When consumed with fear that the world is racing towards an era of pseudo-fascism, that the differences between the people we're supposed to be fighting and the people gabbering on our television sets us are becoming harder to distinguish every day, when it all seems to be just a smidgen more than you can bear, it always helps to have some people over for dinner.
After a day of work that was inter-changable with any other day at work, I hopped on the train home and starting planning what I wanted to cook for three of my closest and best friends. Groceries purchased, I swung by the little market down the street and picked up some flowers -- they round out any table nicely. I'd decided on Shepherd's Pie (my recipe for which I'll include below) which can require some time, mostly for boiling the potatoes, and as I was chopping and peeling and all that goes into making a meal, I thought about how domestic this all seemed. How traditional, to any casual observer, my evening and even myself would seem.
I enjoy cooking for several reasons, none of which are rooted specifically in the fact that I am a woman. Firstly, I grew up in a house where meals weren't particularly regular, and when we did have them, they were usually a tense affair and were spent in silence. Secondly, I don't like crowded, loud restaurants where you can't really talk with the people you're eating with, so I'd rather have the people I like over to mine, so we can talk without having to labor over it. And thirdly, it's cheaper than going out. While all of this may be true, when I cook, I'm decidedly acting out a "female duty" and am playing at domesticity the same way that little girls play at femininity when they put on their mother's high heels and smear lipstick on their faces. Maybe I enjoy flirting with traditional gender roles because it subverts what people usually perceive me as -- a staunch feminist who has no trouble showing her colors in even the most un-hospitable of rooms. Maybe my desire to be enigmatic supersedes my desire to resist convention.
In any case, I set aside my inner-monologue as my friends arrived for conversation, food, and wine. I like meals that are casual, healthy and long. We talked about our jobs, our fears that we don't do enough, our loathing for people who are mere months older than us and have two book deals at Random House, and the War. We talked about that Superman comic that wonders what would have happened if Kal-El dropped down in Soviet Russia instead of Smallville, and why dogs are so good for the heart. We toasted to a good winter, and hoped that we all would make it through the cold months without the depression that grabbed hold of all of us the last time around. While autumn is in full swing, and the weather is still more brisk that anything, I'm more than happy to just let the winter wait in the eaves, and think about what I'll cook next time.
Recipe for Shepherd's Pie (About 45 Min./Hour)
5 Celery stalks
2 cloves of Garlic
Butter/Milk (or soy margarine/soy milk)
2 packages Quorn/Faux Meat (I have no idea what this would be in actual meat - probably just one thing of hamburger ground meat)
(1.) The trick to cooking is to time everything right. Start by bringing a large pot of water to boil. While that gets going, wash and peel your potatoes. Add those and a little salt to the boiling water. Let them brew for 20-30 minutes. (2.) Chop (not dice) your carrots and throw those into a frying pan with a little olive oil. Carrots take forever to soften, so let them sit a while while you chop your celery and garlic. (3.) Add the celery and garlic to your carrots, adding a little olive oil and salt and pepper, once they're all nice and soft and the carrots are just beginning to brown, (4). Add the faux meat to the mix and bring the heat up a little. Most faux meats/quorn can be really dry, so add a touch more olive oil, and red wine to bring some taste. Add salt/pepper/garlic salt as you see fit. Move that around in the pan for about 10 minutes, making sure that it doesn't dry out. Then, bring the heat down low while you, (5.) drain the potatoes in a strainer then replace them in the pot. They should be nice and soft by now, and fall apart under a wooden spoon. Depending on how many potatoes you have, add about 3/4 cup of milk and 3/4 of a stick of butter. Mash until desired level of lumpiness. (6.) Put your oven on broil to warm up. Using a pyrex/casserole dish, do a thin layer of the meat mix, followed by potatoes, and repeat until you run out.
(7.) Stick the dish in the oven for about 15/20 minutes, until the top layer of potatoes is slightly browned and crispy.
Shepherd's Pie is uber-filling so it's best to follow it with something light, like slice apples or other fruit. I like desserts to be small but to have lots of options, so I usually just throw a bunch of things onto a wooden chopping board and let people choose. Last night the options were: chopped pieces of dark, sugarless chocolate (just from the corner market), some cut up pepperjack cheese, a bit of brie I had left over, slices of green and gala apples, triscut crackers, walnuts, and fresh strawberries.