Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Certainty of Dinner

Sunset Over College Station

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I have been in the lab every day for the past 28 days.  It’s starting to make me a little crazy, all this time with no weekends that allow me a day off, a chance to escape my experiments.  Add into the mix the uncertainty of what the experimental data will look like, and you have a very good recipe for one stressed-out postdoc.

Now, I am not a workaholic.  I love my weekends and my vacations.  I love my life outside the lab, my friends and family, my food and Matt.  I love my bike rides and running, my photography and of course, my writing.  I have a lot of reasons, when I go to work, to be efficient about getting my tasks done.  There is no doubt in my mind that my recent circumstances are largely beyond my control, which is frustrating, but sometimes that’s the way it goes, in work and in life.

Because of all my weekend hours at work, other parts of my life have been slighted.  I’m sad to say that one of those areas has been my cooking.  The thing about working more than you’d like is that it’s not just a matter of the extra hours spent working.  I’m also more tired, which means I’m less motivated to cook something exciting.  Then I have no leftovers to take for lunches, which makes me depressed, which makes me feel even less motivated to change the situation.  It’s a vicious cycle, one that I set out to break this weekend.

On Friday night, the leftover situation started to feel desperate, so drastic measures were in order.  I should have gone for a 40-minute run as part of my half-marathon training, but the run got pushed back.  Dinner was more urgent.  I needed something healthy and nourishing, something filling and delicious, a dinner that would happily become leftovers to keep me well-fed for the next few days.  I could have turned to a new recipe, but why?  What I needed was the comfort that comes from dusting off a well-loved recipe, a reliable favorite.

I had all the ingredients on hand to make this Rustic Lemony White Bean Stew.  Artichokes.  Carrots.  Onions, potatoes, lemon.  The pantry was stocked with white beans and vegetable stock cubes, and there was an opened bottle of Pinot Grigio hanging out in the fridge.  Even with all the players lined up, it was still an effort to drag myself into the kitchen, to pull out the cutting board and get to work.  But once there were onions sizzling in a pat of butter, I started to remember why I cook.  It’s not just for dinner, or so I won’t starve at work.  It’s for the aroma of butter and onions cooking together, the fresh tingly smell of a cut lemon, the way ingredients come together to make something greater than the sum of its parts.

It’s so tempting right now, when I am almost drowning in my own productivity, to let someone else do the work of feeding me.  I don’t want to do that.  I want to stay connected to my food, from the shopping to the preparation and of course, the eating.  The certainty of dinner at my own table, prepared by my hands, sustains me through these long days, and I don’t want to lose that.

So I cook, even on nights when I’d like to skip dinner and go straight to bed.  I cook as a way of holding onto something that feels real to me when my head is spinning in a cloud of what-ifs.  Last night’s stew was better than I remembered, as though the recipe itself had ripened since the last time I made it.  I was out of olive oil, so I used all butter instead, and it was amazing—rich with buttery, lemony, garlicky flavor.  I ate it with buttered whole-grain toast, and for dessert, I had another piece of whole-grain toast, this one topped with melted chocolate chips and apricot jam, a combination which was surprisingly delicious.  I think the French like to combine chocolate and apricots—yes?  Having never been to France, I’m not sure.  At any rate, I ate my chocolate-apricot toast with a mug of Sleepytime Vanilla tea and thanked my lucky stars that tomorrow was Saturday.

A Favorite Stew

*A word about the first photo.  It’s a view of Friday night’s skyline, just outside my apartment.  I thought it was stunning—all those gorgeous colors!—and wanted to share it with you.


Shannon said...

glad you were able to find some time to cook amidst the craziness! looks like you picked a good recipe :) hope things settle down a bit for you soon, it's always good to have a chance to breathe!

Emily said...

This sounds delicious and I'm sure using all butter is the only way to go!

Rosiecat said...

Thanks, Shannon! I put the craziness on hold so I could cook :-)

Emily, I'm afraid you might be right about the butter! As much as I love olive oil, I do think that in some recipes, using all butter (instead of an oil/butter combination) makes the final dish taste better. But this stew is really good either way.