at:

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Pleasures-Cooking-Judith-Jones/dp/0307270726/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1335447369&sr=1-1

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  18. By the way, Heather (and I hope I haven't already posted this to your blog)?.....

    Thanks for your note (to which I'll privately reply). I do enjoy (as, rather obviously, do many other folks) your writing about your and Remi's life. Here's a video that all of you should view:

    go to:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hj0yVN8pFNw

    Quite sincerely,

    David Terry
    www.davidterryart.com

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    1. Oh, David. I haven't heard that song in so long and it really was a balm to my soul!
      The essence of beautiful...

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  19. Okay, well I'm a bit late to this party, but Heather, I love it when you talk food! Clearly, I'm not even in the minor leagues when it comes to cooking. But I do aspire to cook like you do.

    And I have to chime in about those parsnips. Our local organic farm is just getting ready to open for the season. But they do have a few things out on the porch that you can buy using the honor system.

    The wintered-over parsnips are pretty amazing. Just the right amount of sweetness gained from sitting underground all winter long. I love to puree them with a bit of butter or just cut them up and roast them with a chicken or turkey.

    But, as I said, my repertoire is limited and I tend to rely on recipes, which is kind of amateurish. Also, how do people figure out what to eat every night of the week? I get bored with the same things, yet I never spend the time to come up with a more interesting plan. For example, both husband and I are now home from work, both tired, and we're going for the leftover pizza. And this time its not even homemade -- though I do make an excellent pizza crust.

    So you all have inspired me to work on this!

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    1. Well, great! But really please understand two things: I am NOT a fancy cook at all and remember that I am not working right now!! So I really have the luxury of asking "hmm, what sounds good tonight?" and the time to go to the outdoor market to see what is on offer--and they are open all year 'round. Which helps! But we have our basics too--roasted chicken, salmon, pasta and my pizza are all staples, nearly once a week! And you see? They aren't fancy!! But hopefully yummy. THAT is my goal. Even if it is a pizza, I will still sauté the sausage in fennel, trim some sun-dried tomatoes and grate some mozza to top a bit of ricotta. :)
      Bon weekend, copine.

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  20. Well, I have "dinner alone food" when hubby and I are apart: a tofu burger with steamed vegetables. Oh, and I watch chick flicks. Sometimes I look forward to him travelling just so I can eat so simply and sniffle while I watch stupid movies but don't tell him!

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    1. I certainly won't because I am exactly the same! I actually turned down going with him so that I could stay at home and watchy a girly film in peace!!

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  21. I love this blog!! Everything about it is delightful!!!

    Penelope

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