Art or Science?

roasted squash & root vegetable hash

My understanding of cooking is ever-changing. When I was young, it was purely art. Not particularly sophisticated art, but art nonetheless. And it very well should have been at that point in my life. The art was in the bold layering, red and white, red and white, that made my favorite Sunday lasagna supper come to life. It was in the careful placement of rainbow-colored worms (*shudders*) on the cookie-crumbed surface of a trick-or-treater’s delight. It was in the dolloping of perfectly spaced out cookie dough mounds, bursting with jewel-like cranberries and milky white chocolate chunks.

As I became increasingly interested in cooking — learning all that I could to make up for the culinary education I was too afraid to go after — the process became firmly entrenched in science for me. Every move in the kitchen, from the angle at which a knife’s blade purposefully hits the cutting board to the sound of a hard sear on a fresh steak, comes down to a fundamental scientific principle. These thoughts took over in the kitchen.

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The Expected and the Unexpected


I have always admired those who can successfully sell simplicity. In the food world, being simple isn’t easy. Frills can cover a multitude of sins. When complicated concoctions are stripped of their bells and whistles, they often fall flat due to less-than-perfect execution. Simplicity is also easy to ignore. Take the typical potluck dessert table. A beautiful tarte fine will almost always end the night missing only a few polite slivers, while that mammoth ganache-covered, dragée-encrusted, white chocolate curl-adorned, mini chocolate chip-packed chocolate cheesecake with a name like “chocolate explosion” will always be the first to go, no matter how it tastes.

Well, Cutty’s sandwich shop is an example of simplicity that cannot be ignored. When I work in Brookline Village, I’m there once a week, and that’s a lot for someone who nearly always packs a lunch. For a long time, I have hesitated writing a review of my go-to lunch spot. For one, it’s very well-known now, and I don’t need the line to be any longer or the specials to sell out any faster. Although it warrants it — of course, it warrants it — it seemed like writing a review of Cutty’s would be like writing a design piece on the furnishings of a neighbor’s home or a “hot or not” assessment of a best friend’s fashion choice.

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Being Resourceful

Last Sunday, I opened the door to my pantry to give it a good scan before I began planning meals for what I knew was going to be a busy week. One look almost made starving look like a desirable alternative. Almost. Baking supplies were jumbled with dry snacks, bottles of oils and spices were tipping over dangerously and cereals were hiding way too many varieties of dried fruit, including a bag of currants which, although properly sealed, was pushing the limit of what “dried” really means. Some more scavenging revealed a discouraging amount of waste. I decided I would just have to eat and eat until my pantry regained some semblance of organization. Not a bad deal.

It was in the relentless pursuit of an organized pantry that I baked this loaf at 9pm the next day after work. When I was sick last month, I opened a gorilla-sized bottle of unsweetened applesauce that was supposed to be used for a cake I never made in October. I choked down a half-cup serving – I’m not a fan of store-bought applesauce – and away it went in the fridge, set to expire 10 days after opening. I had also found a container of old-fashioned oats whose time would be up in a month. And there was Dorie Greenspan, quietly beckoning me to whip out my whisk and spatula with her Oatmeal Breakfast bread, which is composed primarily of these two ingredients.

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Winter Warmth

chicken with forty cloves of garlic

Oh, hello winter. Happy you could join us. Not.

I am perpetually cold. I’m the queen of the cardigan, the ultimate layering tool. I’m that annoying one who makes the job of the host or hostess that much harder when she has to choose her seat according to its proximity to the door or the windows. I’m that crazy lady wearing the plush, winter white hood/scarf/hat hybrid get-up, (I promise it has nothing to do with a snuggie and didn’t come from an infomercial) who bumps into you because her headpiece is obscuring her peripheral vision. But instead of telling those who question my chilliness that I have raynaud’s disease, which is merely a bother, I usually just say, “I’m always cold.”

So even though us New Englanders have been lucky to, until Tuesday, have a mild winter, I have been cold since, well, September. This Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic is one of those dishes I find myself returning to on the coldest of days like we experienced Tuesday and Wednesday. There are countless recipes for the bistro classic, but this is the version I enjoy the most. It’s the one that I find myself making when I’m cooking in a winter coat. It happens. (Who can afford to hike the heat to as high a temperature as I fancy?)

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Stress Snacks

lyonnaise garlic and herb cheese

For two out of my four years at Boston University, I was lucky enough to live in the Maison Française (French House). Unfortunately, we didn’t speak as much French as we were supposed to. Fortunately, though, my backyard was a walking bridge across Storrow Drive and to the Charles; my room was cramped but fitted with a swanky fireplace with white molding that was boarded up with marble tile; and like proper Francophiles, almost all of my housemates liked to eat good food (well, most of them, anyways). I found it impossible to do work in our living room where study sessions turned to chatter sessions and silent reading meant pretending to read while watching something on our great flat screen. As a diligent little worker-bee, I tried my room, the library, the student union, the College of Arts and Sciences and cafés. So most days, I swallowed my pride, and made the convenient trek directly across the street to Towers, an underclass dorm that made me feel oh-so young. Fitted with two study rooms, though, it was my second home on regular days and my only home come exam periods.

When I entered my study room of choice, I was always greeted by the same faces, pale and gaunt with fatigue and longing for a break. These were some of BU’s most dedicated — a group of which, if I could go back, I wish I wasn’t a part. I missed out on a lot of life in that hall, studying for things that now don’t seem all that important. The souls behind those faces were silent friends. They weren’t the ones you spend time with on weekends but the kind who nod when you pass just due to recognition. They’d often flash an expression that called out, “I know your pain.” I mean, during finals period, I would spend hours upon countless hours with them.

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