It All Comes Down to Beef
I rarely dine out anymore. For years, my weeks were littered with swanky suppers, $15 lunches, quick bites on the run, oysters and prosecco just because it was Tuesday, most of my so-called disposable income funnelled into restaurants and lounges and bakeries and diners. Meanwhile, I was learning to cook but was typically disappointed. Recipes were the boss of me. I followed instructions perfectly, but dishes rarely came out perfect. Why why why? So frustrating, putting all that time into picking a dish, shopping for its components, putting it all together, appetite piqued by the smell…and then, turning out something that wasn’t bad but was merely so-so. Somehow, this plainness was worse than a total fucking disaster. A culinary trainwreck would at least make for good storytelling, while mediocre suppers simply deflated.
And so, I let go of my recipe thing. I’ve always been a sensational baker (the ability to stick to a plan makes for excellent cupcakes, pastry and custard) and intuitively understand which rules can be broken and which will tank a cake. Sauces, grilled beast, poached this-n-that are much tougher because you need a sincere understanding of why and how things work, but also an elasticky flexibility and faith in your senses of smell, sight and taste. Does it look revolting? Maybe you’ve curdled something and need to start again. Does it smell good? On its own, that’s not shorthand for “delicious”; it’s best to give the dish a taste, or two, or six. Does it taste lovely but look like pure hell and falls apart around the edges? Consider it a stroke of luck that you’re single and cooking for two (yourself plus lunch tomorrow) so no one’s there to see the weird stuff on your plate, and make a few changes next time.
Now, about three years along, I make gnocchi at least as good as the place I used to pay $50 for a plate of it along with a carafe of wine and some greens. My desserts top those at Wanda’s and Caplansky’s, and my rabbit is nearly equal to the Tuesday special at Le Select. My pizza rivals the stuff plated at the hipster joint down the block and making it at home spares me the agony of standing in line with all those artist-boys in skinny jeans and girls in schlumpy tanktops and lank hair. I can whip up steamed mussels in a broth that makes Oyster Boy’s seem like poison, and my grilled pickerel stands in nicely for the dish I used to crave at the JK Wine Bar. “Brunch out” seems ridiculous when I can coddle eggs, wilt spinach, toast bread, bake scones, brew coffee and mix a pitcher of mimosas myself, while still cruising around in pyjamas. And, with my balcony in full bloom and lanterns strung around the railing, who needs a public patio?
It all comes down to beef. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t get the hang of cow meat. I suck at steaks and my burgers are fucking dreadful. My stew experiences some magical and hideous transformation, and midway through braising my shortribs go all wrong. It reminds me of something I heard from my parents, school teachers, and the Girl Guide leader who consoled me after my fifth failed attempt to earn a particular merit badge: “We can’t all be good at everything!” Fair enough. No orienteering badge. No high school math credits. And, no at-home steak. Which is fine, actually…a lady needs to get out now and then.