Confession: I am one of those cooks who is a bit territorial in the kitchen. Some of it stems from the fact that my kitchens have always been quite small and therefore difficult spaces in which to operate with more than one person. But I’ll admit it, I also have a bit of a control issue in the kitchen. I am an oldest child, and true to my birth order, do tend to believe that if I want something done properly, it’s generally best to do it myself. (My sister would say “yes, you’re a know-it-all.”) A number of recent events, however, have begun to move me in a new and surprising direction.
First was the “dinner is served” experience, though I believe things began to brew at the cheese counter on the evening of that salad and cheese dinner. Next, the joint effort that resulted in the (largely) successful recreation of Effie Ophelia’s roasted carrot and fennel salad. And then there was the double play of Christmas Eve.
I had decided to make spaghetti with Littleneck clams for our Christmas Eve lunch. Dr. S was joining us, as my daughters had made an expressed request to spend some time with him, having had only a brief introduction to him one Saturday evening.
While he and the girls wrapped presents in the living room, I went about my business in the kitchen. All was going well until I dug my spoon under the pile of Littlenecks, into the bottom of the pot to ladle out some broth. To my horror, the broth was a deep and troubling gray, almost black. I looked at the clams I had just spooned onto a dish of spaghetti and saw that one of them was filled with black mud, which had now spilled onto the spaghetti. My cries of distress brought Dr. S to the kitchen. After a peek in the pot, and a moment of thought, he asked if I had a gravy separator. I did. While he poured the broth into the separator, I began to heat some oil and garlic, adding white wine and bottled clam juice, as a substitute sauce. My level-headed friend suggested we stick the clams in a low oven to keep them warm in the meantime.
While the broth never did clear, it was an excellent idea and may well have worked if we had had more time. Though not exactly the meal I had planned, the lunch was a success in the more important ways.
After the Christmas Eve Mass, my children left to spend the rest of the evening with their father and his family, and Dr. S and I headed to the home of good friends for a pre-dinner glass of wine.
Our menu for the evening was the same as my friend, Julie, had planned for her family – Ina Garten’s Seafood Gratin. While having our drink, Julie shared her frustration about how much prep time had been required.
“What? I read that it takes only 20 minutes!”
“Ha! It took forEVER to reduce that sauce! And have you julienned the vegetables yet? If you haven’t, you can forget about eating before 10.”
Well, as it happens, my physician had actually exercised his knife skills while the girls and I were at Mass. But Julie is an experienced and good cook, so if this recipe had given her grief, there was reason to be concerned.
Once back in my apartment, we headed immediately for the kitchen. I began to clean the shrimp and prepare the scallops while Dr. S sautéed the leeks and carrots, started the sauce and picked through the lobster meat. I chopped herbs then moved onto blanching the seafood while Dr. S melted butter and prepared the herbed breadcrumb topping. While I reduced the sauce, the doctor sliced endive and whipped up a salad dressing. Within 35 minutes we were sliding the casserole dish into the oven. We sent Julie a text message 25 minutes later to let her know we were sitting down to dinner!
In my tiny railroad-style kitchen we had gracefully made this Christmas Eve dinner together. And I had felt neither the need nor desire to provide my new kitchen companion with any instruction other than the next step in the recipe.
I think I could kinda love sharing my kitchen.