In Defense of Shortcuts

I can be a pretty big snob when it comes to taking shortcuts in the kitchen.

Or, more accurately, not taking them. My kitchen is stocked with ingredients, with component parts. No supermarket sauces, no store-bought stock, no cheats. (Sriracha, Smoque BBQ sauce and Hellmann’s mayo I exclude from this.) This isn’t thanks to some puritanical, pseudo-scientific health kick. It’s just that I’m a bit of a control freak, and rather thrifty — and meals taste better and cost less when you make them from scratch. I won’t even use the slow cooker, fearing lack of control over the seasoning. For better or worse, this is the true north that has, till now, guided my value system as a cook.

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Pizza Margherita

In an essay I’ve read several times this summer, Joan Didion suggests, as an antidote to crying, putting your head in a brown paper grocery bag.

Now, I have not yet attempted this–I’m skeptical of any purported cure for weeping–but I have learned the importance of habits like these, small disciplines that force perspective and teach character. “It is difficult in the extreme,” she writes, “to continue fancying oneself Cathy in Wuthering Heights with one’s head in a Food Fair bag.” Brown paper bags: for the sweats, a very hot shower. For anxiety, a cold one. For an attack of mid-day tiredness, not a nap, but a punishing run. For heart-sickness, I wish I knew.

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