For most of my life I've observed an arms-length relationship with food. When dining alone--as I often did when Helen traveled for work--food was for sustenance more than enjoyment. In New York the idea of whipping something up when cheap and yummy Chinese awaited around the corner, or the charms of Taco Taco were just a block away, seemed silly. When dining with friends it's always easier to go out, and in that situation the point is the conversation more than the food. So my cooking adventures have been sporadic, with others doing the heavy lifting while I played the part of the lovable but hapless sous chef.
After Helen and I split I vowed to become a better cook and even took some cooking classes. But soon I reverted to form; living in the Mission offered numerous tempting and affordable culinary options. Who wants to do all that prep work and cleaning? And who has the time when a film festival is rumbling through the Roxie?
Meanwhile, Pi Wen had been honing her repertoire and becoming an excellent chef. She believes, with reason, that cooking at home is both healthier and cheaper. Eating out should be a special occasion, not an everyday grind. And the prep work and cleanup is part of the fun, not a tiresome chore.
That said, we did eat out a lot while planning for the wedding. There were vendors to interview and details to determine, all while both of us were working. Whatever the joys of a home cooked meal, it was generally easiest to eat out. This was just dandy by me, but hard on Pi Wen.
Now we've moved to a new place and are slowly settling in. There will always be the time and money debate about whether to eat in or go out. But in consequence of our (somewhat) more relaxed pace I've finally made the shift towards wanting to cook at home and taste the pleasures of food created by my own hands.
This in part due to the excellent example of Pi Wen, and in part to the slow moving seduction of the Bay Area's vibrant home-cooking scene. It's only taken four years to get through to me. No doubt there is some amazing cooking going on in NYC home kitchens. But the pleasures of home cooking seem deeper in the bone here, in the land that gave us the slow food movement and is the home of so much amazing produce.
I digress. This post was supposed to be about what I cooked this evening--roasted rock cod crusted with corn nuts and vegetable ribbons. For a cold dish I included leftover quinoa salad we made recently, and washed it all down with a pinot grigio (California is wine country too, so maybe the love of wine will eventually pierce my psyche too.) Pi Wen is away for a short business trip, so it was all up to me and there was no way to fall back on sous chef status. Thanks to Lynne Char Bennett of the San Francisco Chronicle for the recipe.
It came out well, although there is definitely room for improvement. Most distressingly, I didn't crush the corn nuts nearly enough--this despite the fact that Char Bennett advises readers to "Use a small skillet or meat pounder to break them up finely." And so the nuts didn't crust the fish, but rather lay there annoyingly on top. In my defense...there was something absurd about banging the omelette skillet against an airtight bag of popcorn kernels, so I didn't persist long enough. This speaks to a gentleness (laziness?) that serves well in life, but not always so well in the kitchen.
On the other hand, the cod fish was flavorful and I really enjoyed the fennel's contribution to the vegetable medley. I even had to improvise a bit due to the lack of spicy brown mustard in the fridge--thank goodness for IKEA and gravlaxsas (yes, gravlaxsas is supposed to be for salmon but what's a boy to do.)
I'd give myself an A for effort and a B- for execution--not ready to invite friends over just yet, but there's hope! Someday I will no longer believe that it's always easier to go out with friends, and when they come over it will be about the conversation, sure, but also the food.