If Yan Could Cook. . .

Cooking for One, Baja Fish Tacos, Salmon Salad

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Today I went shopping at a food superstore – the kind that sells vegetables, barbeques, hard drives, and underwear side by side, that you can get lost in for hours. The man in front of me in line was buying six bottles of Sprite, two pineapples, and nothing else. I imagine his fridge contains nothing but a 4L bottle of vodka.

On the walk home I saw a squirrel eating a Mars bar, which was such an odd spectacle that I just stopped and watched. He didn’t seem to mind. Most of the wrapper and about a third of the bar was clutched in his small paws (claws? hands?) as he nibbled away at the edges. Are you built for eating something like that, dear squirrel? Can your system handle it? Is no ingredient a more potent poison than it is for us (delighting, as we do, in slow poisons)?

Recently I moved into an apartment with a kitchen at least a few blocks up on my road to the Dream Kitchen. There is a gas stove, a fridge that beams like a beauty pageant winner, and most importantly, space. All of the goodies and gadgets I have acquired over the years can all come out at once.

Cooking for myself in this place, though, has a curious sense of defeat to it. I used to live in a one-room studio. Now I have a dining room that seats eight. Last night, I made myself a fantastic steak dinner, with zucchini and eggplant and steak fried in butter. After I ate (sitting alone in the kitchen) I deglazed the pan and added some onions and garlic to make gravy for another day. I was thinking about what I wanted to do with the gravy (shepherd’s pie? straight up mashed potatoes? another steak?) and this little voice in my head said, “What’s the point? It’s just you. Go get some McDonalds.”

The forty minutes I spent in the grocery store were the highlight of my day. Playing a game of combinations in my head (I could puree all the leftover bruschetta ingredients but leave the tomatoes coarse, then toss it with some hot linguine and sausages! Let’s buy linguine and sausages!). The cooking is fun, sure, but then I reach the point of plating and I just slop the food onto the plate. It is just me – and a book, or my laptop and some shitty TV show.

A couple months ago I made Baja Fish Tacos for a small group of friends. They have these everywhere in California (at least in the Bay Area), as a staple fast food. The version I came up with was cubes of beer-battered cod in soft tortillas, with small chunks of cucumber and shredded lettuce, and a yogurt sauce (cilantro, lemon juice, jalapeño peppers, garlic, spices) served with two fruit salads. Conventionally there would be fruit salsa, but I am personally opposed to the concept. My friend Laura D’Alessandro took the pictures.

At my housewarming dinner I served salmon salad to seven. It was sort of haphazardly conceptualized, but it came out…well…spectacular. Sadly, no one had a camera. Each plate had a salad of mesclun greens, cold potatoes (boiled and just slightly crisped on the stovetop), raspberries, corn, and blanched asparagus, dressed in homemade maple vinaigrette. The salmon was baked under a layer of ginger, served on crustinis (three slices of baguette, each toasted with melted gouda on top). The ginger was removed and replaced with a heaping spoonful of bruschetta – minced olives, garlic, red onion, basil, and jalapeño, mixed with small-diced tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil.

It was the stuff of dream weddings, and overpriced restaurants by the sea.

Why cook like this? For pleasure, certainly, but there is a comparable level of pleasure in eating Cheetos and ripe cherries, things you can buy and then pop in your mouth. One cooks like this to be loved. Eating your beautiful meal alone is like being a demented, jilted bride, wearing your wedding dress every day for years, wandering your one-bedroom apartment, thinking he’ll come back.


Written by skimfu

August 10, 2008 at 9:24 am

Posted in Fish, Salad, Vegetarian

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