Recipe: A Story

Stories in books tend to have discrete beginnings and endings. Even slice of life works are likely to begin with some event and end with its closure or another event.

Real life, in my experience, lacks such crispness of boundaries. In my life, any particular piece of a story has roots in a few other stories, which are each themselves rooted in several stories of their own, and so on back to the taproot of early childhood.

And even then, the stories of our parents and our genetics and our environment show that our individual beginnings are just branches in a larger system.

I was thinking about this while trying to compose a note about this quick and easy recipe that I like very much called "Herb and Egg Soup." I started thinking about the recipe book where I got the original - Mark Bittman's HOW TO COOK EVERYTHING - recommended to me by my friend Liralen. And that made me think of how I met her and how she came to love cooking.

But the reason I bought the book is because I've grown more interested in cooking in the last few years, both because I am a picky eater and because it gives me a sense of accomplishment to create tasty foods.

And yet, I might've never really tried to cook anything interesting if not for my boyfriend Pat, who encourages me in every thing I do and is a pretty good cook himself.

Realizing that my mental composition was getting a little beyond the scope of my original write-up, I down-shifted my focus to the ingredients list: 32 oz. of stock, 3 eggs, 2 tablespoons of butter, between 1/2 and 1 cup of chopped fresh herbs. Easy.

However, this brings me to the stock - I've never made it. Bittman's book has a great recommendation on how to make canned stock a little tastier, and I've tried it - not bad. But he recommends REAL stock, which is a bit more of a cooking commitment than I'm willing to give right now. Sometime, when I'm not looking for houses, I'd like to spend a Saturday creating stock and then possibly soup! Real, serious, beautiful soup.

But for now, I'm a soup poser. But I thought of these little containers labeled "STOCK" at Formaggio's Kitchen (on Huron Ave in Cambridge) that I'd noticed while shopping for cheese.

Formaggio's is one of the only CHEESE CAVES in the U.S. A CHEESE CAVE is a dark, moist place where specialty cheeses are aged and grow to great funkiness. They supply cheeses to a restaurant called RADIUS, in Boston.

I'd first heard of RADIUS after listening to corwin rhapsodizing about their food, shortly after his anniversary dinner there with ctan. I promptly forgot the name, but c&c mentioned it in their holiday letter and I decided to take Pat (aforementioned boyfriend) there for his birthday, beginning of January.

Expensive, yes, but well worth the money as well as the hand-waving, eye-rolling rhapsodizing later. Despite a reservation, we had problems getting seated because other patrons _just_wouldn't_leave_ so in recompense, they gave us an extra course (we each ordered the 6-course sampler dinner) - a CHEESE course.

One of the cheeses was so yummy - mild and creamy, slightly stinky, and a bit like brie but with a MUCH more interesting flavor - that I asked about it and was told the cheese was REBLOCHON (reh-BLUH-shon) from Formaggio's Kitchen.

A few weeks later, trying to find a parking place for our first appointment with our real-estate agent, we stumbled across Formaggio's and resolved to go in afterwards. We did, and I bought a HUGE amount of REBLOCHON, ate most of it over the next week or so, and fell in love with Formaggio's.

Back to stock - we stopped in there again, just before another Real Estate appt. and I bought 2 little tubs of veggie stock and 1 of fish stock (they were out of chicken), as well as some fresh herbs (a small bulb of fennel, about one plant's worth of basil, and a pile o'dill - I already had parsley at home and I don't like onions, so no chives), plus some bread rolls.

A couple of days later, using a 32 oz. box of veggie broth from Bread & Circus, 2 tablespoons of the Formaggio veg. stock, I started cooking. I looked up fennel in Bittman's book to see which bit to use (answer: the bulb, not the fronds) and used half a bulb, chopped fairly small. I chopped up a handful of parsley and a handful of basil and the frondy bits off 4 or 5 branches of dill. About 3/4 of a cup's worth all together.

I mixed the eggs in a measuring cup, got the broth hot, the powdered stock dissolved, poured the eggs in while stirring constantly for a few minutes, then added the herbs & the 2 tablespoons of butter.

Once the butter was melted in, I served the soup with the rolls.

SALTY as hell, but with a wonderful flavor. Housemates and friends descended and declared it tasty, confirming words with actions by consuming it all.

Made it again a couple of days later to use up the herbs before they went yucky, tried a single heaping tablespoon of the stock that time. Still a little too salty, still tasty as hell, still popular.

I'd like to try it again but with tiny pasta instead of eggs. It's so NEAT, just plain cool to have something that's easy to make and interesting to adapt and flavorful and made by me.

Then yesterday, I had a miserable day. I hadn't gotten much sleep and the day was on the traumatic side, so I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. I got home & I thought about ordering take-out food for dinner but the idea didn't interest me like it usually does. Instead, I started thinking about what I had in the fridge (some tofu, a couple of store-bought sauces, a pound of fettucine, a bag of fresh spinach, a container of frozen white clam sauce, a bag of pre-cooked frozen baby shrimp, a carton of cream, a pound of asparagus, a pound of stinky cheese) and decided it would be faster and easier to cook.

I had the makings of 2 or 3 different meals, but wanted to use the spinach before it went bad (it's a couple days older than the asparagus).

So I dumped the spinach into a large strainer, then cooked up the pasta while melting the clam sauce in a small pan. I wasn't so sure about the clam sauce - it tasted fine, but not exactly what I wanted.

Thus, when the pasta was done and poured over the spinach in the strainer to lightly steam the spinach, I checked Bittman's book for white sauce. Adjusting his recipe, I chopped up a clove of garlic while heating 1.5 tablespoons of butter and fried the garlic lightly, then whisked in 1.5 tablespoons of flour, and slowly added a cup of cream. Then I took out half the bag of frozen shrimp, rinsed them in cold water and dropped them into the white sauce to warm up.

By this time the clam sauce was hot, so I put half the pasta & spinach into a bowl & threw most of the clam sauce over it and ate some and it was good.

When the shrimp were warm and the white sauce hot, I poured most of it over the rest of the pasta & spinach (in another container) and I ate some and it was good.

Then I took some of one and some of the other and put it in a cup and ate it mixed and it was _really_ good.

So I threw everything into one bowl, poured the rest of both sauces over the whole thing and it was wonderful.

I don't know if I'd have done that if I wasn't so buzzed off damn good soup. The cooking energized me a bit and made everything a little less bleak, and I slept wonderfully even though I woke up with garlic breath.

And so this is the story of how I came to love cooking.

Kelly J. Cooper
27 March 2001

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