delicious transformation

I’ve been thinking about transformation lately. Whether as a political catchphrase or self-help focus, change visits us no matter if we’re ready or open to it. Last year, we moved. We’ll probably do it again this year. My career, my nurse-self, morphs every time I walk into a patient’s room. I’ve grown sassier, and my sense of humor that becomes more and more twisted with every passing week.

I love it.

Transformation is part of what makes us human. It’s no wonder that our experience as a species shifted as we learned to cook–those first caveman kebabs opened some major doors.

When it’s time to celebrate a birthday, or a holiday, or a rare Sunday night in which we’re all free, Sandra and I tend to do some culinary transformations of our own. Plans develop mere hours before the meal needs to be on the table. No carefully drafted menus here. “What about stuffed mushrooms? And some other vegetables or something?” After a brief telephonic brainstorm with my beloved sister-in-law, I’m off to Costco.

Let’s see. This time, the occasion was my mother-in-law’s birthday. This meant steak–for her. Fish for the rest of us. She gets to be the Steak Queen. Not that we all need an animal protein; “if all I had for dinner was stuffed mushrooms and green beans, I’d be happy,” said Sandra. Noted. But Jesse picks out a piece of salmon for everyone.

Here’s what we brought home: giant onions, baby portabella mushrooms, steak, salmon, mixed greens, pomegranate arils, crumbled feta, French-cut green beans. Sandra brought cake and ice cream. And her creative mind.

I started by preparing the onions. The food processor made gloriously short work of slicing them, and they went straight into a Dutch oven with some olive oil to carmelize on low-medium heat. At first, the pot totally overflowed with onion slices. After a few minutes,

they slouched. The quantity of onion juice in the pot rivaled the quantity of the onion shreds. I kept moving.

I gently washed the mushrooms and de-stalked them. The stalks and a few whole mushrooms (this was a Costco-sized package, after all) took a spin in the food processor while some onion and garlic sizzled in olive oil.

After a few minutes, the shredded shroomies met the onion-garlic sauté. Some salt and black pepper joined the party; moments later a handful of craisins and walnuts jumped in too. I threw in some dried chives and 1/4 c white wine (the chardonnay the in-laws were sipping, in fact) and let the whole thing simmer for about 10 minutes. The wine reduced and the whole mixture began to turn a warm wood-brown. Finally, I tossed in a half a cup each of fat-free cottage cheese and cooked brown rice. Poof. Filling.

Sandra filled the patient little mushroom caps and popped them into a 350° oven. 20 minutes later, they came out crisp and toasty on top.

Meanwhile, the onions kept melting.

Sandra prepared the salmon steaks, rubbing them with mayonnaise and Penzey’s 4/S Special Seasoned Sea Salt and covering them with lemon slices (seriously!). The thick cuts went on the grill on foil-covered grates. She rubbed the New York strip steak we’d picked out for Cheryl with her favorite hickory-smoked salt and set it to grilling a few minutes later. Meanwhile, I parboiled a load of green beans and whipped some olive oil, walnuts, and a couple strips of lemon rind in the food processor. Just before bringing the beans to the table, I tossed them in this mixture.

The salad came together quickly: the greens, the pomegranate arils, the crumbled feta. I toasted some pecans in a tablespoon of sugar and a couple teaspoons of butter in a nonstick pan and and set them on the side. A quick vinaigrette and ta-da. So simple it felt like cheating.

I attribute this to Sandra’s wisdom and sublime kitchen flexibility: everything ends up on the table at the same time. The salmon,

the steak,

the sides.

The whole process–and I’m nothing if not process-oriented–took and hour and a half, maybe. Big raw onions turned into a little bowlful of mushy sweet onion jam. Disparate ingredients became harmonic salad. Raw steak became… slightly less raw, as Cheryl loves it “red but warm.”

This time in the kitchen, with our modicum of power over the culinary metamorphosis of these little things, imbued me with a deeper perspective. A readiness to abide as our year, our life takes shape.


Shut up. I know it’s irrevocably cheesy. Over-the-top New Age self-help-y. BUT. You try it, and just tell me you don’t see anew that we really can participate in our own delicious transformation.

Nope. You can’t.



8 responses to “delicious transformation

  1. Slouchy onions! Ahhh! I love it! Your writing is wonderful to read. I love this blog and I love you! You give me waaay too much credit here. I was the sick “help me” barely-helper in the kitchen that left the steak on the grill on one side for 15 minutes instead of 4, who watched your brilliance create those mushrooms, and who happily crunched into the first pomegranate seeds I’ve ever found in a salad. Anything that ended up working would have been attributable to pure accident, if it wasn’t for your Annie magic. 🙂

    • see, that’s the thing. there is no “pure accident,” yo. you’ve got some sort of kitchen mojo even if you can’t feel it yourself! cuz I said so! wink!

  2. This made me so hungry.

    For serious.

    Either of you making any plans to come this way? Please? I promise to show you around and do tour-guidey stuff for a week in Istanbul if you just cook one meal like that for me.

  3. Neil, you’re seriously missing out 😉 There will be plenty of feasts to come… and who knows! Maybe we’ll knock on your Turkish door one day with hazelnuts and wild salmon? How’s the coffee and delight treating you?

  4. I am thoroughly caffeinated and sugared. We’ve been taking advantage of the baklava far more than the Turkish delight, though. Also getting really good, large slices of quality cake and other desserts at a bakery down the street from where we’re staying for about $2 each. It’s sort of dessert all the time. Regardless, if one of you happens to go on a romantic vacation with your sweetie to visit family in far off places, Turkey is a delightful place…with lots of fresh ingredients to be taken advantage of…and spice markets…hint, hint…

  5. OMG! I was ALSO going to comment on the ‘slouchy’ onions. Perfect!

  6. I’m missing the slouchy onions 😦 It’s never been harder to be a vegetarian, I don’t think Turks believe in a meal without meat. And we don’t actually have a kitchen yet, so that’s a challenge. Your meals sound mouth-watering though, wish you were here with us!

  7. *Psst, this is Mika (yet again forgot I was logged in as Neil).

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