Aspen Princess: Messy food prepared seriously and with dash of extra love
Alison Berkley Margo
The Aspen Princess
“You’re like a whirling dervish,” my husband Ryan said, gesturing around the kitchen.
He was right. Cupboards and drawers remained flung open as if a burglar had gone rifling through them, vegetable carnage lay strewn across the cutting board with a variety of measuring cups, various utensils and a zester clogged with orange peel scattered on the countertops. There were pots and pans on the stove, a lone oven mitt left behind amid abandoned spice containers, most of them with the lids off. I know you’re supposed to keep a clean mise en place, and I try, but at some point, I always sort of lose it.
Listen, I’m the furthest thing from a food blogger. I’m not going to pose in my newly remodeled all-white kitchen with perfect hair and natural-looking makeup, wielding a wooden spoon and posting photos of styled food in ceramic bowls on marble countertops with colorful napkins and greenery artfully scattered about on Instagram. Our kitchen still has the ugly, fake-green granite the previous owners chose and yes, I dream about renovating it all day, every day.
I do love cooking and I love eating even more. I don’t love the term “foodie” just because it feels a little too hipster for two glorified ski bums who live deep enough in the mountains that we don’t get cellphone reception at our house and the only traffic jams are the ones caused by bighorn sheep crossing Frying Pan Road. But we love cooking shows and often find ourselves saying things like, “I would so definitely get Chopped for that,” when the rice gets overcooked or someone finds a strand of the other’s hair in their salad. “Please pack your knives and go.”
I also like to be creative in the kitchen, but I’m lousy at following directions. I see recipes as a launching-off point — rarely do I follow them to the letter.
That’s exactly what happened the other night when I had my friend Nancy over for dinner and the cilantro pesto I’d made for the rice came out bitter. This was especially tragic because the last time I had Nancy over, I made pesto that had way too much raw garlic in it; like, pore-opening, clammy-palms amount of raw garlic.
Nancy thinks it’s pretty amusing that I never got over the raw garlic incident, or that I manage to bring it up almost every time we share a meal together.
As in, “Oh my god, at least my breath isn’t melting the walls,” or “at least I’m not breaking out in a cold sweat.”
I take my cooking pretty seriously. Not because I’m a perfectionist or want to impress anyone or create an image of myself as this goddess of domesticity; It’s because I want to take care of the people I love. The best way I know how to do that is to prepare beautiful food that will taste good but also make them feel good by doing something special for them. I’ve always said that even a slice of toast tastes better if someone else makes it.
When that effort goes wrong, I take it really, really hard. My younger brother is someone I’ve always loved to cook for. He’s had a lot of stomach issues as an adult that have forced him to restrict his diet. My favorite thing is to make delicious foods to satisfy his cravings without using any ingredients that might be irritating to his system. I’m thinking about this now because he just so happens to be visiting us (to use his Ikon Pass, which I will be writing about at a future date) and this morning I made him my favorite quinoa carrot breakfast cookies, which are vegan, gluten free and have no processed sugar.
He loved them, and it made me so happy because the last time I cooked for him the vegetables I stir-fried upset his stomach. He said they were “undercooked and over-salted” and I was so distraught about this apparent misstep that I lost my cooking mojo there for about two weeks afterward.
Which takes me back to my bitter cilantro pesto. I don’t know if it was from the cilantro, the olive oil, the bad cooking mojo or the pecans, but you can only add so much honey before it starts tasting more like breakfast cereal. That’s when I reached for the coconut milk. I also threw in a little freshly grated ginger, orange zest and orange juice. I ended up with a sauce that was herbaceous, tangy, savory and just the right amount of sweet. Even though I’d intended it to season my jasmine rice (which it did), I also drizzled it over the salmon along with the miso vinaigrette. The bright-green color looked gorgeous on the pink fish. It paired beautifully with the orange and fennel salad I served on the side with an orange tarragon balsamic dressing.
Turns out the green stuff is good on almost anything. The coconut milk does give it a Thai bent but it’s subtle enough that it can also go Mexican. I’d use this on shrimp tacos, as a dipping sauce for fresh spring rolls or chicken satay, and even on pasta with bright spring vegetables like snap peas. It’s a great vegan sauce that can add a creamy element to almost any dish and would be great with enchiladas, tacos, roasted or stir-fried veggies, and could even work as a condiment in soup or baked sweet potato. I even thought about buying those squeeze bottles on Amazon, like the kind they use to put ketchup in at fast food restaurants, so I could make pretty little squiggles of the green stuff on various dishes.
Then I realized my food isn’t about being pretty. Like me, it’s a little messy, it’s outside the lines, and it’s filled with love.
The Princess must be hungry. Email your love to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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