When I was a kid, my mother used to tell me – a lot, actually, and usually at dinner, when I frowned at some gastroterror as grim as cubed beets in thick syrup – “You know what your problem is? I will tell you what your problem is. Your problem is, you don’t know what’s good. That’s your problem. “
Thankfully, after a lifetime of experience and a lot of therapy, I believe I have learned what is good. Affection, one of them. And anti-slip shoes.
But it is also the recognition that self-improvement has no limits, and that quest is, in itself, good. Let us think, then, of ways to improve ourselves and, furthermore, the world, when we are on the last sabbatical in 2020, the roadkill is flat and rotten in a year, receding in the rearview mirror.
Multiple resolutions, then?
Resolution No.1: Order some luggage. I don’t know if you’ve seen the newspapers, but there’s a pandemic. Among its many victims is the restaurant industry. So here’s one good thing you can do: Find a restaurant you like, then pick up the phone (contact them directly – the delivery app costs money) and pay some cash. Once a month would be great, every week if you were loaded. The cooks and hosts of the line, servers, dishwashers and bussers, many of them barely scratched, even at the best of times. Order some luggage. Really. Oh, and a great tip. Always.
Resolution No.2: Repeat after me: “I, (state your name), hereby decide that, with dogs as my witnesses, this year, I will cook more good food.”
Here’s what’s cool about that resolution: you can emphasize the “cook more” section or the “good food” section. If you haven’t cooked much, get started. If you have been cooking a lot, you can now improve your technical skills or expand your vocabulary. Learn to move faster or just make your food taste and look like something you want to put in your piehole.
Here are three sub-resolutions, for your convenience:
No.2A Resolution: If you’re the “can’t make toast” type, decide to cook at least one meal per week. It doesn’t have to be “gourmet” or even “from scratch.” Start small. Make toast or, better, square pasta. (Add the pasta to a large saucepan of boiling salted water, and cook, stirring occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking, for the time indicated on the package.) Then, learn how to heat a stirred pasta sauce (Pour sauce into “saucepan” – tall ones instead of the short, wide ones called “wok” – and place them over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally so they don’t burn.) From there, learn how to make roasted potatoes and boiled green beans and rice (not instant rice; you too. can eat wet cricket husks). Remember, the journey of a thousand miles started with something I can’t remember. But, mi, shmiles, you have to learn to cook.
No.2B Resolution: If you already cook, try to expand your culinary horizons. What dishes do you like but have never tried to make? Indian? Italy? Israel?
Do some research. Find a good book or website about the cooking. Go to a neighborhood inhabited by the people who make the food. Take some of your time there (See Resolution No. 1). Then, find a grocery store for the spices and dry goods you will need to make the dish. Start reading and following recipes. Watch and respect the people who grew up making these foods, however, don’t obsess over “authenticity.” Even with grandma’s recipe, your beshbarmak won’t fool anyone in Zhezqazghan.
No.2C Resolution: If you are an experienced cook, admit your weaknesses. How fast can you cut an onion? Is your knife even sharp? Or, what have you always wanted to learn? How about throwing vegetables in the hot skillet like a wild animal? Place a handful of kosher salt in a cool, dry frying pan – a short, wide one with slanted sides. With the saucepan placed on the burner unlit, move it back and forth to get the salt moving en masse, like a herd of hyacinths roaring in the semi-arid Kazakh Steppes. Next, try moving it forward and stopping suddenly, so that the salt rises slightly to the far side of the pan. Do it again, but this time, as the salt rises, quickly pull the pan back with a slight wrist motion upward to make the salt curve slightly backward through the air and back down to the surface of the pan. Keep practicing until it’s consistent, rhythmic. Next, try it while you sauté the delicious onions or mushrooms in the recipe here.
Bonus Resolution: Practice. Name one thing you perfected the first time you tried it. The trombone? Brain surgery? Cooking is the same. The more you practice your kitchen skills, the more you make certain dishes or cook from certain dishes, the better you will be and the quicker the results will feel like a habit.
In closing, my friends, this year, think about the way you eat. Support your locally owned restaurant. Make a delicious meal for yourself. The world will be a better place. Or, at the very least, because you ate something delicious that you made with your own hands resting on the tip of your arm, the world would appear, if only briefly, to be better than it really is.
OPTIONAL BRAND MUSHROOM
Don’t hesitate not to drink alcohol. The mushrooms are delicious on their own.
Start to finish: 15-20 minutes
Makes 2 cups
2 tablespoons butter or oil
1 to 2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 pound mushrooms, sliced or cut into quarters
Salt and pepper as needed
2 tablespoons brandy (optional)
Place the butter in a large skillet with the base set over the highest heat. Once the butter has melted, it will start to foam.
When the foam starts subside, add mushrooms to cover the entire pan. Season with salt and pepper, and let the mushrooms sit, undisturbed, until brown, 1 to 2 minutes.
Push some mushrooms to the side of the pan to make room, then add the garlic to the fat and let it cook until fragrant, 20 to 30 seconds.
Stir or stir the mushrooms until cooked, about 1 minute.
Remove the pan from the heat, and add brandy. Reheat the skillet, and tilt the brandy until it turns on. When the flame subsides, stir or stir the mushrooms until blended, then taste the seasonings and serve immediately.
Nutritional information per serving: 39 calories, 3 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 3 g carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 1 g protein, 4 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.
VARIATION: SAFE MUSHROOM
After the mushrooms are cooked, reduce the heat to medium and mix with 2 tablespoons of flour. Cook, stirring, until flour is mixed with fat in skillet to form a roux, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn up the heat to high, and add 1 liter of chicken, beef or vegetable stock, making sure all of the roux is completely dissolved. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes to reduce the starchy taste. Remove from heat, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of whole butter and keep stirring until the butter is combined into the sauce. Taste it as a seasoning, and serve immediately.