Friday, September 10, 2010

Tomato Tart and a new recipe for order


So I've been struggling with housewifedom.

Go ahead. Laugh.

I'm not used to struggling with tasks. One of my strengths is that I can pick things up quickly and do them well. (There. I said it. I'm not boasting, I'm just laying it out there.) So the fact that I'm very nearly a complete failure as a house-keeper has been a thorn in my side for many years. It's not that I can't handle the individual tasks of house-keeping: I'm perfectly capable of washing dishes, dusting, mopping and keeping things tidy. It's just that I can't seem to bring it all together into a consistent pattern.

One of my worst infractions is the fact that when I cook a meal, the damage to the kitchen is, as I used to say back in my professional life, non-trivial. To say that my effect on a kitchen is non-trivial is like saying the effect of radiation from the sun on the primordial muck of early life was insignificant. I have yet to witness any large-scale evolutionary changes resulting from my cooking chaos, but then again, I have trouble focusing on the chaos as it's happening, as I'll discuss in a minute.

So my love of cooking has always been coupled with very unpleasant after-effects that are now amplified by having to be in constant watch over a toddler. So there are at least 3 options for dealing with this situation: 1. Don't cook as much, 2. Cook very simple things that don't destroy the house, 3. Do some serious brain inventory and figure out why you're such a freaking slob.

Keep in mind that none of those 3 options are mutually exclusive. I can have a perfectly satisfactory life by sticking to options 1 and 2, but they both make me a little sad. It's not that I don't like take-out. I live in a town that has some of the best restaurants around and they're pretty reasonably priced, but even at reasonable prices, each trip to the Indian buffet isn't going to convince our academic loans to pay themselves off.

I have nothing against simple food. I know it's very fashionable right now, and there are scores of 'foodie' bloggers that are dying to tell you about their dinner of a single handful of $12 spinach splashed with $50 vinegar and a slice of a home-schooled pear, but sometimes I just need to COOK. As I've mentioned before in this blog, my cooking isn't always about the food.

So that leaves #3. Oy. I'm not new to self-reflection, trust me. If graduate school taught me anything, it taught me how to question everything I thought I knew and liked about myself because people can't really be such incredible assholes to me if... Sorry. I digress.

I've tried to figure out my penchant for physical clutter for a long time. The thing that is most poignant about the whole situation is that I HATE clutter in my environment. It paralyzes me. Visual clutter is anathema to my brain being able to do anything constructive, yet I create it with such ease and finesse that you'd think I'd pride myself on how I can sprinkle junk mail and grocery receipts throughout a living room within 5 seconds of entering the house. You'd think my ability to up-end a stack of books by simply looking in its direction would somehow launch me to super-stardom of my own, albeit pathetic, reality show. But no. It has, until now, been a mystery.

So I'd been thinking about #3 for quite some time with no revelations, and in a fit of exasperation with myself, I finally asked my patient, brilliant and often charmingly-clueless spouse "HOW IS IT THAT I DESTROY THE F#$%ING KITCHEN EVERY TIME I COOK??" (Note, I didn't say f#$%ing, I said 'fucking' because I was, at that time, looking at a completely destroyed kitchen.)

As is his way, he thought for a moment before speaking (something that I find completely foreign and strangely attractive), and then came up with something that was truly insightful.

"You seem to be overly focused on the actual cooking."

Pause for effect.

Hmmm. I thought about that for a moment and realized that he was on to something. I'm pretty good about prepping things before the cooking begins, but something happens once the burners turn on. My brain focuses on those pans and the counters become a fuzzy wasteland of detritus.

So with this in mind, I've tried to become more 'mindful' of my focus during cooking. I never before realized how I like to be 'in the moment' of a saute. There's no reason that I can't let my onions sweat by themselves for a moment or two to rinse out a dish and set it in the sink. The pasta sauce will be just fine if I take a second to rinse out the tomato can and put it in the recycling. And for the love of all that's savory and well-seasoned, I can put the cutting boards in the dishwasher while the pressure-cooker comes up to pressure.

This may seem ridiculous to those of you who can do all of these things innately, but just go ahead and try to re-route your brain during one of your favorite and most automatic of tasks. Try it!!

It's not easy, is it.

So this is the dawning of a new day around our house. It's going to be a process with several setbacks and some episodes with tear-filled apologies to the dishwasher and the compost bin, but I think real progress can be made. And as is the way with any kind of therapy and self-analysis, the path will be made easier with some concrete goals:

#1. No post-dinner cleanup should take more than 15 minutes.
#2. The number of meal-prep dishes used up during cooking should take up no more than one side of the double sink.
#3. 'It' cannot wait until after dinner, when 'it' needs to be thrown in the trash, put back in the fridge or in the pantry.

Seemingly simple are the tasks that often take our entire will.

So to kick off my new outlook, I made a very simple and only so-so tomato tart. The recipe is adapted and veganized from the Simply Food magazine. I find Martha Stewart to be a reprehensible troll, but some of her staff can come up with nice things.

Tomato Tart

2 cups grape tomatoes, sliced in half and slightly de-gooed.
1/2 package of vegan 'feta' (this was a mistake and kind of nasty. Don't bother)
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry dough, thawed
basil, oregano etc.
salt and pepper

Pre-heat your oven to 400F.
1. Roll out the pastry to iron out the creases left by folding and place it on parchment on a baking sheet.
2. Fold over 1/2 an inch of the pastry on all sides, creating a border.
3. Crumble and evenly spread vegan feta on the pastry, if you must
4. Evenly distribute the tomatoes over the tart.
5. Add basil and oregano with flair
6. Season with salt and pepper
7. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

This was ok. It looked pretty, but like so many attractive people, there was little behind the looks. It was easy and fast and I didn't completely destroy the kitchen.

Mantra for the day: Get out of your mind and into the kitchen.

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