Sometimes I feel like I'm floating through the days and weeks somehow just elapse. It's garbage day, it's laundry day, it's library day, it's pizza night. It's a blur. All the time I hear my Mom's echo: "my 30's came in clumps", and my 30's were no exception. Now that I'm at the tail end of them, the elusiveness of enough time seems more than ever present in my thoughts. If I had extra time, I'd start croissants, I'd nixtamalize some corn to make homemade masa for tortillas, I would sit in the backyard with a book. Maybe not even a cookbook, maybe a full-fledged novel.
And I'd definitely make more recipes that I'd make time to share with my (hopefully not dwindling) group of readers.
Meanwhile, I've got a new batch of cookbooks that I've been cooking heavily from. My time in the kitchen is not as full as I'd like it to be, and yet I still make the time to delve into new recipes. My new crush is the America's Test Kitchen The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook. The day I picked it up from the library, I made the cover recipe - a simple tomato tart with a food processor butter crust. Last night, I made the vegetable torta (above). I shouldn't be stunned that these were so wonderful but somehow ATK always makes me feel that way. I know the one thing you should never do when entertaining is cook something you've never made before, but I frequently use their recipes to do just that.
The tomato recipes were perfect for my handfuls of garden tomatoes - the precious few that the fusarium wilt didn't get. Both recipes I tried instruct you to dust 1/4 inch thick slices of tomato with a bit of salt on paper towel for a half hour and then blot them carefully to remove some moisture. The result is a super-tomato, meaty with the full summer flavor that by this time of the year you are trying so hard to eat enough of - to sustain you until next tomato season.
It's almost difficult to remember the days before homeschooling now, the ones where I spent a good amount of time in my day procuring and preparing food. I remember the canning projects that I didn't need to sneak in just before bedtime, or just before suppertime. Last week my parents brought me a bushel of tomatoes (1/2 Roma and 1/2 regular "canners") and I had no idea how I was going to get them preserved. My Mom washed them all when we were visiting, and arranged them by ripeness on sheet pans, pans I needed to keep moving to ward off my toddler who will eat any ripening fruit or vegetable left on the counter. The ripest 12 pounds I pureed right away in the Vitamix. I left it stashed the puree in the fridge for a couple of days for (Local Kitchen) ketchup. That lazing about in the fridge trick also worked well for the (Food in Jars) tomato jam: 5lbs. of tomatoes that I cooked mostly down before letting it wait in the fridge for awhile. The last 26 lbs. of fruit I determined to roast, puree, and just can in pints. The roasting and pureeing I did on Sunday afternoon and I finally got the canning done yesterday afternoon. 13 jars doesn't seem like all that much when it's resting on the counter. But it is 13 weeks of pizza sauce. I am immeasurably indebted to my Mom for canning me quarts upon quarts of whole tomatoes for the rest of our tomatoey needs!
The 35 minutes of general monitoring and kitchen cleanup when the tomato puree was in the water bath allowed me some thinking time. When I have this time to think, I think of what things I could make to eat, what things I can make quickly and with pantry staples. I think of all the things I wish my picky boy would eat, and how if he would just eat, it would be so much less stressful for me. But there are tacos and pizza, both of which I make at least once a week and fully from scratch. I have mastered a dozen, maybe more, pizza doughs - and I know which ones to use for the time frames I have to work with. I can make tortillas in my sleep, and short order breakfast for dinner on a whim. I seem to have developed all kinds of kitchen nuances that save me time and put food in our bellies. Here are a half dozen recent time savers:
1. Make extra rice. Leftover rice seems to be better than rice made for the day. It was Tamar Adler who first made me aware of this and just two days ago I turned the last of some Indian-spiced basmati into a small amount of rice pudding with currants. One boy ate some for dessert, the other happily ate the rest for breakfast.
2. When grating cheese, grate the whole block. You will use it in omelets, on tacos, for a grilled cheese, and you won't have to be bothered to stop and grate it on demand. (Or better yet, if you have the food processor out to do something else that can stand a bit of cheese, drop large, hastily cut cubes of cheese into the running S-Blade. It's not grated or shredded, but it's perfect for melting, sprinkling, using in general.) If you don't think you'll use it up within a week, it actually freezes well too.
3. Slice, dice, or chop extra vegetables. Whatever the vegetable, onions and carrots for soup, peppers for frying or sautéing, extra prepped veg means less chopping later and more chance that I'll include them in something fast.
4. Cold Brew Coffee. It's definitely something I relied on all summer, but I think it will have a moment this fall as well. I am the only coffee drinker around here, and some mornings a pause to make myself a moka pot or a cup of Aeropress is just too much to ask of me. For mine, I coarsely grind 4 oz. of beans, soak it in 4 1/2 c. (36 oz.) filtered, room temperature water for 20 hours, then strain through a double layer of nut milk bag and decant to a quart jar. It keeps a week in the fridge. It's marvelous with heavy cream and a splash of maple syrup.
5. Extra scrambled eggs. Scrambled eggs are actually pretty good cold, and make good additions to sandwiches, tacos, and my gut when unexpected "hanger" strikes.
6. Always soak a pound of beans. I just recently got smart on this one. We generally eat a half pound over a couple of days, no matter what the variety. Making more leaves a batch for the freezer, which is good in a pinch or when I haven't planned ahead.
I could also add bread. Always bread. Earlier this year I was feeling bad about my lack of sourdough experimentation and a Flickr friend commented back that so many people buy the same cereal or ketchup for years and think nothing of it - and that really changed my perception of the joy of repetition. This is my bread, it's always kind of the same, but always just a little different. And it's good for and in everything. In fact, America's Test Kitchen told me to use white sandwich bread in that vegetable torta, but I used my own bread to wonderful effect. I never want for croutons or bread crumbs and when I sometimes feel sad that I don't have the time to devote to long and drawn out kitchen projects, I rest on the bread that I still can't believe I can make myself. The moments devoted to good bread have given me back so many more minutes than I can count, and made them filled to overflowing... Reminding me all the more the reason it is a stable staple and spirit-filled entity. If you have a good slice of bread, you have the whole world.