I just got my copy of Melissa Clark‘s new book from the library, and we had breakfast together this morning, me and the book. I can tell that this one is going to pass the “if I get it out of the library 3 times, then I’ll buy it” test. The recipes? Yes. But the headnotes? They wander around her life and her refrigerator until you just want to give a little nudge, and say, “what were we talking about again?” Then she says, “Oh yeah!” and she gives you her recipe for coconut fish stew with basil and lemongrass.
I haven’t been cooking.
Well, I’ve been boiling pasta a lot, if you count that. It’s been rice pasta because Sadie’s all off wheat again. Rice pasta is good, but just a little bit less good than wheat pasta. I’ve been making dinner in a few minutes because that’s how the days have been lately. I have made no plans. I have not defrosted the meat. 6:00 will often find me standing at the shelf in the corner of the kitchen looking at a can of sardines and a jar of tense raisins, trying to figure out what to cook for this hungry and grumpy family. It would be omelets, but Sadie’s off eggs too, and she asks so sweetly that she not have to eat something else for dinner than the rest of us so usually it’s pasta. With stuff. Olives and parmesan. Frozen swiss chard that inspires Rosie to reject the whole dish. Honestly, the whole thing happens so fast that I barely taste a thing.
It’s okay. I’m getting my kicks out at breakfast.
Joey and the girls tumble out of here in a wave of backpacks and lunchboxes by seven. The cat runs outside, I gather him up, and then it’s just me, the green bathrobe, and the last few sips of my coffee.
I love me, my green bathrobe, and the last few sips of coffee.
Dishes washed, bags of goldfish and odd seaweed snacks swept back into the pantry, and this is the time before the day begins. Sometimes it is quiet enough that I can actually close my eyes and imagine what I want to eat for breakfast. Often it is a perfect croissant and I am out of luck. In most other cases, though, I can bring it to fruition.
I really love that.
Because there are four bazillion cookbooks. Because there is a recipe for anything you could ever want. Because there is google, and epicurious, and a reliable Martha Stewart book on every single thing.
But a conversation is a unique experience. And there’s only one of those.
Melissa Clark’s book is filled with all sorts of lovely recipes–I’m going to cook my way through this one. But she also shows us how she cooks; she takes the day and her mood and her leftovers and her cravings and what’s in her fridge and she makes something of the whole lovely mess. This is a book that you could stand in front of at 6:00 searching for something to make for dinner, and while you might not have all of the ingredients for the recipe that you open up to, you will have Melissa Clark cheering you on. She’s aiding the narrative in your hungry head. You don’t have basil? No problem. Isn’t there some parsley in the fridge–use that instead. And if you don’t really want the bacon tonight, that’s fine, but add a little paprika so that you still have the smokey flavor. She’s hopeful that you’ll figure out what to make for dinner, and there’s nothing like a hopeful friend to get you going.
So breakfast this morning was buttery polenta with parmesan and olive oil-fried eggs. This is as good of a dinner as it is a breakfast, and you could, as she suggests add some garlicky sauteed green for a true thrill. I made use of what I had and what I wanted, and so for me, it was a bit of sausage on the side.
Buttery Polenta with Parmesan and Olive-Oil Fried Eggs
from Melissa Clark, In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite
(I made this just for me, but I’ll give you her recipe for four servings, just because it would be a lovely dish to share. But quarter it at your own pleasure)
4 1/2 cups water or broth
1 1/2 cups polenta or grits
3/4 teaspoon salt
2-4 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more, to taste
1/4 cup grated parmesan
2 tablespoons olive oil
coarse sea salt
Bring the water or broth to a low boil. Whisk in the polenta and continue to whisk until entirely combined. Switch over to a wooden spoon, lower the heat, and stir frequently until thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the butter, salt and pepper, remove from heat, and cover.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Fry four of the eggs until the white is cooked but the yolk is runny. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the rest of the oil and the other four eggs.
Divide the polenta into four bowls and fold the parmesan into each of them. Top each with two eggs, and garnish with salt and pepper.