Is Today Your Tamar Day?
If it’s Thursday and you’re in swank Acapulco, your lunch is likely pozole, a dish of puffed corn kernels, chilies, and pork parts. In Brazil, all over, but especially in Rio, on Saturday, everyone spends hours over the feijoada. I bet the beans and meat dish there has some antecedent or connection to the bean and meat dishes eaten by Jews also on Saturdays. Having learned these things over foodie-time, I’ve become generally fascinated with the idea of foods or a dish associated with a day of the week. I was thinking about these kind of days because today is Monday, and in New Orleans, Monday is red beans and rice day. I was also thinking, perhaps today is your Tamar-day.
Now, the idea of red beans and rice on Monday, according to lore, arises because the day is anything but Tamar-day. It’s wash day. The idea was (is?) that you could put up a pot of beans, enriched with a few bits of meat, and ignore it the rest of the day. Thus, you would not be distracted from your laundry chores. These days with multi-cycle washers and kids ignorant of what a clothes pin does, it’s not like we need a day dedicated to laundry. We do, however, need time dedicated to cooking.
The ability to eat good food, whether it’s local food or just decent, whole, real foods purchased at the grocery, require cooking, and cooking requires time. A portion of the time necessary for cooking comes before you turn on the stove. Look at professional kitchens. They spend all day prepping for a few hours of nightly service. Professionals know two things. First, that if you create your mis-en-place, your station of ready made ingredients ahead of time, your final cooking flows easy. Second, they know the obvious, that it takes a lot of time and effort to get real food ready. Take swiss chard.
Here’s what I did with some, but not all, of the Swiss Chard in last week’s CSA box. I sauteed an onion and a sliced jalapeno, added the chard, then 2 large roma tomatoes sliced. Except before I did any of that I had to prep the chard. You cannot not walk into a chard dish. It’s a three part process to get chard ready to be ready. First, I separate the leaves from the stems–in fact, if I was using the stems, and I often do, it’s a four part process requiring the nipping of the stem end that came from the earth. Second, I need to wash the leaves very well. For something that grows far enough from the ground, chard leaves still pick up a lot of grit (and the stems, grittier). Last, I have to stack the leaves and slice into eatable pieces. At least the leaves do not need to be dried. That clinging water is necessary for proper cooking. Tamaring is all about doing those steps necessary to have good food.
Another aspect of Tamar-day, is to put together the kind of dishes that will serve you well all week, the Everlasting Meal that Tamar Adler entices in her book. She does not include a recipe for pepperanata in her book, but it’s the kind of thing that she would include a recipe if she thought about it. As I have noted, the best thing about pepperanata is that you get something like roasted peppers without all the hassle of roasting peppers. In addition, you get a versatile kitchen friend. A little bit schmeared on a bagel with goat cheese makes an exotic breakfast. Or go Spanish. Use your pepper mix as a based for eggs, either fried or scrambled meet the idea. Make a batch of pepperanata on your Tamar-day and you’ll be set for a while. Do your prep work. Make something that will carry you through the week. And take advantage of the momentum.
Finally, Tamar-day is about Tamar-day. You’re probably like me. Once you’re cooking, you’re cooking. The same inertia that makes it hard to put food on the table when your are staring a full, wrapped up CSA box, means that when you’re chopping away, you’re going to keep on a-choppin’. So, on a Tamar-day, I’ll end up doing a dish or two that’s not complicated, that does not require extensive prep, and maybe will not serve my long term needs, but something I know I’ll like. I know I like salads, and I know I have an “ear” for salad. In other words I innately know how to set up a salad. I do not need any sheet music, I mean recipe pages. I get an idea, here a shredded radish salad from a book on Israeli food, and I go to work. I had these large Easter egg radishes to begin with that seemed right for the grater box. Some sliced kalamata olives and a light dressing, I feared too much salt or vinegar would turn it into a pickle. Here was another nice addition to our kitchen stocks.
We all lead busy lives. We need to keep our saw sharp physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. There’s a lot of demands on our time. Putting good food on the table is often the first commitment we break. In a recent, highly charged, highly debated, article, Amanda Marcotte railed against the tyranny of the home cooked dinner. She cited researchers who stated they, “rarely observed a meal in which at least one family member didn’t complain about the food they were served.” She sums it up pretty well, “the main reason that people see cooking mostly as a burden is because it is a burden. It’s expensive and time-consuming.” I do not buy the expensive part, because any alternative, fast food, TV dinners, a restaurant, pizza delivery, is more money than a home cooked meal. Time consuming, God yes. So much more when you use good, local food that’s not pre-cut and triple washed. The answer is to find your Tamar-day.