Nothing is more useful in defining what foods you love to eat than writing a cookbook. I’m weeks away, if all goes well, from finishing Dishing Up Washington. (Lots of them, but weeks.) Leafing through my little booklet of recipes, the one that lists the details of each chapter in twelve smudged and scribbled pages, is becoming a habitual guilty pleasure. I tatter them every time I set them next to me on the bench at the coffee shop, and when I page through to cross off the testing and writing and retesting of each recipe. I’m reaching the point where I have to pick favorites. Do I axe the blackberry oatmeal bars in favor of two-pound espresso brownies, made with a full pound each of butter and dark chocolate? Or do I talk my editor into including both? Do I show off my favorite potato producer, Olsen Farms, in the refined, ramp-infused version of vichyssoise I made last spring, or in their family’s rustic, basic, delicious version of chunky potato soup? These are awesome choices. This is my favorite part of writing a cookbook–the arranging and headnote writing and imagining and menu designing part. It’s like reorganizing a closet full of only clothing you love (if you’re that sort of person, like me), only everything you like fits. Sure, there are annoying parts. I hate fact-checking. The holes where I’ve written “TK” in place of the perfect word make the thing look like post-war London. But soon–24 recipes from now, to be precise–I’ll fold all of those little files into one big manuscript, and the holes will start disappearing.
But first, the 24.
Mostly, the recipes that are left fall into two categories: those that come from chefs I’m still wrangling, like you do, and those I’ve been putting off because the ingredients are particularly expensive, or time-consuming to prepare, or so breathlessly exciting that I keep putting them off in the hopes that I have just the right dinner guests when I actually get around to making them. (Spring Hill‘s chicken-fried veal sweetbreads come to mind for the latter.) It’s appropriate, I think, that I save these recipes for the end of this whole process, when (I’ve learned) I’m most critical of my own recipes, and even more so of others’. If I’m going to make you plunk down a few Jacksons for a pot full of crab, the dipping sauce had better be damned good, right?
So yes, the pace of testing has slowed. And suddenly, I can cook a little without a book in mind for the first time in what feels like years. Last night, I made a simple chicken and wild rice soup. It was the simplest thing, just fat, dark grains simmered in homemade stock greasy enough to give the lips a good gloss. My son ate out all the carrots, and my husband loaded it with sriracha, and I ate it like a normal person, with my bum glued to the chair, instead of hopping up and down to make notes on a piece of paper, like I usually do with whatever it is we’re eating. And I remembered, because I wasn’t navel-gazing over the amount of this or that in a recipes, that this is what I love–the eating, and sharing, and slurping together.
There was a time in my life when I had extra recipes floating around me all the time. With Dishing Up Washington, though, I can’t share all those recipes. Not just yet, even if they end up as extras in the end. This week, at my computer, there will be planning and organizing and listing and calling and all those things that make folks without OCD squirm. There will be Picnic’s kale and white bean salad, and a razor clamming trip to plan, and perhaps those sweetbreads, but I might also just cook. We’re having 30 people over for an event for my husband’s work on Wednesday, and I’m not going to write a single thing down, before or after. There will be pork tacos, probably, and whatever else Wednesday afternoon decides there should be.
You, though. I know you. You’re the one who panics at the thought of preparing more than one dish at a time, lest things all come out of the oven at different times. I’ve heard you muttering, in the aisles of the grocery store, about how much this season stresses you out. I haven’t forgotten you, which is why Hannah Viano and I have decided to share the recipes from our winter recipe card set here. You’re not into the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to holiday entertaining. (You would never leave tacos for 30 for the last minute.)
And do I have the plan for you. Hannah and I were giggling the other day, plotting, hoping you’d try it. Here’s how it works: You buy our recipe cards (or just print the recipes out, if you so please) and send one to each of five friends. You make dessert. (Goodness knows there are plenty of options these days, but if it were me, I’d make cranberry-oatmeal streusel bars, because I have about a quart of cranberry relish leftover still.) You set the table. And your friends bring dinner.
Now that’s a holiday party. Have fun.