Plein air, for you non-french speaking, non-artists…
There’s not been much creativity in the kitchen of late. The bread baking continues, aided by our unusually cool summer. (As an aside, how has your own bread baking gone? Many of you mentioned running out to buy the book. Well? Love it? Not so much? Leave a comment and let me know!)
In an unusual burst of culinary prowess, I donned my apron and whipped up a special picnic supper to enjoy at a nearby concert in the park.
Ciabatta-style fresh bread is a cinch to make with the artisan bread dough and makes the most perfect picnic sandwich, I think. To complement the sandwiches, I found that I just happened to have (for real) some parboiled new potatoes and four hard boiled eggs. Potato salad! As I flipped through my cookbooks, looking for a recipe most like Grandma’s, two things occurred to me. 1. I should have just called her for hers. But I quickly surmised that her response would have been a bit of surprise mixed with “well, I just throw everything together” and I was looking for a wee more precision. 2. Homemade potato salad is one of those dishes that everyone (at least in these parts) grew up learning by rote as each picnic or family get-together presented an opportunity to hone the skills. Because no meal is complete without some form of the potato (!), a potato salad was summer’s solution. How differently we’ve learned to cook in this generation, I reflected while reading through the recipe, peeling the eggs, chopping the celery. Instead of turning to the recipes that we grew up making, or calling Mom for a refresher, Andrew and I instead turn to our cookbooks, magazines, web searches, and cooking shows for inspiration. While we’re no longer limited to the traditional family fare, we’ve lost most of the essential know-how for these simple staples that used to make up the everyday. Grandma marvels, wide-eyed when I whip up a complicated meal with a unspellable french name, or when I can answer her question of how to prepare swiss chard, or when I automatically mince garlic, and lots of it, for every dish I make. But there’s that same wide-eyed reaction to my question of “how do I roast this chicken, again” as I do it so infrequently that I have had to ask her several times, periodically. For Grandma, who has prepared a chicken dinner every Sunday for the last eleventeen years, me not knowing how to do it was akin to not being able to tie my shoes. Who doesn’t know how to roast a chicken these days? Turns out most of us under a certain age haven’t the slightest clue. It’s a big part of what Martha’s empire was founded on, this disconnect of homemaking know-how that used to be so entrenched in the daily grind that it was taken for granted. I digress.
So rather than calling Grandma for the recipe, I found my own, and decided to go ahead and make my own mayonnaise (another unspellable french word?) while I was at it. Have you ever tried this? Oh, it’s so easy, especially with a food processor, blender, or ginormous forearms for whisking. And the flavor? Nothing like anything you could buy. So delicious.
Lest you think we’re absolute food purists, here’s proof to the contrary. This summer, roasted marshmallows (and raw ones, snitched from the bag while grown-up eyes are turned) make up a significant portion of our plein air diet.
We seem to be faring quite well on this diet.