Everybody’s a critic, Part 2. Or, Why Mark Bittman is Awesome

I spent most of yesterday in a funk. I wanted to be all plucky and devil-may-care about a rather hurtful and, dare I say, misguided write-up about a project very close to my heart. But the truth is, my feelings were bruised.  If I just do something creative, I thought, maybe I can get past this inertia. But “creative” wouldn’t come and I finally concluded that maybe it was best to just let myself be sad and do some good old-fashioned moping.

how-cook-everything-mark-bittman-hardcover-cover-artWell, by about 5:00 or so I was thoroughly disgusted with myself and really tired of looking at the walls. And I was hungry. So I glanced at a recipe from the truly indispensable Mark Bittman tome, How to Cook Everything, and set off for the grocery store.

What I love about Mark Bittman is his appreciation for simple, well-prepared food. When my boyfriend Eli and I went to Barcelona, we ate almost every day at Cafe Vienna on Las Ramblas because Bittman said he had eaten the world’s best sandwich there. He wasn’t exaggerating: the crusty bread, adorned simply with crushed tomato and jamon iberico (a rich, salty, sweet Spanish ham) made our pig-loving souls sing Alleluia.CIMG3676

In Lucca, we sought Bittman’s counsel when deciding where (and what) to eat. Across the table from me at Da Francesco, Eli took one bite of tortelli lucchesi, a sunshine-yellow egg-based pasta in a rustic meat sauce, and his eyes rolled back in his head in gastronomic bliss. Bittman had done it again!

So last night, in my despondency, I turned to Bittman and, as usual, he didn’t disappoint. I opted for a salad of warm chickpeas and arugula; I wanted something quick, simple and hearty. Frankly, I didn’t want to risk a culinary failure on top of the beating my ego had already taken.

I started by heating some olive oil in a skillet, then adding minced garlic and ginger with a pinch of cumin. When the flavors had begun to come together, I added about a cup of canned chickpeas and cooked them in the flavored oil for about four minutes. In the meantime, I tossed some thinly sliced red onion and arugula in a large bowl.

When the chickpeas were tender and had taken on the flavors of the garlic, ginger and cumin, I took them off the heat and stirred in some rice wine vinegar, honey, and a bit of water. Using a fork to smash some of the chickpeas, I made a coarse dressing of sorts, which I seasoned with salt and pepper. The warm chickpeas were tossed with the arugula and red onion; at Bittman’s suggestion, I added a hard-cooked egg. To finish, I drizzled the salad with a little bit of good olive oil and a splash of rice wine vinegar.CIMG3843

The arugula, ginger and cumin were a little spicy, the rice wine vinegar was sweet and tangy, and the chickpeas were comforting. The hard-cooked egg, one of nature’s most perfect foods, added some body to the salad and made it feel like more of a meal. And the red onions! Their pungent sweetness gave the salad a great “kick.”

Last night’s salad was not sophisticated, nor was it particularly beautiful. Making it took all of 15 minutes and, with the exception of the chickpeas, there was very little actual cooking involved. But puttering around in the kitchen was a way to re-connect with the soul of creativity: the basic human desire to make something.

 With Mark Bittman’s invisible guidance, I cooked myself out of a sad, bitter mood. Of course, I reek of onions this morning. But I’ll take onions over sour grapes any day.


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