Thursday, January 3, 2008

Simple Pleasures

I think we choose not who we love but rather we choose opportunities that let love blossom.

Yesterday, my friend Matt got on a plane and flew 600 miles away from me to return to his regularly scheduled life. We spent a blissful four days together—that is to say, it was blissful because we were together, but it was emphatically NOT BLISSFUL for Matt, because he developed a raging head cold over the weekend that left him feeling less than perky. Our plans yielded to illness: we didn’t go out to The Stained Glass, a lovely wine bar in downtown Evanston. We didn’t go out on New Year’s Eve. We didn’t walk down to Lake Michigan, which I surely would have persuaded him to do, despite his dislike for Chicago winters. No, we didn’t do much of anything but eat, drink tea, lay around, and sleep. Oh, and cook. Between the two of us, we cooked A LOT. Unfortunately, a stuffy nose stole his ability to taste much of anything, which may have worked in my favor since his presence distracted me into burning several things. Yes, clearly it was his fault I burned the spices for Matter Tofuneer (think Matter Paneer but with tofu instead of paneer cheese). Then I burned—er, caramelized—the vegetables I was sauteeing for Vegetable Noodle Soup. Yes, all his fault! That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The distance between us complicates our circumstances. How do you love someone who lives so far away? Missing him hurts. Remarkably, I think our friendship is simple; it is the rest of our lives that are complicated. Logistics: complicated. Affection: simple. Travel: complicated. Arrival: simple. Independent, fulfilling lives: complicated. Sharing our tales from said lives: simple. Matt from far away: complicated. Matt up close: simple.

Thank goodness for simple pleasures.

Matt loves to cook as much as I do. On our final night together, he mustered the energy to cook dinner for us. He made a fantastic, slightly adapted Chickpea and Artichoke Heart Stew from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, which I am afraid I cannot reproduce in text right now because I must consult with him to add his tricks to my copy of the recipe. But he did put me in charge of making the salads. Matt’s salad is simple and a refreshing palate cleanser after a complex stew: fresh baby spinach, orange sections, a slip of balsamic vinegar, a dash of salt and pepper, and the warmth of a few slices of raw onion. The onion is key here: if you prep the salad early, say twenty to thirty minutes before you eat, the onion has time to gently infuse the whole salad with its raw heat. It plays nicely with the spinach and orange, bringing out their fresh flavors. Much like Matt, this salad will be welcome at my table for a long time.

Matt’s Spinach and Orange Salad
Serves 1 (multiply as needed)

The instructions I give here are by the bowl; each bowl serves one person as a side. Matt uses a little less raw onion for his loved ones who are not as wild about raw onion as we are.

2 handfuls of fresh baby spinach
2 orange sections, split in half
Several small, extremely thin slices of onion (for example, take two or three very thin slices off the end of an onion that you are using for another dish), separated
Salt and pepper to taste
Balsamic vinegar to taste

Arrange spinach and orange sections in a bowl. Drape onion slices over the top decoratively. Immediately before serving, add a dash of salt and pepper and a bit of balsamic vinegar. Serve. You can serve the extra orange sections in a separate bowl at the table; if your diners are like me, they'll want to add more oranges as they go.

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