Monday, June 6, 2011

melissa clark and her artichokes

 Yesterday I had a surprise visit from my friend Hedley.
Since the last time I saw her, she has traveled through India and moved to Pittsburgh, and although I have regularly mourned the loss of Hedley and her sweetheart Zoe from our daily lives, I didn't  recognize it fully until she appeared and I felt a full breath of air in my lungs.  She is all sparkle in the best of ways.

And of course she appeared, and I had these few open surprise hours, and so we walked to town and back and then we sat on the bench that is almost back up to my house before you reach the crest of the hill--it's right where you need a rest. It belongs to a neighbor I have never met who flies a very big American flag over their driveway, but they have been kind enough to put a bench right there on the side of the road where it is so obviously for those just about to make it to the top of the hill, and on the  occasions that I use it, I say a quiet thanks to those neighbors.

We sat and talked about her life and my life and the food that we have eaten since we last saw each other. And I left the conversation standing up straighter, sad to see her drive away, and so grateful for those surprise hours.

I've mentioned Hedley before here- she is so many things, but among them a cook and a baker.  She patiently taught me how to make real buttercream and aioli and how to chop an onion. And yesterday when she asked me how it was all going, and started with the short answer (well!), but then she looked a little harder at me, and I had to admit that I've been batting around a few words in my head lately, and when I opened my mouth, there they were.

I'm afraid that I don't actually know how to cook.

She started this smile that began small and turned into a laugh. And then she said, "okay, well, I can tell you that in the at least hundred times you've fed me over the course of our friendship, I've never thought, wow, this girl cannot cook."

(sigh of relief)

It's not just cooking. I've been having one of those times when I'm stepping in my own way a lot, when I waste time worrying about a thing instead of actually doing it. Maybe you know what I mean?

And yes, yes, I know that I know how to cook. I can make puff pastry and strawberry jam and beef stew. I can figure out a sauce for most things, and only half the time I'll curdle it in some way.  But sometimes the great expanse of what I don't know feels more like a weight than a challenge.  And I forget that last year I knew less, and the year before that, even less. I forget to remember what I always say, that life is long, that I love that there is so much to learn!

A real friend will pull you out of the way of yourself.
Hedley said something so delicious just then, I feel like I need to pass it to you.  She said, "Hold on! Stop it with all of this!" She repeated something that she has said before, that cooking is not rocket science or a innate skill that either you have or you don't. Cooking is about skills. Every skill can be learned. And one skill at a time, we learn how to cook. The rest of the time, we fake it, and that works too.

I feel the old and wonderful familiar phrases coming back in a way that I actually believe them.Life is long! I love that there is so much to learn!

Before last week, I had never trimmed an artichoke.

I had eaten hundreds, even grown a few. But when I was instructed to trim, I scoffed.  I can handle the prickly thorns--why break out the scissors? For my whole life, I've steamed and eaten untrimmed artichokes, and it's always gone well for me.
Besides, I didn't know how.

 But oh, Melissa Clark! You, with your personable down to earth "I've written so many cookbooks but I'm just here in my kitchen, piecing it together like you, so let's make some delicious Brooklyn-y food together" tone! I cannot help but say Yes to you. And with so much kindness, you share your skills. Thank you for being such a friend through your pages.

Do you know how to trim an artichoke? If so, make this.  But if not? Watch Melissa first, she'll show you.  And then, make this.

And what is fregola? I don't actually know. And because I'm feeling nostalgic for the time before google when I could actually have an unanswered question, I'm going to wait until the answer comes to me. But Israeli couscous was excellent here, and life is long! There is plenty of time to learn about fregola.  (I love that there is so much to learn!)


  1. I'm drooling over the photos of those artichokes. so, be assured -- not only can you cook, but you can take some pretty mean photographs of food :)

    Yes, I think we've all been there... or at least I have... in those times when worrying over things done and undone is paramount. Fortunately, those times pass and we can get back to the real beauty of life. Like those visits with Hedley.

  2. Love this! Usually I am pretty confident in the kitchen but I am sure in the past week I've thought "can I cook at all?" For me it comes with the seasons, getting used to something new, reviving old recipes, etc. etc. Once fall hits it will all happen again.