So I was feeling kinda badass the other day.
I had just relaunched Celinabean and much to my surprise readers came back. And the client I cook for said that my food helps him through his hard times. And then, in the same week, a couple of my nutty dance friends decided that offering dinner invitations to my house might lure good dancers to our area.
Yeah, I was maybe walking a little tall and swishing my hips a bit.
So when my friend KJ told me that she wanted to have steak for her birthday party and she wanted me to cook it, I said yes.
A year ago, I would have warned her off. Big hunks of meat have often been my downfall in the kitchen. But like I said ... badass.
And I've been practicing.
My cooking client loves steak. I’ve made more steaks in the past few months than I made in the last few years before taking the job. And because it was his money and his steak, rather than just fumble my way to something edible, I consulted the experts. Esquire is one of my favorite food magazines, especially when it comes to meat. They keep things simple, and they use great verbs. What more can you ask for when trying to cook a steak.
The last few steaks I made for my client were so good, I convinced myself that I had mastered steak once and for all. When it came time to plan KJ's party, my friend Pookie hinted that he was pretty good with a grill. Nah, I said. I got this.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I was swinging my swag.
So KJ goes and spends her birthday money on a bunch of grass-fed steaks from some local farm where the cows meditate and get massages or something like that. And we gather at June’s house. And now it is time for me to, you know, be a badass.
Here is how you will know I love you. When you are hurting, when you call and cry, or when you don’t call for too long, and I know it is because something has sucker punched you or swept you under or somehow laid you flat, I will show up. And if at all possible, I will not come empty handed.
Some people spend a lot of time angsting about relationships. Should they say this? Should they say that? Should they rush in or give space?
In matters of the heart, I am rather uncomplicated, constrained less by second-guessing and more by my supply of Tupperware containers. And until recently, my inability to make a decent stew.
It has always seemed to me that there is a certain kind of pain best addressed, not by words, but by a quiet presence and a bowl of slow-cooked something.
When your friend’s phone chirps and it is the sixth call in the last two hours. She picks up, and an aging relative begs her for pain drugs, and help with the doctor, and also for a room in her house. Your friend does not say yes. She does not say no, either. Her home is already crowded with children, laundry, untended work projects, and the thick, unfinished air from arguments she has not yet had time to have with her husband. Every 20 minutes her phone rings. And you see your friend’s face as she listens. She is kind and undone. It’s the pain of wanting and not wanting at the same time. The pain of “no way” and “of course” battling it out in a sleep deprived brain. It’s the kind of pain that bears down from all directions. Where anything extra, even a kind word, feels like more weight to carry.
This is the kind of pain where you shut up and bring stew.
If one could, in fact, make stew. Which, until recently, I could not.
Stew has been my theoretical response to rough times for as long as I remember, but not my practice because, well, my stew sucked. And inflicting nasty – as in tasteless and tough and often grey -- slop on a hard situation is, at best, not helpful.
This changed last month when I walked into the supermarket and got suckered into buying a copy of Food & Wine Magazine. The cover had the best picture of beef stew I’d ever seen. Cute little onions, and it was just so puuuurdy.
I fell the way some women fall for magazines that promise a new waistline or a new sex life or, better yet, the real, never before revealed secrets of Brangelina.
I BELIEVE, I told myself, all evidence be damned.
I took the magazine home and read the recipe. It asked for an entire bottle of red wine. I thought, maybe my luck has changed.
This year, I’m going for a different approach to winter food.
I like hearty stews, sort of. They do bring consolation to the cold and the dark. But hunks of long-cooked meat and potatoes are heavy at a time when everything else feels heavy -- jackets, blankets, boots. My sun-deprived heart. Stews are a make-life-in-the-cave-tolerable approach to nourishment.
But truth is, as much as I want to be a noble New Englander, snowing stomping and all cute in L.L. Bean, that ain’t me. I don’t want dark, heavy comfort, I want out of the cave. Period.
Here is a recipe that works magic for me. It has all the warm-your-bones richness that you want from winter food. But it offers sunshine, lush, soak-in-it sunshine. A closed-eyes smile. A memory of better times moving through you. Warmth that dances, that carries light.
I’ve been rereading my cookbooks with a new resolve to actually follow the recipes, and this is my first success. The directions do what good recipes should --take me someplace I couldn’t go on my own.
I’ve never made nor tasted anything like this sauce.