Monday, February 22, 2010

A Little Tenderness (Lots of Revision)

Knowing that I am going to write about what I cook, what I'm listening to and what I'm thinking while I cook/listen makes it significantly harder to relax and enjoy the process. Suddenly, I'm not just doing; I am cataloging thoughts, frantically attempting to photograph food, and trying to remember songs. Saturday night cooking and music has become it's own kind of workout. This past Saturday, for the sake of simplicity (I was too lazy to think hard about what I was in the mood to listen to), I turned on Twine Time. 

The episode was a compilation of R&B songs that remained at the top of the Billboard charts for the most weeks in history. When I turned on the radio around 8:30 (yeah, I got a late start), Otis Redding's "Dock of the Bay" was playing. Here is an NPR interview with Steve Cropper, who co-wrote the song. In the interview, Cropper discusses the song's origins, and he comments that it had lasting mass appeal because it touches on a widely shared feeling that, "I'm working my can off, and it seems like nothing is going to come my way."

If you read my previous entry, you have an inkling that I went into the night feeling just that way; it didn't escape me that the first song I heard captured my mood. Part of the bad mood came from job frustrations, but another part of my mood sprouted (like fungus) from a fiction workshop. Friday, I workshopped a story with Francine Prose. Do you know of her? She's incredibly smart - meet her in person and that much is obvious. The issues she pointed out in my story, almost all of which I agreed with (yes, I am arrogant enough to have disagreed wholeheartedly with one comment) were spinning in my head. How to solve this story to which I I feel unyielding dedication?

As I listened to Paul Ray play all of these songs that sat stubbornly and triumphantly at the top of the charts for weeks on end into months and years, I started thinking about the concept of adapting to challenges in life so that a person creates staying power.

There were many revisions to dinner. I planned to adapt butternut squash and sage risotto by substituting turnips and basil. The recipe called for an onion. I didn't have one, so I used green onions and a healthy-sized shallot.

I realized that my one bunch of turnips was not enough (the recipe called for 1 lb. of squash). I added a couple of sweet potatoes to fill out the turnips, which worked perfectly. Next time, I'll be sure to have plenty of turnips.

Growing up, I was not a fan of turnips, but these turnips were the best I've tasted. I am convinced that the market roots were packed with flavor that grocery store turnips simply, and entirely, lack. Though the risotto contained slightly less turnips than sweet potatoes, the sweet turnips out-shined the sweet potatoes.

I also noticed that homemade vegetable stock rocks. Using it added depth to the overall flavor. If I'd used a boullion cube or plain water, the risotto would surely have fallen flat. With the stock, it seemed like little tasty fireworks were popping off in my mouth. I'd pick up one flavor, and pow - another flavor shot up just as the first was flickering out. Then pow, pow, pow - another flavor and another.

Here is a picture (by Chris) of the stock and risotto in action. You can also see oyster mushrooms sauteing. I cooked them in an olive oil/butter mix with salt and pepper, and I folded them into the risotto before serving.

This weekend I started a stock bag. I've got a plastic bag in the fridge, and as I cook throughout the week, instead of tossing vegetable trimmings, I'm putting them in the stock bag. At the end of the week, I'll rinse it all in a colander and make new stock. (This week, I've even included tangerine peels. Mmm. Citrus-y stock.)

I've never made risotto before, but the finished product was robust and impressive. It tasted like it came from a good restaurant, and I am not exaggerating. The great surprise (to me): As impressive a dish as it is, it is equally easy to make. Take one more look at the recipe posted a couple of entries ago and give it a try You can find it here.

In this image, you can see Chris flash frying basil for garnish. In the bowl at the front of the stove is garlic that he cooked until it is just golden and crisp. We added the garlic to the greens before serving.

There was another quick revision to last night's plans. I originally planned a side of kale and turnip greens. As it turns out, I didn't have kale, but I did have kohlrabi. I trimmed off the greens from the turnips and kohlrabi and cooked them together. Honestly, the kohlrabi greens were a nice change of pace from spinach and kale.

For a long time, I have prided myself on my atility to create a good meal when I am down to my emptiest fridge. My fridge has seemed empty for too long, as if I may have exhausted my resources.

After dinner on Saturday, replenished, I spent three hours revising my story (the 7,348th revision, or so it feels like). I won't say it is perfect, but the work is stronger and that much closer to what I know it has the potential to be. After revising, I felt more charged. My excitement reminded me that I am on the right path, regardless of what obstacles I encounter.

Before starting in the kitchen on Saturday, I hoped for ingenious inspirations. No ingenious inspirations came about, but I did remember that I can think quickly, adapt to circumstances, revise plans as necessary and still create plenty of nourishment and comfort.

It isn't "Dock of the Bay," but "Try a Little Tenderness" is a mighty good song. Otis Redding live, Stax Tour, Europe, 1967:


  1. tell me more about your stock bag. when you have time can you break it down from start to finish. i want to try this.

  2. Herpreet SinghFebruary 23, 2010

    I'll write about it this weekend after I actually make the stock. Then I can talk about the whole process.

  3. Oh good. I want to know about this too!

  4. Why rinse the stock bag ingredients? If there is any soil on the goods, it will settle out, esp since Veg stock is not too viscous. ginger peelings, if you bother to peel your ginger, is a good addition. Stock is another good reason to grow lots of parsley.