by Ernest Barteldes
Last week I re-watched Julie & Julia, a film starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams that chronicles the early days before Julia Childs became the superstar cookbook author and TV show host while also following the story of Julie Powell, who famously cooked through Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking while blogging about the experience as she went along.
Early in the film, Powell tells her husband Eric that cooking is a form of escapism for her – no matter how bad her day had been, cooking would always relieve all the stress that she’d felt. When I heard that, something clicked in my head, because that is exactly how I feel – while many people I know see going to the kitchen and fixing a meal something like a chore, every time I cook any trouble I might be having just goes away.
Of course, due to my hectic work and study schedule I cannot make any elaborate meals like I would like to on weekdays, so I make quick dishes I can get done in about 30 minutes on weekdays (usually involving a main course with pasta, rice or vegetables). But when the weekend arrives I pull out my numerous cookbooks and try to create a sumptuous meal for Renata and I (and guests when there is a special occasion) to enjoy over a bottle of wine and a movie.
I like to joke that I learned to cook because my mother couldn’t cook and I needed to eat something that didn’t mean ramen noodles and eggs. However, that statement is not necessarily true. Sure, my mom is not the greatest cook in the world (she kills with managing money, though), but the true reason was simply that over the years I always found myself in relationships with women who were less than gifted in the kitchen, and then I just started learning how to combine different spices and ingredients.
As years went by, I started becoming interested in international cooking – something made possible when I relocated to New York in 2000, since you can find virtually any ingredient here if you look hard enough. At the same time, I began learning about wines and how to pair them with certain dishes. I know sometimes I infuriate Renata when I insist that she finish a glass of white wine I served with salad because the main course doesn’t go with it, but I guess I became a bit of a snob. In this case, however, I don’t necessarily think of it as a bad thing.
So it became my daily routine to think about what to cook for lunch (I pack in containers for both of us) every day, and always try to vary the meals every day. Whenever I have a chance I visit grocery stores in different neighborhoods to look for hard-to-find spices and ingredients in case I want to make something exotic, and am always on the look for something new. Today, for instance, I found some Israeli couscous and prepared it (for tomorrow) with onions and tomatoes as a side dish with pan-fried falafel as a main course.
As I write this I am wondering what the big weekend meal is going to be… have a bit of an idea so far, but let’s see where the muse takes me till then.