Sunday, July 5, 2009

Make It Dirty, Make It Clean

Does unwrapping a banana and slathering it, bite by bite, with peanut butter count as cooking?  If so, then I have been doing a lot of cooking.  If not, then I’ve been doing a lot of uncooking.

Summer is the season of uncooking, and I for one could not be happier.  Between the gloriously warm weather and writing my PhD thesis, I haven’t much time for elaborate cooking plans.  In addition, I’m finding thesis-writing to be strangely exhausting.  It’s almost an exclusively mental exercise, but I find myself physically exhausted after a few hours of serious concentration.  My brain isn’t capable of handling much in the way of recipes right now.

But I love to putter in the kitchen these days, even if I am in a state of Thesis Daze.  The puttering feels wonderfully refreshing after all that time in front of my computer.  It’s a chance to stand up, stretch my legs, fix myself a snack.  My thesis looms so large and unknown in front of me that mundane tasks are tangibly rewarding.  That’s good news, because one mundane task in particular has been giving me trouble, and that’s my sink full of dirty dishes.

Dishes.  I have grown to hate them.  Why is it that after I do all the hard work of feeding myself that I still have to deal with piles of dirty dishes?  Haven’t I done enough?  Can’t I just throw the dirty dishes in the trash with the other stuff I don’t want?  This is, I think, my rebellion after six years of serious home cooking with no dishwasher.  For six years now, I have been washing all my dishes by hand, and I don’t think I can take it any more.  I desperately need either a dishwashing machine or a handsome, hungry man who will let me feed him in exchange for dealing with the mess I make.  Matt is a rather sexy dishwasher and he usually shows up at my door ready to eat, but he’s here far too infrequently to be a reliable solution to my dilemma.  He would be none too pleased with me if I saved up three months’ worth of dirty dishes for him to wash while he visits me!

For now, there is a different man helping me get my kitchen back in order.  His name is Jace Everett, and while I don’t know if he’s a cookin’ man, I do know he’s a singin’ man.  He just put out his second album, Red Revelations, and it is a gem.  You may have heard his song “Bad Things”—it’s the theme song for HBO’s True Blood—and while “Bad Things” has been included as an extra treat on the new album, Jace is so much more than a one-hit wonder.  Red Revelations is lusty, edgy, ironic, and smart.  I’ve listened to it every day since it arrived in my mailbox.  It’s all I really want to hear.  Best of all, it’s the perfect sonic accompaniment to scrubbing all those dirty dishes to shiny wet perfection.

One of my favorite songs on the album is the first track, “Possession.”  It grabbed me the first time I heard it.  I felt like a woman possessed!  The song is about lust, plain and simple.  On the surface, its meaning seems pretty clear: Possession, Why don’t you own me? Name it and claim it babe, I’m your possession.

But I think (and this is what I love about Jace’s lyrics) that by making such an offer, the narrator is trying to control his own lust.  Seize control by giving it up?  It seems rather circular, but let’s not get carried away here; it’s just a song.  An even better set of lyrics from “Possession” sounds a little like this: Naked dirty, Naked clean. Make it quick or make a scene.

Or that’s what I thought at first.  Replace “naked” with “make it” and you have the actual lyrics, not the ones my dirty mind filled in for itself.  I use the real lyrics as my clean-up anthem: Make it dirty, make it clean!  It’s not quite as sexy, but it works for me.

Uncooking is much sexier than washing dishes.  As a bonus, there are fewer dishes to wash!  Jace goes well here too, even if I’m making a girly salad with strawberries and a honey-balsamic dressing.  This is exquisite: a palate cleanser featuring crisp greens, juicy red strawberries, and a drizzle of puckery-sweet dressing.  I’ve been lucky enough to get the greens and berries at my farmers’ market.  Local strawberries won’t be around for much longer this season, so I wanted to slip this salad into the recipe archives before it’s too late.

The combination of strawberries and balsamic vinegar is an old Italian trick.  There’s a reason it’s a classic: it is delicious, especially if the strawberries are very sweet or you give them a little help with a sprinkling of sugar.  Either way, the combination heightens the sweet-tart flavors present in both ingredients.  The perfumes burst forth like a summer thunderstorm, but afterward the mouth feels clean and sparkly.  By combining that effect with salad greens, it’s doubly refreshing.  Here I must confess I have an unusual habit: I often prefer to eat my salad after the main course.  It feels more enjoyable to me that way.  My hunger has been sated, and I can better appreciate all the subtle flavors in fresh produce.  If I try to eat a salad before the main course, I’m usually too ravenous to really notice it—it’s just food.  But afterward, a salad can be a work of art.

When one is writing a thesis, it is hard to make time for art, but one still has to eat.  I find it handy to have a salad that, with just a few minutes of uncooking, can be beautiful, unfussy, and very easy to eat.  It gives me hope that I’ll finish this thesis and have enough energy to celebrate at the finish line.

Salad with Crisp Greens, Strawberries, and Honey-Balsamic Dressing

Serves 1

Salads are often an opportunity to trot out your very best ingredients, and this one is no exception.  My friend Shawn Marie shared with me a pour of the fancy balsamic vinegar she picked out at Whole Foods, and it is delightful in the dressing here.  So if you’ve got a high-quality balsamic, don’t hesitate to use it here—you will be amply rewarded.

2-3 crisp leaves of green leaf or Romaine lettuce

5-6 perfect small strawberries

1 tbsp. honey

1 tbsp. best-quality balsamic vinegar

1)  Prep the  lettuce leaves by rinsing, drying, and tearing them into bite-sized pieces.  Prep the strawberries by rinsing them off, drying them gently, slicing off the green tops, and then slicing the berries into thin slices.  Pile the lettuce on a plate and artfully arrange the strawberries over it.

2)  Whisk together the honey and balsamic vinegar.  Drizzle it over the strawberries and lettuce.  You may not want all of it; in which case, save it for another salad later!  Serve the salad, either as a starter course or (the way I like it) as a palate cleanser between the main course and dessert.


Unknown said...

oh i know how you feel about dishes! that's one of the many reasons i love going home... i cook and dad does the dishes :)

love the fruit addition to salads! good luck with the writing!!

Rosiecat24 said...

Hate those dishes! ttfn, that's a sweet arrangement you have with your dad. My mom does the same with me when I cook in her kitchen :-)

Why is it that fruit makes a salad so easy to eat? Sometimes vegetables overwhelm me, but fruit is always agreeable. Thank goodness for fruit!

Laurie said...

Ah, yes, dishes. I too am without a dishwasher of the mechanical variety. Hubby and I usually do clean up together, which makes the task far more enjoyable, but on days when I've been puttering in the kitchen there are often too many dishes to wait to do them together. Fortunately I have a beautiful view from my kitchen window for those times when I'm toiling on my own.

Nicole said...

I ALSO hate dishes, and I even have a dishwasher! It helps me to put on some slow relaxing music (like Norah Jones) and sing along while I wash dishes. It makes the time go by faster, and I finish with a feeling of enjoyment and refreshment.

Rosiecat24 said...

Laurie, you're right: it's the kitchen puttering that gets us in trouble! But I wouldn't trade my puttering time for anything. It's worth every single minute I spend cleaning up after myself. I'm glad to hear you have a nice view! I have a lovely view of the electrical panel for my apartment ;-)

Nicole, you and I must be kindred spirits. Music is the ONLY way to make dishwashing pleasurable, aside from making it a tag-team effort with someone you like. Now, if someone would rub my back while I wash dishes, that might be enough to make me wish I had more dishes to clean!

Anonymous said...

I ditto Laurie -- being able to gaze at the backyard while I wash dishes makes it much more bearable.


Rosiecat24 said...

AMPD, you lucky bird! You should take a picture of your gorgeous backyard garden, send it to me, and I'll tape it in front of my sink. Then I'll have a view worth remembering while I wash dishes!

AMPD, how does thy garden grow? Let me count the ways...

a said...

I'm making this tonight! And doing the dishes tomorrow ;)

Rosiecat24 said...

Yay, Ammie! So, are the dishes still waiting to be done? :-)

I'm making chili tonight and I am SO EXCITED! My beans wait for me.

Unknown said...

Hey Rosie, great minds think alike eh? I too boogie away doing my dishes (or making a mess with them) to Jace Everett.
Oddly I stumbled across your blog looking for some stuff to do with Jace after seeing him Live last night! was AWESOME!!
If you like Jace, may I also suggest Little Big Town, they're great for singing along to doing the dishes as well. And my view from my kitchen window is just as bad as yours - I get to look at my Wheelie bins and next door's peeling paintwork! Lovely - NOT!! So Laurie, please may I have a picture of your back garden to look at also?!? LOL - Hey You could make a business outta this -! Oh well, back off to the kitchen!

CAS said...

It was by googling "Jace Everett possession lyrics" that I came across your blog. I've really enjoyed reading our recipes and all the posts abour dish washing (I must confess I hate it)
But what I do need is the lyrics of "possession". I promised a friend of mine I would translate the song into Spanish for her, thinking I would easily find the lyrics in the net, but it has not been so. I understand some parts, and some others I've found here and there ,as in your blog, but there is still quite a lot missing..
I would be so grateful if you could post the lyrics for me or tell me where I can find them !!
Thanks a lot :)