I live in a New York apartment that is larger than many but smaller than you think. My kitchen has a two-butt maximum, and the refrigerator is the size they only bother displaying in Manhattan. This has its limitations.
Lately, the limitation has only been my own brain. Every Wednesday, I pick up vegetables from my CSA at a Presbyterian church a few blocks away, which means that every Tuesday, I’m doing an inventory of which vegetables I didn’t use the week prior and whether they are salvageable. I’m trying to get better at this — to focus on what I have, to remember that last week’s chard is waiting for inspiration — but I find it remarkably difficult to force myself to eat an unappealing vegetable. Give me a cucumber and I’ll happily consume it in minutes. Give me radicchio and I’m rolling my eyes and counting the days until it goes to the compost bin.
I learned how to cook from my mom, who is both an outstanding cook and also slavish to recipes. This bores me. I want my cookbooks to read like novels; I want a tiny Samin Nosrat on my shoulder reminding me to salt every time a new ingredient goes in the pot. Most of all, I want to be able to cook by instinct. I show people I love them by cooking, and I want to be able to do that without having to follow someone else’s words.
There are two bulbs of fennel in my vegetable drawer that are waiting for me. I want to recreate this salad I order from Motorino - it has the fennel, sliced, with slivers of red onion, citrus segments, dark dark oil-cured olives, capers, currants, olive oil, and vinegar. Or at least that’s what I think it has after years of ordering this bright-as-the-sun salad in the dead of winter and dissecting it. It’s been rolling around in my head for a week and a half, waiting until I have the patience to supreme citrus and carve away at a fennel bulb. For so many, cooking is something they can do when their brain is turned off, when they’re relaxed. I have to be so very present when I cook. It takes all of my focus to decide “yes, this is what I want to do with these carrots” and go.
I baked last night, which is a good sign that I am at least present in my own head.
"I feel strongly that baking is an extension of my emotions – a way to say, 'Here’s my heart on a plate.'" - Nancy Olson, pastry chef