Monday, July 14, 2008

The Dinner That Did Not Happen

My kitchen, 7:35 pm yesterday.
"Dictionaries are always fun, but not always reassuring."
M.F.K. Fisher

Last night I promised to make my house guest (who eats like a bird) dinner. She provided the cold beer and post-dinner cookie dough in return. I was determined to make it something that would cause her to fall all over herself when she tasted it, something that would contrast with the uninspired, delicate portions of lettuce leaves and hummus she eats now, offending my need to play Martha Stewart to a receptive guest. I also needed to be reassured that the vivacious eater I knew in college was still there somewhere: the girl who once sat and consumed an entire plate full of bacon during weekend brunch at college. (Note to perspective college students: consider a women's college if you want to eat a giant plate of bacon for breakfast without having to explain yourself or look unfeminine.)

Thus determined, I purchased 3 artichokes at a quarter apiece at the farmer's market on Sunday, intent on making a grilled artichoke, capers and shrimp linguine. That I had never actually held an artichoke in my life? Inconsequential! I pulled up the Epicurious recipe on my MacBook and flipped open my copy of The Produce Bible to "A" for Artichokes and proceeded. I skipped the first part, about the history of the beast, and proceeded to the cheerleader-like instructions:

"Casual cooks tend to shy away from preparing raw artichokes, but the process is quite straight forward, even if it takes a little extra time to prepare."

Time? No problem!

Twenty minutes later, up to my elbows in gnawed bits of stem and stalk (our house is a humble one, and knives don't cut so much as gnaw at their targets, the fanciest being ones our parents purchased for us in pity, or plastic-handled knives from the 15-piece knife collection I got at Kmart for $15.99, knife block included). Note to self: Get a decent knife. Or a gun.

I decided to take a break and read the history bit of "A" is for Artichokes that I had originally skipped over. Hmm. With grave seriousness, the article suggested I should never confuse the Globe artichoke with the Jerusalem artichoke, because one isn't even an artichoke. It suggested that some varieties of artichoke are fairly impossible to cook and are only good for extracting the heart. Taking inventory of the artichoke plumage surrounding me, I suspected I had my hands on that variety now.

And, dear God! How did I not realize these beasts are some kind of primitive, un-bloomed dinosaur flower? And why would I want to have something so creepy for dinner? As my bloodied fingers and dull knives worked to pull bits of the flowery fuzz out of the middle ("The choke" the article suggested, "can be removed with a teaspoon." Or gun.) I considered all the warning signs I had blindly ignored to get to this point: picking a cheerless, leathery, scaled ball of a vegetable (what costs a quarter these days?), thinking it would cook down to something soft and tasty with a little TLC...that the culinary vocabulary used to describe the beast are "heart" and "choke" and, now, may I suggest, gun.

Anyway, the cookie dough was tasty.


Tai said...

Now you know why it takes me 20 minutes to cut an onion at your house (and it still ends up with huge clumps). Time for a new knife :)

Eden From Sweden said...

I'll agree to a new knife if you admit to cutting onions like a jittery psychopath :)...

sharon.horowitz said...

Sorry I wasn't more helpful in your artichoke prep over the phone. I've never actually made them either.

Tanya & Daoud said...

I actually could have helped you on the artichoke front. I am an artichoke fiend. Sorry.

S's lack of appetite freaks me out, too. I could have sworn that she ate more back in the Smith days (uh, mainly because I was pretty much her sole competition for the brunch bacon), but I figured it was just that I was consuming huge amounts. Huh.

Sarah O. said...


You're nuts. All of you. Now for old time's sake, go fix me some bacon.