I’m a sucker for those “what chefs eat when they don’t want to cook” interviews but usually I end up rolling my eyes because invariably the chef says something like, I mash some canned sardines into a hot skillet, toss in some pea shoots, and reach for the truffle oil, blah-blah-blah, and I’m like, THAT’S CALLED COOKING, DINGLEBERRY. HOW ABOUT A BOWL OF COLD CEREAL.
Because that’s what normal people eat if they’re not going to cook, right? I mean, if not cereal, then popcorn, or maybe apples and peanut butter, or — and this is my go-to — hard pretzels, cheese, and white wine. (There was one chef who confessed to eating leftover cold rice. If he was feeling fancy, he’d dribble some tap water on it to soften it up. And that, my friends, is what honesty looks like: cold rice dressed with tap water. I nearly swooned.)
So that’s one kind of meal: the no-meal meal.
Then there’s the planned meal. Planned meals can be broken into two kinds: a) the “read the recipe from top to bottom and buy ingredients ahead of time” structured meal, and b) the old-hat “made from the standard stuff that’s always on hand” type. But it’s gotta be planned. That’s key.
Moving on! The leftovers meal is structured around whatever you cooked the last couple days, adding to and/or reshaping them accordingly.
There’s the silly supper which is just straight-up leftovers, plus vegetables and a couple junky additions, like cereal or toast, to make it feel fun. One might also call this The Hodge-Podge Meal. (The only difference between this and the no-meal meal — and they are nearly indistinguishable, I admit — is that this has more components, plus veggies, which therefore makes this meal a smidge fancier.)
And then there are the Magic Meals, unplanned and cobbled together entirely from whatever bits and pieces are banging around the kitchen, but in this case the end result, while not predetermined, is an honest-to-goodness meal, seemingly conjured out of thin air. Even to the cook, these meals feel like pure magic.
For example. Here’s what I rustled up one night when there was (what felt like) no food in the house and I had less than zero inspiration.
I doused my eggs with champagne vinegar.
I started with a half pound of pasta (because I doubted my concoction would be a smash hit and there’s only four of us). While the pasta boiled, I minced part of an onion I found in the fridge, the last of the celery (leaves included), and the rest of the fresh parsley. I drained a can of tuna, a can of chickpeas, and, oh hey! How about a can of black olives, too? I pounded a bit of garlic with a hefty pinch of salt and added lots of olive oil, and squeezed in the juice of a lemon. Then I remembered a container of goat cheese and tossed that in, too, the heat from the pasta turning it creamy. Since we were drowning in eggs, I quick boiled up a kettle of them. I was going to chop them in but at the last minute I decided to keep them separate. A bag of green beans from the freezer, boiled and salted, and — voila — supper!
My son’s portion, boxed up to eat in the car because he was running out the door to youth group
(but then he left it behind in the back hall, ha).
In just minutes, I went from feeling like there was nothing to eat to dishing up a veritable feast. Made me feel like a queen, it did. And that, my friends, is how magic meals work.
So there you have it. My meals, classified: the no-meal meal, the planned meal, the leftovers meal, the silly meal, and the magic meal. What other kinds am I missing?
This same time, years previous: the quotidian (4.6.20), scatteredness, the quotidian (4.6.15), the quotidian (4.6.13), daffodils and horses, my baby’s faces, the case of the flying book, sourdough bagels.