Sunday, July 30, 2006

cooking up a plan

Yesterday, despite all my best efforts to avoid doing so, Jim and I ran some errands at the mall.

Usually I try to avoid the mall at all costs, which I'm sure no one believes, given my penchant for shopping. However, the mall -- particularly on a summer weekend, when every bored tourist in a hundred-mile radius descends upon South Portland -- induces a pretty strong cringe reaction in me.

All of the items on yesterday's to-do list, though, involved either a zero-sum or negative outflow of money, which was kind of a motivating factor. I had to return one item that it turned out I did not actually need to own, and redeem a few magazine tear-away cards for free and interesting merchandise that was, in an odd turn of events, actually worth acquiring.

Hey, you can never have too many pairs of comfy cotton underwear. Seriously.

Of course, we had to make a detour into Williams-Sonoma, which may never fall out of favor as my all-time favorite browsing locale.

Perhaps my mind was primed to be in a kitchen-store mood after the morning's parental phone call. Mom and Dad discovered a phenomenal place in Charleston, which we shall now visit when we spend a couple of days there in November. I had also already been mulling over what to cook for dinner, since the heat pretty much demanded pressing the outdoor grill into service, and nothing in the fridge was calling to me. I was thinking something seafood-y, but I just couldn't settle on anything.

Sonoma had a huge window display of ... something, I don't actually remember what, but above it was a massive photograph of some mouth-wateringly beautiful grilled shrimp. It was a portent. We had to go in.

Jim is a patient and indulgent human being, because taking me into a kitchen store can be a time-suck of epic proportions. I don't remember being entranced in childhood by candy stores as per the old adage (although the penny candy at Spencer's Five and Dime was pretty fun). But plop me into a sea of cast-iron casseroles, cookbooks that double as art, and shiny new microplanes? Let's just say it's a miracle my eyes remember to focus and I can control the drool reflex.

Of course, there was nothing I really, truly needed at Sonoma yesterday, but I could happily bring home, oh, just about everything they sell. Or almost everything: I don't really need any more mustard scoops, since they come as a decoration on every wedding-wrapped gift. In fact, let me know you if need some. I think we saved twelve or so before we started just chucking them with the wrapping paper.

After wandering around in a state of utensil-lust-induced psychedelic trance for a few minutes, my eyes lit upon a wonderful sight: the non-stick flexible spatula. I generally use wooden spoons when I scramble eggs, which I do nearly every morning, and my wooden spoons are dying horrible splintering deaths, one by one, probably as a result of over-washing and general disrespect. The flexible spatula, though, in the small size, is the perfect egg-scrambling tool.

I wanted this spatula. I needed this spatula. And Jim, bless him, bought me this spatula.

When you leave the mall toting bags and yet having netted a few dollars in the process, I can tell you, it's a good day.

Our next port of call was the grocery store, to recycle a month's worth of bottles and find something appealing for the evening's menu. After some butcher counter perusal, I decided on swordfish to fit the bill for finishing off a good day with dinner in style.

So for dinner, I made grilled prosciutto-wrapped swordfish kebabs with an avocado, cherry tomato, and endive salad in a mustard-lemon vinaigrette, and we opened a Portugese vinho verde that surprised us in being not just light and crisp but slightly sparkling -- and, it seems, just the thing to accompany a lovely summer meal.

I have realized, of late, that I am very happy when cooking. On days when work or life uncertainty has got me down, I find myself drawn to the kitchen, making big batches of two-bean salad or complex herb-infused marinades. I'm not entirely sure where to take that impulse -- is there such a thing as a cookbook librarian? -- but believe me, ideas are starting to simmer.

Right now, though, I think some scrambling of eggs is in order.

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