Saturday, March 14, 2009

My perfect day and a stocked pantry

Sometimes you don't realize how miserable you were until the fog clears and you can frolic around in your happiness.  This winter was rough for me.  I'm pretty sure it was rough for everyone (apparently Michigan's coldest winter since the 1920's), but it didn't help that I was already anxious to move before it started.  And it has been especially cloudy and dreary this year.  It definitely encouraged me to spend more time cooking because all I wanted to do was rush home and hibernate in my apartment (and cooking definitely made it warmer!).

Over the past couple of weeks, I finally saw the sun and it was miraculous.  Even on days when it's  still below freezing, I find myself whistling, laughing, and smiling for the first time since... well, October.  I feel like a completely different person, and I'm loving it.  Bye bye, seasonal affective disorder!

Anyway, after an extremely productive week (it's amazing how much I can get done when everyone else is off enjoying spring break), I decided to treat myself to a day in Ann Arbor.  AA has much more character than Lansing and I love spending time there.  They have great concerts (and one of my favorite venues - the Ark), great restaurants, and a fabulous farmers' market.  And unlike the good markets in Lansing, theirs is open year-round.  So, this morning I lugged my cooler to the car and headed off for an adventure.

I had only been to the AA farmers' market once before and that was quite a while ago (before I truly appreciated them).  I wasn't expecting much because it is early March... and this is Michigan, after all.  But, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of non-produce items and ended up coming home with a peck of apples, eggs, ground buffalo and grass-fed beef, and a piece of lamb (that will soon become my St. Patty's day dinner).  I'm happy about my finds, but more than anything it felt great to be at the market, among people that I immensely respect, and part of a community (even though I was only visiting).  

I also went across the street to Zingerman's and the Spice Merchants to look around.  I made myself promise that I wouldn't spend much money, so I was very proud that I didn't buy anything at either place, but it was definitely tempting.  The Spice Market is amazing - it's the epitome of organization and everything is beautiful.  You can tell that these are high quality spices... but you pay for it.  Luckily I'm pretty well stocked as far as spices go.  Zingerman's was even more enticing.  I really wanted some pancetta to have on hand, but luckily the line was too long.  And then they had to put out their olive oils, vinegars, and bread.  I've never owned a really nice bottle of oil and I always wondered if they are worth it.  I found out today.  I've never before wanted to drink a bottle of olive oil.  I managed to restrain myself, and instead moved on to the delicious vinegars (these were amazing too!).

After a trek over to Trader Joe's and Whole Foods (where I managed to make a lunch out of their free samples), I checked out a few used bookstores before heading home.  It was warm enough to walk around for a bit, and it was so nice to be outside in the sunshine.  I bought so much that I had to completely rearrange my pantry when I got home (and even found some things hidden in there that I didn't know I had!).

And all of this made me think about my cooking philosophy.  I just started reading "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone" (edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler, who just happened to conceive of the book while living in Ann Arbor).  It's a book of essays written by chefs about their experiences cooking/dining alone, and I can't recommend it more.  In the intro, the editor talks about how her approach to cooking is completely different when she's cooking for only herself.  I completely relate, and began thinking about why I've fallen in love with cooking lately.  Honestly, it's not about eating.  It's about the process - the challenge of cooking with new and different ingredients.  It's also a peaceful experience for me, and the best form of stress relief.  Sure, it's nice when the food tastes good, but somehow the process makes it taste good.  As Carla from Top Chef would say, I can taste the love.  But when I cook for other people it's different.  I still enjoy it, but I go about it in a different way.  Taste becomes much more important and I'm far more concerned about the final product than the process.  I suppose it's nice to have both.

I've been slacking on the recipes, but I promise that I'll post more tonight or tomorrow.  This was much more important...

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