Week Twenty was the week I wanted to quit. I knew it would hit at some point, and right on time, my desperation set in. I was flooded this week with unmet expectations, jealousy, disappointment, frustration, fatigue, aimlessness, and none of it felt good. It all hit hard and made for a rough week. I stopped posting on social media. I stopped writing. I barely made it through the cooking.
I found myself a fair distance away from the project’s half-way mark, floundering and wondering why in the world I ever thought this whole thing was a good idea. I lost any inkling of inspiration, and found myself in a perfect storm of emotional mess.
I tend to find comfort in routine, and so I went back to what I knew would pour into my empty places. For me, sleep and rest are always my foundation, so I made both a priority. I rebooted my morning routine, including slurping down a nutrient-dense smoothie that looked and tasted like yuck but always kick starts my system in the right direction.
Most importantly, I persisted in kindness towards myself. No bad talking, no shame speaking, no lie listening. I leaned into the feelings, expressing and processing the ones that needed some attention, and letting go of the ones that did not deserve a second look. Along the way, I found moments of real pleasure and a restorative sensory experience in bites of delicious food such as meatloaf, creamy farro, and chicken stew.
It’s a fine line between turning to food for comfort (which it can never fully provide) and receiving food as a gift. The later can bring a moment of comfort, the same as a beautiful sunset, a cozy blanket, a perfect cup of coffee. When food, particularly delicious food, is put in its proper place, the relationship becomes one of health. We are able to enjoy the gifts of flavor without looking to the object to heal our hearts.
WHAT I COOKED
Vegetable Pot Pie, Parties!
Chicken Stew with Biscuits, Family Style
Baked Fontina, How Easy Is That?
Tricolore Salad with Oranges, Cook Like a Pro
Red Wine Braised Short Ribs, Cook Like a Pro
Creamy Blue Cheese Grits, Cook Like a Pro
Roasted Broccoli with Panko Gremolata, Cook Like a Pro
Stewed Rhubarb and Red Berries, Foolproof
WHAT I LEARNED
GREEN SALAD WITH CREAMY MUSTARD VINAIGRETTE
This is the perfect recipe to learn the basics of making vinaigrettes at home. It is a formula that can be adapted, but this one is the one I recommend as the starting place. If you don’t feel like using a raw egg yolk (although, you really must try it once to see how creamy and rich it can be!), you can substitute a tablespoon of mayonnaise instead.
Macaroons are not the same thing as macarons. Macaroons are flourless coconut cookies, lightened with whipped egg whites, and these could not be any simpler. Four ingredients. Ten minutes. Golden brown globs of sweet delicious confection, with a soft center, and an aroma that will remind you why baking at home is always worth any speck of effort.
1770 HOUSE MEATLOAF
I have a new favorite meatloaf. The 1770 House is a restaurant in Ina’s neighborhood, and from what I can tell, they make delicious food. The combination of beef, pork, and veal yielded a soft, tender, delicate meatloaf. This version tastes like Thanksgiving a little bit. Lots of onion, celery, thyme. Not a hint of ketchup, although I did wonder if ketchup would work as a topper for this one. When I made this, I was having a hard day (see above), and when I knew this was on the docket for lunch, the mere thought lifted my spirits. Not because I thought meatloaf could solve anything (also, see above), but because when we are hurting, it feels good to taste something delicious. Flavor provides a momentary respite from pain, a reminder that there are things that are good in this broken world. A bite of meatloaf, if we let it, can reflect the truth that even hard times can have pockets of delight.
CHICKEN STEW WITH BISCUITS
I ate this twice in one day and wasn’t even a little bit mad about it. Everything about it is perfect. It’s heaven, particularly when made with homemade chicken stock. The sauce is creamy and seasoned well, the vegetables are familiar and just the right consistency, the chicken is juicy, and the flaky salty biscuits on top provide a finishing touch that takes the entire dish over the top.
BAKED FARRO AND BUTTERNUT SQUASH
The flavors of this remind me of the Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash, which is a compliment in my book. I had never had farro before, and I am so happy to have discovered this charming grain. It cooks up with a creamy texture and a satisfying nutty flavor. My husband described it as a cross between oatmeal and rice. This dish is a new favorite, and will be quickly on repeat.
BUTTERMILK RANCH DRESSING WITH BIBB LETTUCE
The best ranch I’ve ever made at home. If you’ve ever made Ina’s Basil Green Goddess dressing, this will remind you of that killer concoction, but with the tang of buttermilk and a bit more of a liquid texture. Pour this on anything resembling salad and it will become the best green thing you’ve ever eaten.
BAKED FONTINA (and entire menu)
When I tell you that grown women could not tear themselves away from the cast iron skillet filled with bubbling hot garlic-specked fontina, I’m not over exaggerating. Melted cheese has the power to woo even delicate dispositions to dive back in for another and another and another bite. In fact, this entire menu had that effect. My favorite part of this appetizer was how quick and easily it came together. Six minutes under the broiler…and done!