Come Wednesday, I'll be flying to San Diego for the ALA Midwinter Meeting, and I'm trying really hard not to be bitter about the fact that I was just in California five days ago to visit my family*. I can hardly believe I'm heading back to the West Coast again. Which is one reason why this New Year's weekend has been so important to me: I have such a strong sense of homebody-ness. I have spent the last three days really hunkering down and enjoying my own little home here in NYC, spending time with Adam and Bug.
The craziness aside, it is during weeks like this when menu planning becomes even more of a priority to me. It's more than food - it also assures me that Adam and Bug will eat well in my absence and that there is a certain amount of order in a chaotic world. I mean, when the going gets tough, the tough eat good food, right?:
Monday: Oatmeal with Apples, Brioche Toast. Breakfast for dinner? Absolutely. This recipe is one of my favorites from French Women Don't Get Fat - the apples make it even heartier and more fulfilling, not to mention that they lend a brightness to the oatmeal. I'm stressed and tired before a conference...yet this makes me feel like I've still provided a comforting, satisfying meal to myself and my family.
Tuesday: Creamy Parmesan Polenta with Brussels Sprouts. I use Ina Garten's new recipe for the polenta and Nigel Slater's uber-easy recipe for the Brussels sprouts. This dinner will truly take me only 30 minutes to put together...but the rewards are endless: it's the culinary equivalent of a working brick fireplace in my apartment.
Wednesday: Nachos. Guess who is now in San Diego... This is Adam and Bug's table now. Chips, cheese, black beans, olives, salsa, sour cream. Naturally, everything is organic-y.
Thursday: Grilled Prosciutto and Cheese. Again, I'm gone. I added prosciutto to make it resemble something delicious and uptown. Does it help that they'll be making the sandwiches with Comte and Fontina?
Friday: I leave them to their own devices. It's either Breakfast (eggs, potatoes, bacon, toast) or they'll go out. I'll be busy stacking up books in the booth, waiting for the two hours of madness that is the conference's "opening reception".
The comfort food theme began tonight with Cabbage and Straw, one of my favorite winter pasta meals. It comes from Rachael Ray's magazine, in which she says "I cannot successfully transition from summer to fall without eating this Italian classic". But don't listen to her. This is too hearty to be a summer/fall transitional dish - it's winter through and through.
CABBAGE AND STRAW
Adapted from Rachael Ray
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
9 oz. fresh fettuccine or pappardelle pasta (not dried)
1/2 large head Savoy cabbage - quartered, cored, and shredded
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter
6 garlic cloves - smashed, skins removed, cloves quartered
20 fresh sage leaves, 10 whole and 10 thinly sliced
1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1 1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of water to a boil; salt it. Add the potatoes and cook for 7 minutes. Add the cabbage to the same pot and cook for 3 minutes. Add pasta and cook for 2 minutes (fresh pasta needs to be cooked for much less time than dried, which is why I altered Ray's recipe).
While the potatoes and pasta are cooking, melt the butter in a large, deep skillet (I used non-stick) over medium heat. Add the garlic and whole sage leaves. Cook until the sage is crisp, 3-4 minutes. Remove the garlic and sage leaves to a small plate.
Add the sliced sage and pepper to the skillet; just before draining the potatoes, pasta, and cabbage, add 2 ladles of the starchy cooking water.
Drain the potatoes, pasta, and cabbage and add to the skillet. Stir it all together, adding the Parmesan as you work to get a cheesy, buttery coating. Adjust the salt and garnish the pasta with the reserved whole sage leaves and garlic.
I drank a cheap but satisfying wine with it - Odfjell Babor Cabernet Sauvignon - and Adam really liked his Brooklyn Brewery Winter Lager pairing.
My point is that, even when you have no time, even when you're not home, planning balanced and satisfying meals is entirely possible.
Eat, drink, and make good food a priority.
* Oh, how I wish that I could have stayed there and just worked from my parents' house!