As much as I love writing & sketching, sometimes, honestly, my creative situation is not abundant.
I don’t understand writer’s block — thank God, I’ve never really struggled to get things down on the page. But revising said words is something else. There are times when I can’t read another word or the writing is…stale. This is usually around the time that I decide that, in my mind, I’m a professional chef…that no one knows about because I rarely unmask my culinary inclinations.
I taught myself to cook in my twenties when I realized that I wasn’t making enough as a rookie reporter to pay for going out to eat pretty much ever. Some of the things I used to eat make me sad to remember — there was the standard meal of Velveeta Shells & Cheese + Frozen Jumbo Shrimp via the Beaumont, Texas 24-hour Wal-Mart (also the site of much of my entertainment, aside from my obsession with Big Brother); a steady diet of Chunky soup for lunch when I lived in a closet-sized studio in Oakland and every burrito & breakfast taco known to mankind when I lived in Austin.
I was first introduced to vegetables as a food group I could get behind when I visited the farmer’s market in Oakland and the Berkeley Bowl a little further north. (For those of you who complain about Whole Foods on a weekend, Berkeley Bowl felt like that at all times multiplied by a thousand).
I would sheepishly pick up lettuce and spinach and occasionally an avocado, but all the other veggies might as well have had stickers with question marks on them. I thought fennel and leeks and artichokes were fresh (as in beautiful) to look at, but they intimidated me as someone who was really not into vegetables that didn’t act as side kicks for food with parents because I couldn’t figure out how to make them taste good by themselves.
Over the years I’ve gotten much better about this. I have a small collection of cookbooks, like the Joy of Cooking and Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. These help me jazz up Brussel Sprouts and green beans, mostly as guidance for what flavors work together and what flavors don’t. Bittman has a simmered Brussel Sprout recipe with breadcrumbs that is delish, for example.
José Andres’ new Vegetables Unleashed is even better than that — the gorgeous photography and Andres’ trademark wit demonstrate the kind of confidence and creativity that make you feel brave enough to try almost anything in the kitchen. It’s also published under the Anthony Bourdain imprint and we’re nearing the anniversary of Bourdain’s death; I wrote about the CNN-produced book about him here.
It helped me admit to myself that fear of leeks is odd and one of these days I’m going to get over it.) The best thing about the book is that it is written in Andres’ trademark wit underscored by a clear expertise about what you should have in your pantry — I’ve added organic miso that I’m not confident enough to experiment with but I’ll try; but he also recommends Paprika, harissa and some others that you’ll need to go to a gourmet shop to find — how to use the parts of veggies that we often throw away and how to add flair to decidedly unsexy vegetables like, say, corn. For the latter, there’s a delicious Austin Grill Corn Soup that looks like heaven in a bowl.
I wanted to try a few of these recipes but I ran out of time because life. Aguacates con Cosas is like a guacamole salad that has chopped up tomatillos in it. You can add tortillas or anything else to it to give it a crunch, but it was delightfully textured and delicious. It maybe took me 15-20 minutes to chop up the red onions, lime, tomatillos and smash the avocados. His version has cilantro and pomegranate seeds. I added the former and I inhaled this with chips and then made another batch that I ate with a spoon. For this recipe and others, you should definitely check out the book. It just so happens there looks like there’s an event at Politics and Prose coming up tonight, if you’re in D.C.