Week Twenty-One was Valentine’s Day week, and as it goes, the week I reaped the harvest of my emotional crisis from the week prior. When you take a break from everything, things pile up. Even though that break was much-needed, the deluge of tasks waiting for me was almost as brutal.
Valentine’s Day at Hurley House was huge this year (hooray!). We were hustling, bustling, and packing our little hearts out. I hosted three Ina Lunches and one Ina Dinner in the span of three day (an ambitious feat that will not be repeated, ever). Oh, and on top of everything, my husband Timm left for Africa. I did the best I could, reaching a new level of physical exhaustion and requiring a weekend of laying very very low to recharge.
I did my best to keep my head in a healthy place. I have learned that the best gift I can give myself, aside from grace in the journey and continued self-kindness, is to work The Plan. Work. The. Plan. I know what to do. I know how to do it. I spent a lot of hours thinking it through, mapping it out, and putting it down on paper. It’s hard, and it requires a lot, more than I think I have to give at times. But if I work The Plan, it works.
What is The Plan? The Plan is how I refer to the highly detailed schedule of tasks and due dates that have to be completed each day so that nothing falls through the cracks. Most of what I do in regard to my work and this project is on a loop. It repeats a pattern every week. There may be six thousand steps in the pattern, but it is predictable, and it repeats. I have designed a schedule for myself that outlines each day’s tasks. In order to stay on track, I have to simply complete all the tasks assigned to a given day. If I succeed, then my life clips along at a full, but doable, pace. If I start to talk myself out of the work (“I bet I can do this tomorrow.”), then the tasks overflow into the next day, which makes the next day way too full, which results in more overflow, more feelings of being overwhelmed, and then I am snowed in with no sign of resurfacing.
Why do I do this to myself? This is exactly where I found myself this week, wondering why I ever stop working The Plan in the first place, reminding myself that The Plan is the way I keep myself from being overwhelmed. I felt stuck between the realization that getting off track was not wise, but without a free moment to regain my bearings and right the ship. I just rode the wave, giving attention to the next immediate thing that needed it, and hoping for the best. This week was chaos, and I do not thrive in chaos.
That being said, I made it through, lived to tell about it, and awoke on Monday (after a weekend of napping and elevating my feet) determined and resolved to give myself the gift I needed most, which is to stay on course and do the work assigned to each day.
This pace won’t last forever. I keep telling myself this. This way of life is a temporary arrangement between me and a year-long project. This will end, and I will return to a time when I wasn’t chasing down a thousand recipes. Right?
WHAT I COOKED
French Green Bean Salad with Warm Goat Cheese, Make It Ahead
Chicken with Morels, Barefoot in Paris
Spinach in Puff Pastry, Barefoot in Paris
Vanilla Rum Panna Cotta with Salted Caramel, Cooking for Jeffrey
Frozen Chocolate Mousse, Cooking for Jeffrey
WHAT I LEARNED
REAL MEATBALLS AND SPAGHETTI.
I loved this entire menu (see above). We sat the arugula salad out in large bowls on the table for people to help themselves. The plate was simple, with only pasta, sauce, and meatballs. The dessert was equally basic. But not in flavor. Three dishes, each packing a whallop of flavor and the art of perfect execution that carried them beyond basic and transformed the meal into something extraordinary. Someone even commented, “I love how there aren’t any distractions in this meal. It’s the best version of spaghetti I can imagine.”
CHICKEN WITH MORELS.
There is something very special about this chicken and the sauce it creates. Maybe it is the morels or the perfect combination of marsala, lemon juice, and creme fraiche, but everyone who ate it commented. Our guests, the staff, even my children. “Wow” was the standard first word uttered upon taking a bite. It looks like a standard chicken dish, but it is not. It is wow.
VANILLA RUM PANNA COTTA WITH SALTED CARAMEL.
I had no idea I loved panna cotta until this week. I now love panna cotta with my whole heart. It has a nice tang from the yogurt, but not a lot of sweetness. It is thick and cold, keeping it’s shape when you take a spoonful. The caramel on top, flecked with sea salt, brings sophisticated sweetness to the whole set up, although I could easily eat this on its own without complaint.
COQ AU VIN.
Sadly, this was a fail. But not because of the recipe. Or, at least, it’s too soon to make that claim. I goofed up, and the goof up is going to take a long time to explain, so here it goes. In the world of Kosher salt, there are two brand. Diamond Crystal and Morton’s. I use Morton’s. I always have, and to be perfectly honest, it was not until a few months ago that I discovered that Ina does NOT use Morton’s. Ina uses Diamond Crystal. The two salts are both technically the same thing, but the size of the grains of Diamond Crystal is vastly different than the size of the grains of Morton’s. The net result? One teaspoon of Diamond Crystal tastes half as salty as one teaspoon of Morton’s. I switched to Diamond Crystal early in the process, keeping a little jar of it at home and at my station at Hurley House for when I cook Ina recipes. However at Hurley House, our recipes are written using Morton’s, and so that salt is what is at all the other stations in the kitchen. When I was making the Coq au Vin, I used what was at the stove (Morton’s), and right before serving lunch, I realized the dish was way too salty. I scrambled, panicked, and stressed out. I sort of fixed it by adding a lot of extra liquid to dilute the salinity, and it worked in a pinch, but the whole experience ruined this dish for me. I feel frustrated by the different salts. I want these recipes to work regardless of what salt brand you use, and the truth it they don’t. If you use Morton’s salt, you should halve all of Ina’s salt suggestions. But to add another layer of confusion and frustration to the whole situation, I have been cooking Ina’s food with Morton’s salt for years and never had a problem. It seems like to me that only in her more recent books has it become a problem. I don’t have a great answer to the great salt conundrum, but I know that in my kitchen, while cooking for this project, I am using Diamond Crystal and tasting as I go. I also will be repeating this Coq au Vin to see how it turns out when I use the “right” salt. Eye roll.
FROZEN CHOCOLATE MOUSSE.
Sign me up for frozen chocolate mousse. I loved this! It’s like a grown up fudgesicle. I almost didn’t make this because I could not wrap my mind around what it would be like, but it was perfect. We served it in martini glasses with extra whipped cream. Elegant and easy. If I ever suffer a great loss or endure a tragedy, please bring me frozen chocolate mousse. It is all I will want to eat.