Monday, August 18, 2008

On Duality and Salad Dressing

By all accounts, I seem like a perfectly normal person. I go to work every day. I sleep soundly for eight hours a night. I laugh, I cry, I stomp my feet in frustration sometimes, then I laugh at myself. I have a very healthy appetite. In fact, I strongly suspect that my advisor thinks I spend all my time at work eating. Whenever we bump into each other, I’m spooning something into my mouth. (Hey, I’m not allowed to eat in the lab! Safety regulations!) Doesn’t he realize science takes a lot of energy? Those PCR reactions aren’t going to set themselves up! At least not until we get some sort of robot to do it for us.

Yes, I do put up a good front, convincing everyone how very normal I am. But secretly, I wonder if I’m not actually two people. Inside my brain live The Rational and The Emotional. And they get in fights with each other all the time. The Rational is always arguing for what “makes sense,” while The Emotional pleads for what “feels right.” The problem is that what makes sense and what feels right are often not the same thing. It’s up to me to sort out these discrepancies.

A long-distance relationship really pushes me to the edge of confusion here. By all accounts, starting a romantic relationship with someone who lives 600 miles away is about the least rational thing ever. It does not make sense, but oh, how good it feels! Sometimes. The together-apart-together-apart rhythm of this romance is like driving through a mountain pass; it’s all ups and downs and stomach-dropping curves and relief at the end. It is nothing short of exhilaration, but it’s also exhausting and at times, heart-wrenching.

I experience bouts of insecurity during the times when Matt is so terribly busy that he can barely breathe, let alone compose a love letter or have a leisurely chat with me. Usually I know when he’s entering one of those times. Rationally, I should interpret his silence for what it is: racing against the clock, foot heavy on the gas pedal of his life. But I can’t help missing him when he disappears on me, and in missing him, sometimes I wonder if his silence isn’t deliberate, if he’ll really return to the emotional space that is us. Past experience has sensitized me to this break-up method: have two boyfriends disappear on you, only to return one final time to announce, “It’s over,” and YOU try not to freak out when he becomes unavailable!

I feel guilty for even having these feelings. Matt is not one to play games. He’s calm and reassuring, patient and wise, one of the most loving people I’ve ever met. He’s never given me a reason to doubt his feelings or his commitment, so I feel disloyal when I doubt. Call it a duality: the on-going struggle between The Rational and The Emotional.

I have a similar conflict when it comes to cake. I claim not to be much of a cake person, but then I race out to the lunchroom at work when there’s a cake alert! And don’t I love every bite of homemade cake, scraping up tender crumbs and rich frosting with my fork? I do! I LOVE IT when someone brings in a cake! Hallelujah! Last week, I was that someone. The next day, Daphna was that someone, and holy frijoles, but that girl can BAKE! What a dreamy confection she made: chocolate cake, moist and rich, with a sturdy but tender crumb, covered in just-barely-sweet vanilla frosting, made thick with meringue and plenty of butter. Daphna, demure as she is, had no idea that her cake would be demolished in a matter of minutes, leaving nothing but crumbs. Somehow she managed to save me a slice—hurray! I daresay, I have found my wedding cake. I have no groom, or really any of the other wedding day accessories, but dammit, I’ve found my cake. So D, if your offer to make my wedding cake still stands, I’d like to order one chocolate cake with that amazing vanilla frosting. Don’t worry, you’ve got plenty of time to perfect your cake-decorating skills while I go look for a groom.

Two cakes in two days, and a giant vanilla milkshake at Hamburger Mary’s on Friday night. Mmm-hmm. It was a decadent week. After all that decadence, all I really want is a salad. But here’s the kicker: I made the most delicious salad dressing ever last week. It’s downright decadent. More or less a classic Italian vinaigrette, this dressing is sharp with balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard, laced with sweet-tangy shallots, and made creamy with a healthy pour of olive oil. It has no right being as good as it is—it’s nothing fancy, just a basic dressing—but my goodness, does it make me swoon. It turns an otherwise-ordinary salad into something worth writing to you about, dear reader. It also works really well as a condiment in sandwiches, or even just spooned onto good bread. Whatever uses you find for this dressing, I’m sure it will please your palate.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to bake another cake for this week.

Classic Italian Vinaigrette
Adapted from a dressing recipe in Food Network Kitchens Cookbook
Makes 1/2 cup

I don’t even watch the Food Network, but somehow I acquired one of their cookbooks. (Thanks, SM!) But I’m really starting to like this cookbook: I’ve got no fewer than four recipes bookmarked and I have a feeling I’ll be adding to that number. This vinaigrette is a keeper in my kitchen. Very tasty and very versatile, it’s also very, very easy, made with ingredients you probably have on hand right now. Give it a whirl and see what you think.

3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. salt
A couple grinds of fresh pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
1 shallot, minced

1) In a small bowl (I like to use my two-cup volume measuring cup), whisk the vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper together. Using one hand to whisk and one hand to pour, begin pouring the olive oil into the dressing while whisking steadily. Keep pouring and whisking until you’ve added all the olive oil and the dressing has emulsified into one mixture. This dressing should be thick and voluptuous now.
2) Stir in the minced shallots. Contrary to what the book says, I’m finding that this dressing keeps very well in the fridge for more than a week. Store it in a glass container in the fridge and it should keep nicely. After refrigerating, the dressing may solidify, so let it warm up a bit on the counter before using it.


JD said...

I love the line "Holy frijoles, that woman can bake." Can a person ask for a higher compliment. The duality of all things is an impressive topic to tackle here, but you do a good job. All people have sides, and as you well know most of the time I am an incredibly outgoing person, but sometimes I just crave that self time with a good book. And ask Wife, I DO NOT like to be disturbed.

Rosiecat said...

JD, shhhh, I'm reading.

I think the complicated nature of what it means to be a human being is fascinating. We are all walking contradictions at times, and I think "duality" is a useful way of looking at these contradictions. It's a pleasure and a challenge to figure these things out for ourselves and for our partners.

I totally agree with you about time alone with a good book. And I take it that the Wife has figured this out by now? I would imagine that she also likes her time alone, so this probably isn't an area of marital tension for you two lovebirds ;-)

daphna said...

Wow, I guess you really loved that cake! Yes, I WILL bake you a wedding cake! Round, square, hexagonal? Two tiers, three tiers, four? Dots, flowers? You better not elope on me! ;)

See ya tonight! My carrot cake is cooling. :)

Rosiecat said...

Daphna, I am glad I was not left alone with your cake because I think my self-control evaporates in its presence. It was phenomenal!

Oh, so many decisions to make about my wedding cake! Perhaps hexagonal? That sounds cool. Dots and flowers, please. Your frosting roses are beautiful, and your technique will only get better with practice.

Hmm, I'd love to elope, but I also want to have a big party. Maybe a secular ceremony in a park or a garden setting and then a big party afterwards? How does that sound? As long as there is lots of dancing and merry-making, then I will be one happy bride. And cake. One gorgeous cake made by my favorite baker :-)

Asmodeus said...

Ever the trickster, Asmodeus wants to know if there might not be a THIRD person in there, The Ludic, along with The Emotional and The Rational. How else to explain your comparison of your conflicts over love to those over cake?

Also, will your cake be square, or circular?

Rosiecat said...

Trickster indeed, Asmodeus! The Ludic loves cake. And The Ludic wishes The Emotional and The Rational would just get with the program so she can eat more cake.

About geometry, I like D's idea for a hexagonal cake. She tells me that was the shape of her wedding cake. That woman has excellent taste.

But what about the groom? Should he be square or circular?