The temperature (and more importantly, the humidity) have come down far enough that cooking in the late afternoon heat is no longer a self-destructive endeavor. I managed to avoid oversleeping on Sunday; I puttered around during the day, doing not much of anything except enjoying the lazy summer pace and reading the book that has finally brought around my overdue breakup with an author I’ve been reading fanatically for almost fifteen years. I did plotting work, but only in my head, and since I am a little ahead of schedule on my self-imposed deadline, I took pleasure in writing for the simple fun of it on something that was not a project at all. (Really, everyone should do that every once in awhile, whether they’re trying to write for profit the rest of the time or not.) When it was time to cook, I had a moment’s panic—I hadn’t thought about what to make aside from thawing a couple of chicken breasts, and it was too late to do anything complicated. But I have lots of vegetables and spices in the house, and I had brown rice in the fridge, and before I knew it—dinner was ready, around twenty minutes after I started, complete with salads.
- Chop chicken into bite-sized pieces for fast cooking. Toss it with a little oil and whatever seasonings you have around (I used a Cajun blend, cumin, and smoked paprika) and start to cook on medium. Wash your hands.
- Chop about a cup or so of garlic scapes into one-inch pieces; throw them in with the chicken and turn over the chicken bits so that they get browned on two sides. Cover, so that the chicken-cooking steam softens the scapes.
- Core four plum tomatoes, chop what’s left, and toss them in there, too.
- Wash your hands and make quick salads with whatever you’ve got handy. Dress them and get them out of your way. Chop a bunch of scallions. Throw the hard, solid parts into your chicken pan; keep the rest aside for topping.
- Dump the entree into a serving bowl; throw cold brown rice in the hot skillet, and toss it around on medium until it’s heated up. Serve chicken with hot brown rice and garnish with scallion greens. The end.
I do this kind of thing a lot; it’s different every time depending on which vegetables I bring home and whether I use shrimp or chicken or sausage or no meat at all. (When I make brown rice, I make enough for a week.) But while I was chopping, I thought a lot about people who hate to cook or say that they can’t, or who think they don’t have time. The hardest thing in that recipe was ensuring that I had two clean cutting boards to avoid cross-contamination. The second hardest thing was getting Cajun seasoning, which I’d never bought before but found at the Bulk Barn. Everything else was something that a fourteen-year-old could do. If you took away the knife skills, you could go even younger—at that point, anyone who can be trusted around a hot stove to make a grilled cheese could eat this way. And if scapes were out of season but you had green beans or broccoli or asparagus, well, that would be just fine, too.
There have got to be other reasons people don’t cook besides simple non-enjoyment, though. I don’t like handling raw meat, and I minimize the amount of meat I make so that I can do that. I do detest cleaning up afterward, so I’m with the non-cooks on that one, but aside from those two not-insignificant sides, cooking is enjoyable for me. I feel incredibly powerful when I throw raw ingredients into a skillet or mixing bowl and they come out… food. It’s the closest I ever feel to being a magician.
If you comment today, tell me about that unfancy thing you make to feed yourself that always works. And that doesn’t come from a box.