[Mushroom galette, November 2008.]
There are days when all I think about is food — the preparing of it, how well certain dishes will pair with others, what specifically I should cook for a friend’s birthday, whether making the same dishes over and over again is a good thing or means simply that I am bo-ring, how much spinach I have left in the vegetable drawer, should I have picked up an extra bunch of chard at the market last week because even though I’m going out of town I really would love a plate of softly sauteed greens for dinner tonight.
Sometimes — and I’m not even kidding you — I’ll wake up in the night unable to sleep for one dream or another and the only thing that will let me fall back asleep is to think about what I’ll make for lunch the next day. Well, it’s usually not so much about lunch unless it’s for a lunch party; I’m mostly concerned with dinner, dinner parties I’m hosting, or what I will bring to one I’m not.
Of course, this can go in the other direction when I start thinking too much about what to cook and I’ll find myself — somehow — in the kitchen at 3:30 a.m. with a glass of water, poring over old cookbooks and writing elaborate menus on bits of paper I’ve tucked between their pages for just such a purpose. Those are the nights after which I might curse myself for not at least attempting to go back to sleep within a reasonable amount of time.
But I just get so excited.
I’m far a far simpler cook these days than I used to be — I believe the quality of the ingredients (i.e. locally grown, hopefully organic, completely in season) make the meal, and I don’t use a lot of out-of-the-way stuff or ready-made components (pasta being a notable exception although there have been times when I’ve made my own without a machine, which involved lots of rolling out slender strands of floury dough on the counter and wondering if they’d actually turn into something edible once boiled). Also, the reality is that I don’t always have the time to experiment or make some of the absolutely gorgeous recipes published each month in Gourmet magazine (though they do inspire me, absolutely) and when I have a party it’s often comprised of mainstays rather than new additions.
It wasn’t always this way. I used to be a bit more adventurous. Menu planning used to keep me up at night back when I threw dinner parties on a more regular basis — even weekly, for a time — and I could hardly sleep for imagining what I’d cook and how I would do it and who would come and and and. I was definitely also more broke, but I miss those days a little, and I every so often even miss the nights when I fretted over a slightly soggy tarte tatin or if I had enough sugar and if not, would I have time to dash to the store on the way home from work? I mean, I still do this, just not as frequently. Which mostly I think is OK, not least of all because I get more rest.
Sometimes, though, when I wake up in the middle of the night and everything is quiet and still and I can’t find a way back into into sleep, I start envisioning what kind of things I’d bake for a holiday party I’d throw if I were to throw a holiday party (cranberry upside-down cake; sage-and-sweet-potato risotto; black-and-white cookies; mini latkes). Or I’ll think about what I’d like to write about for a food story (babka, maybe, or a chocolate cream pie). I vaguely remember these mid-night foodish imaginings once morning comes, but if I’m lucky I’ll have tucked away a few of the ideas for putting into practice later on.
And when that happens — well, I can’t say I mind the sleeplessness all that much.