Anxious Chefs of the World, Relax!


Photo by ccharmon/FlickrCC

In this week's share: green chard, carrots, onions, red leaf lettuce, grapefruit, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, and golden beets. To try the farro dish Anastasia made with her share, click here for the recipe.

My friend Maggie and I have developed a rhythm to our CSA share pickup/dinner prep routine. We pick up the share. We hem and haw about what kind of dinner it could become. One of us is usually too tired to think straight, so the other figures out a meal, and then we cook and eat it together.

Cooking with another person is a funny thing. I will freely admit that I am the kind of cook who will not substitute a red onion if the recipe calls for a white one. I don't think tomatoes have any place in a green salad. A college boyfriend and I, having decided to make cassoulet, once spent a week arguing about what would make the most authentic version. Did we need goose fat? Could we use navy beans instead of flageolet?

Feeling a little guilty, but also secretly glad that I had full control, I peeled and sliced grapefruit and avocado and roasted the beets while Maggie prepared the farro.

My standards aren't arbitrary, by the way, nor are they about denying anyone enjoyment or making meals fancier than they need to be. It's just that food is precious—treating it carelessly encourages waste, and waste breeds further inattention. Taking a few moments to think about what you're cooking can make the daily act of feeding yourself a pleasure rather than a chore. Besides, if you don't first learn to do something properly, how do you know that your innovation is better?

I believe in my exacting standards, but I will concede that it might be a little exhausting to cook dinner with someone who thinks that no, you can't substitute spinach for chard. So I have been trying to be a little more flexible. Maggie is a much more improvisational cook than I am, and cooking with her has taught me that, in fact, it might not be a disaster to use dried thyme instead of fresh once in a while.

Last Thursday, I was the one too tired out to configure our pile of vegetables into a coherent meal. Maggie remembered a farro dish she loved, suggesting we could substitute sweet potatoes for butternut squash and add in some chard. Her energy helped me focus, and I realized the grapefruit, beets, and lettuce could make a salad to complement the heartiness of the grain and winter squash. She let me take care of it—my tendency toward the doctrinaire (and, er, bossy) is particularly apparent on the salad front, I'm afraid, and so I think Maggie has decided that the best way for us to stay friends is to leave them to me. Feeling a little guilty, but also secretly glad that I had full control, I peeled and sliced grapefruit and avocado and roasted the beets while Maggie prepared the farro.

As an avowed pasta-lover, I don't usually cook grains, so this farro dish was a revelation. The vinegar and tangy goat cheese balanced the sweetness of potatoes. Plus, when you're sitting out a New England winter, eating citrus and avocado can, even just for a moment, make you think you're somewhere warmer. We ate and talked until, yawning, we remembered all the things we had to do the next day.

A few days later, I made Maggie's dish again. I wasn't able to find farro, so I substituted wheat berries and used butternut squash instead of sweet potatoes. It might not sound like much, but I'd say I'm making great strides in my effort to become less of a control freak.