Old Prune friends might remember ‘Lunch in the Country.’
An Elizabeth David recipe. Her genius was writing them loose enough so we could make it our own. The pure confidence she had in us.
Slices of rosy cold prime rib, shaved radish and cucumber, new potatoes sploshed hot into an oil and bay leaf bath and left to cool for an afternoon, haricot vert, boiled eggs with sunshine soft yolks. A sauce boat of French vinaigrette—shallots, tarragon, and chervil.
Add a loaf of sourdough and local butter, a beautiful September day, a table outside, good beverages for everyone, and friends you love.
A platter of this is what you want to bring them. To be adored.
Appetizers and sweets.
My assignment. For too long early on.
Garde manger and pastry. The ceiling for women in a lot of French kitchens. Made it through the door. That’s what counts. So, they thought. Also, they knew the limits of my talents before I arrived. C’est vrai.
Nursed a healthy resentment about that. For too fucking long.
Besides, you can bet I busted out. Advocate or perish. I worked every station at Rundles. Do cooks do that anymore? In one fabulous restaurant?
But all that time in garde manger gave me a superpower.
I am a bonafide salad queen.
On Wasan Island this summer, I made a salad to serve with Alyssa’s Guyanese dhal. She Can Cook. I needed to keep up.
An interesting bed of greens, coriander, julienne of carrots, fennel, apples, celery, fine shreds of fresh ginger, bits of fresh chillies, a turmeric-lime dressing. The two things together—the dhal and the salad.
I have no shame in saying I know when I do it well. Alyssa has the same kind of esteem in the kitchen.
There’s so much crap salad in the world. I wouldn't wish grocery store mesclun on my worst enemy.
And I’m okay if that’s what you love.
But there’s a wholesale dumbing down of salads. People don’t know they can be complex. That it’s not a carrier for dressing.
It’s the season of curly endive, escarole, cavolo nero, and radicchio. Leaves with character. I make my own mixes and like it with at least three things. The foundation is everything.
I scan the markets for interesting companions—shaved parsley root, basil microgreens, yellow celery leaves, torn bits of mint, and flecks of marjoram.
A deft hand with vinaigrette, tossing it at the right moment. That’s magic.
A few days ago, I made a fabulous salad from the Bavel cookbook, Tomato & Plum with Sumac Vinaigrette. Worth the cover price. I admire the way Ori Menashe, Genevieve Gergis, and Lesley Suter think about food.
There’s been a chorus of appreciation through the years for my skills in the cold kitchen. Of all the classes I taught, Larder at Stratford was my favourite. I believe I was solid gold, like the man I replaced, Chris Woolf. Damn, he can cook too.
I poured myself into it. The long articles about agriculture from Edward Behr. Preserving together. And yes, there was a class on salads and vinaigrettes.
I sometimes wonder if I should teach that online?
If you ever wonder, why the music?
I was the girl who sometimes stood by the stereo and looked through albums at parties.
Good music was part of my home from first memory. My father and mother had shared and individual tastes.