Do you ever follow through with New Year’s resolutions? I admit I haven’t kept track of mine in recent years. They may be on my mind a bit more this year because of the strange and disturbing tidings coming from my home “town” of America.
Someone wrote me recently that we should stock our larders with plenty of chocolate and Scotch. We’ll need them to wash down the mind-boggling developments likely to come out of the U.S. in the coming months. Sounds good to me, but maybe a little Armagnac would go better with the Sprüngli chocolates. Or maybe buy them both and alternate.
As for resolutions, I’ve decided to clean out my excess of carrot peelers, cheese graters, butter paddles, rosemary strippers, and champagne bottle stoppers (the kind that blow holes in the ceiling). That and other doo dads Santa seems drop off are all on their way out.
I’ve also decided that this year I won’t be asking guests about their food allergies or specific likes or dislikes. I’ll make the lunch and dinner meals I want, and let guests decide what to do. I don’t have food dossiers on all my friends and I’m not going to start compiling them now.
I’m not being difficult or defiant. It’s just that the changes in what people can and cannot eat for whatever real or incredibly unreal reason come so fast and furious it’s hard for a cook to keep up. So I won’t.
A very dear friend brings little white pills to dinners at houses or restaurants where she might encounter cow’s milk products. She can thankfully tolerate goat and sheep milk, which keeps cheese in play (heaven forbid a Frenchwoman doing without cheese). When I cook for her I’m careful to use milk alternatives — sorbet instead of ice cream, say. But you’d never know she had a problem. Why? She doesn’t make a fuss. When dining in private homes, she politely eats whatever else is available, and there’s always something, even if it’s just a peanut butter sandwich.
Though I have always tried to cook with Einstein in mind — “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler…” — this year I’m going to try harder. A dish that gives you more than what it’s essence is all about or fails to live up to what it’s essence could be, is probably a dish with too many twists and turns (or maybe you left out the salt).
That may sound flip, but there are way too many recipes that call for 20 ingredients when a handful would do. A few recipes fall short in the other direction: too few ingredients to be really tasty. That’s when your own creativity can kick in. But it’s a thin line.
Take spaghetti alla carbonara. It’s made with pasta, olive oil, bacon, eggs, Parmesan (five ingredients), and boy do they work. So-called creative chefs insist on adding onions, cream, garlic, or even goat cheese. Bad idea.
Coming up with resolution is one thing, going through with them another. But given the goings-on in Washington I do get the feeling I’ll be hitting the Scotch (or Armagnac) and chocolate.