On Mother’s Day, The Child and I brunched at a waterfront cafe; we sat outdoors and enjoyed the sunshine and the view, if not the speedy service. We were in no hurry, and slow service has benefits for conversation, leaving you with more space to fill, bringing up topics that might not have occurred to you if the waiter had remembered to bring milk and sugar for your coffee the second time you asked for it, rather than the third.
It was around the time we had to ask for salt – isn’t that standard on restaurant tables anymore? – that the conversation turned to The Departed, and how unpleasant a dinner table could be with him at it, no matter how good the food. The Child and I don’t eat at the table anymore; even though we’ve replaced the table and the paint and the wall decorations we still cannot seem to relax and converse over dinner in our home, although it never seems to be a problem when we go out to a restaurant. We discuss that fact, and then talk about The Departed’s children, and their table manners, and his eating habits, and then we are back to admiring the beautiful weather and joking that he can now enjoy it more, since he doesn’t have to spend his days in a cubicle anymore.
The Child mentions his girlfriend, the one she had contacted on Facebook, the one she tried to warn. After that incident, I visited his Facebook page a few times, and noticed the girlfriend was still liking and commenting on all his posts, although she had indicated to The Child that she had doubts about him, planned to break up with him.
She’d had a change of heart, apparently, and messaged The Child to let her know: She ended things with The Departed. As it happens, she ended them right around the time he lost his job.
We both smirk a bit, and the fact that the coffee I am sipping is now cold from its long wait for cream and sugar suddenly doesn’t bother me at all.
What things appear to be versus what they are: It isn’t always easy to sort out, but a little patience and being open to all the possibilities seems to go quite a long way.
A few months ago, I ran across a recipe in the New York Times for Braised Chicken Legs, from a new cookbook by Cal Peternell called Twelve Recipes. I made the chicken that night, because it had the one key ingredient I required at that moment: everything I needed to make it was somewhere in my house. The Child devoured the chicken, then a second helping, and then complained bitterly that I’d made something so delicious in such a small quantity. I made the chicken again a few days later, and again a week later, and for a while, once a week until I’d exhausted the supply of frozen chicken thighs in my freezer.
Then I thought, if this Peternell guy’s chicken is that good, I wonder what the other eleven recipes in that book are like? So I actually ordered a copy of the cookbook, something I usually avoid doing, since if I bought every cookbook that piques my interest I’d be featured on a special episode of Hoarders. The book arrived, and I loved it, and marked off a dozen recipes, which sounds like I marked off every recipe in the book, except that the book – by my math – has far more than 12 recipes in it.
No, I don’t know why this is. California math, maybe?
It doesn’t matter: the cookbook is wonderful, offering up base recipes in a relaxed conversational style, and encouraging the home cook to use what’s at hand or what takes their fancy. If you’ve got a little of this or that, throw that in. If you’re in a mood for French style, omit this and add that. He doesn’t offer quantities when he does this; taste the food and when you like it, you’ve got it right. The book is also chock full of handy cooking tips, like heat the pan first, then add the oil – it reduces scorching. Basically, Peternell is offering not so much recipes as cooking lessons: here are some guidelines, but where you go with them is up to you.
After marking off the recipes, I proceeded to make the chicken several more times, and then, finally, we were chickened out, so I moved on to the section on pasta.
I started with the recipe for Cauliflower, Sicilian Style, because, as with so many things I do, I had everything on hand, and in this case, I was looking for new ways to serve cauliflower, which is healthy and hearty and doesn’t deserve to be steamed all the time just because I can’t come up with a better idea.
In this recipe, cauliflower gets the Brussels sprout treatment, in which it is pan-roasted to sweet perfection. I loved the “Sicilian” treatment, with the addition of pine nuts for crunch and bits of sweetness from the raisins. The Child didn’t care for it, mostly because of the raisins. The recipe can be made luxurious with the addition of some saffron, which I planned to do, but then missed the step where I was supposed to add it, so I simply left it out. If you go this route, add the saffron to the onions.
Since The Child didn’t care for this dish as much as I did, I didn’t end up making it over and over. But I did discover there’s a much better way to cook cauliflower than the way I have been cooking it, and since it’s so simple and requires no real recipe, pan-roasted cauliflower has been making regular appearances at dinner.
- Olive Oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- I head cauliflower, cut into florets, florets cut into ½ inch thick pieces
- 1 lb spaghetti
- 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
- crushed red pepper flakes
- ¼ cup raisins, soaked in hot water to plump, then drained
- ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
- parmesan cheese
- Put a pot of salted water on to boil.
- Heat a skillet over high heat, and when hot, add 3 tbsp olive oil, then the onion and a pinch of salt. Once the onion gets going, lower the heat to medium and cook until soft, stirring occasionally to prevent browning, up to 15 minutes. Set the onions aside.
- Wipe out the pan, then place back over high heat, and when the pan is hot, add some oil, the cauliflower, and a heaping pinch of salt. Stir to coat the cauliflower with oil, but then let it sit, untouched, until it browns on one side, then turn and let it brown on the other.
- Hopefully by now your water is boiling, so add the pasta and follow the package directions to cook.
- When the cauliflower is well-browned and tender, push it to the sides of the pan, and add the garlic and red pepper flakes to the center, with more oil if needed. When the garlic releases its fragrance, add the onion, and once it's heated through, stir in the cauliflower. If it seems dry, add some of the pasta cooking water. Add the raisins and pine nuts.
- When the pasta is ready, drain it and stir it in. Add salt and pepper to taste; serve with parmesan cheese if you like.