Taking Stock

Taking Stock

Dear Diary,

There’s Poetic Justice, and then there’s Poetic Injustice. Poetic Justice is when you try to run away from your writing career, to culinary school, in order to become a chef, and end up becoming a food reporter and independent bookstore owner with the most tantalizing selection of cookbooks you yourself have ever seen.

Poetic Injustice is when, as an independent bookstore owner, you are working such long hours that you barely have time to go grocery shopping, let alone cook anything out of any of the cookbooks you so longingly order for your store.

In the five months since we opened the store, 11-and 12-hour days have become routine for us. Most of that time we’re on our feet, and we rarely arrive home before 8 pm. Most sane people would want to do anything at that point rather than start to cook a meal from scratch. Certainly, that is Mr. Darcy’s opinion. Look–say his eyes above his gin-and-tonic, as the clock strikes 8:15 and I begin chopping onions–we live in a world with frozen pizza! with take-out Whole Foods tempeh! with microwave-in-bag saag paneer! Why is she trying to do this needlessly time-consuming domestic chore at the end of a long day of chore-doing?

But what I’m really doing, Diary, is battling the Poetic Injustice of my situation. I will not surrender to the 70-hour workweek! I will not surrender to practically not even having a home life! I will not surrender to frozen pizza and take-out Whole Foods tempeh and microwave-in-bag saag paneer! I will rage against injustice with all the onions-sautéed-in-extra-virgin-olive-oil that I can muster! My house, however briefly, will smell like the home of people who really live here, and maybe once things return to normal–if they ever do–I will play again with Yotam Ottolenghi and Paul Prudhomme and Claudia Roden and all the other spirits who currently inhabit my cookbook section but not my kitchen.

But anyway, Diary, you will totally understand when I tell you what I did when I found myself with a day completely off, for the first time in as long as I can remember. I should tell you that on this particular day, the temperature in Chicago plunged prematurely, with a mid-November windchill reading of 1, and snow showers intermittently dusting the lawns and rooftops of our suburban neighborhood with fresh icing. Claudius, the cat-king of our backyard jungle, surrendered in the face of  the wailing of the wind outside and retreated to his favorite couch to spend the day with one paw over his eyes, trying to block out what seems to be descending upon us. 

But I decided not to surrender. I fought back! I spent the day making the slowest, most heavenly-smelling thing I could think of. I made stock.

Beef Bones with MirepoixI started with the most humble of ingredients: the left-overs of a store-bought rotisserie chicken and a package of raw beef bones I bought for $4.34 at Village Market. I figured that as long as I was going to take all day making it, I might as well make two, both chicken and beef. You start with a mirepoix: a mixture of chopped onions, celery, and carrots. For the beef, you toss the vegetables lightly in olive oil, salt the beef bones and nestle them in the vegetables, and roast them for 20 minutes or so at 450. Voila, your house already smells like a French country inn! Meanwhile, you lightly sauté the mirepoix for the chicken stock in olive oil; add a little minced garlic and a splash of sherry (aaaaaahhh! another sweet aroma bellows out from the pot in a cloud of steam!); and then dump in whatever’s left of that chicken. You cover it with water and let it simmer all day. When your beef bones are done, you sauté some leeks and garlic in a pot with olive oil, splash in that sherry (aaaaaahhh! another explosion of aroma!), add a minced tomato for acidity (to help leech every molecule of flavor from the meat), dump in your bones and some water, and bring it to the simmer. It’s good to throw in some herbs for flavor, too: a bay leaf, some parsley, some thyme. 

Then you go about living your home life, in whatever form: you throw in a few loads of laundry, sort through the bills, answer some email. You make a phone call you’ve been putting off forever, start making lists of possible Christmas presents that you will hide in the Secret Christmas Present Hiding Place that your children discovered years ago but pretend not to have; maybe you even–finally–curl up on the couch with a really good book and watch that unseasonably aggressive snow blow around outside your window, while Claudius, seeking extra warmth, jumps up and curls himself into a ball against your feet.

All that time the stock simmers away, perfuming the house with its rich primal aroma, and from time to time you check to make sure it hasn’t boiled down too far. The taste intensifies with every sip you sample from a spoon. You start to think about all those cookbooks at the store, and all the recipes you’ve glanced at longingly that might begin with these stocks and go somewhere you’ll want to go tomorrow night, when it’s cold and dark and you don’t get home from the store till 8. Green matzo balls, flavored with dill? Chinese hot-and-sour soup with dumplings? Roasted vegetable soup with dumplings?

Let me just assert the one thing I know for sure:







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