All January and early February, as glacial winds smacked us in our face on the walk to school — and somehow back too (uphill, both ways, etc.) — I counted down the days until we would go to Florida to visit my parents (who winter-as-a-verb there like all the other smart retirees of the Northeast) and thaw our bones for five days. Instead, the warm weather found its way here and apparently it’s been full-out spring while we were away but I’m not mad, how could I be, I was sitting on a beach in the middle of winter and it was exactly what we needed, or at least the 3/4 of us that are willing to let our feet touch the sand. Spotty wi-fi, falling asleep shortly after the kids did each night (one who learned a new word “mom-MEE!”) and great heaps of fresh fruit at the hotel’s breakfast buffet (shamelessly one of my favorite resort things) all contributed to an overall feeling of wellness that I hope to carry with me at least for the next 15 minutes, because I believe in keeping expectations reasonable.
[Somewhere in here is a wry observation of how far this is from the kid-free cocktails-on-the-beach style vacations we’ve taken other years, but if there’s anything that the retiree population of Florida makes clear it’s that you get those days back, although you might spend them cooing over other people’s tiny children and telling them how much you miss those exhausting days. I’ll spare you.]
I am a sucker for a good meatball. Something happens when you mix otherwise one-dimensional ground meats up with fresh breadcrumbs, herbs, seasonings and make a great sauce to go with it and that is that I will swat your fork away to get at them first. I always believed I held no such adoration for meatloaf until I mentioned this one day — here, on my invisible soapbox — and someone in the comments asked gently, as if they understood they were speaking to a very easily confused individual, if I knew that meatloaf is basically one giant meatball?
Please tell me this doesn’t just happen to me: You know when you love a dish so much, you don’t even want to risk ordering it when you’re out because it’s so often disappointing? Hopeless child of the 80s and 90s that I am, tiramisu is a top five dessert for me but I almost never eat it for this messy reason. At its finest, little bits of cake are almost saturated with bracing espresso then burrowed in a cream that’s ethereally light and fluffy for containing an unholy amount of mascarpone and dusted generously with cocoa or shaved unsweetened chocolate between each layer. The sum of the parts isn’t overly sweet but quite rich, ideal in small doses. It is heaven.
I have very strong opinions about guacamole. Fortunately for all of our sakes, this isn’t the kind of site devoted to didactic culinary lectures; it’s not that my way is right and your way is wrong. [Don’t I sound so mature today?] If you love guacamole with chopped tomatoes, or red onion instead of white, lemon instead of lime or, like a former president of the United States, with garlic in it (shudder), you should just go ahead and keep doing you. You’re cooking for you, not me. And I will eat it, preferably with a salt-rimmed margarita or paloma. I have never turned guacamole away; I am not a monster.
Pretty much everything terrible about making cookies comes down to one thing: deciding you want a cookie and realizing that the expanse between now and when you get to eat said is unfairly wide.
• Butter needs to be softened. Is your kitchen really cold today? Have fun with that.
• The butter needs to be “creamed” with sugar until “light and fluffy.” Some recipes want you to do this for many, many minutes. Some recipes think you are bored.
• Once your dough is made, it needs to be formed into packets and chilled in the fridge for “at least two hours” but “preferably overnight.” Remember when you said you wanted a cookie? You meant tomorrow, right?
Have you ever wanted to go behind the scenes here at the Smitten Kitchen? Like, really behind the scenes, watching me cook, listening to me chatter about how the recipe came about and grimacing at my terrible knife skills? Phew, I was hoping you would say no because I’m excruciatingly awkward in person and also on camera and since we all agree, you can just come back in a day or two and we’ll proceed with a new recipe like we always do. Right?
If I had a superpower, it would be rationalizing. Did you find a pair of boots that you love but they’re wildly expensive? Text me and I will tell you about the only time in my life I have splurged on boots and how lovely they are. Were you having a nostalgic conversation with a friend about boxed macaroni and cheese and now you’re craving it? I say you’re basically obligated to reunite with it once in a while as an adult for, like, reassessment. But that’s my base level of rationalizing; what I did last weekend was Olympic.
I have been thinking about how it might be cool to do a bake pasta dish in which we swap the noodles for farro but leave all the great parts like cheese, so much cheese, chunks of vegetable and, most hopefully, a crunchy lid for years. Years! In that time, I have cooked hundreds of other things, some even not terrible, even, but it took until I handed my husband the latest Ina Garten cookbook and told him to pick out some things we should eat and he pointed to her recipe for crusty shells and cheese that I thought “This!” I last felt this urgently about swapping pasta for a grain when we made this, three and a half years ago.
I don’t know why it took me so long to make this as it combines the only two things I ever want when I’m sick: chicken noodle and wonton soup. The thing is, when you’re sick, you absolutely do not want to cook anything. (Also sometimes when we’re well, to be completely honest. Shh, don’t tell anyone.) And so for a couple nights, we picked up a decent chicken noodle soup in the neighborhood, but when we tired of that, ordered wonton soup instead. It’s usually a disappointment. Sometimes it seems like a quart of bland broth with three floating pockets in it, not the most filling meal. Plus, it’s off the menu for anyone who doesn’t eat pork or shrimp. But this one was not; it was chicken wontons in chicken broth and it was exceptional, the happiest mashup of the two wonderful things.