Ingredients: Family, Sand, Stress-free Meals

MusselDinnerVacation with my family:

Lots of food
Meal planning
More food
Coffee every morning
Ice cream every night
More food

We’re a family of eaters. I don’t really remember us being a family of cooks when we were kids. Sure, Mom and Dad had us help them in the kitchen occasionally, and we were the team of official corn shuckers every summer, but food was just food. It’s not like there were cookbooks all over the place or plastic stands with magazines propped open to recipe pages.

Cooking was just what happened before the whole “Sit down RIGHT NOW or so help me!” and “STOP KICKING YOUR SISTER” thing.

It’s different now. My siblings and I have all spent our time working in restaurant kitchens, making your food and serving it up after one last careful swipe of a towel to make sure the white plate is pristine. We can judge the doneness of meat with a poke of the tongs. There is much boisterous mockery in the kitchen, and we set the smoke detector off regularly.

But was the child of rather talented hobby chef, and the sister of both a classically-trained professional chef and a father of two, I’m not someone who really has to cook for others with that nail-biting pressure of the customer being happy with the meal. I just cook.

I’m happy to report: I’ve had very few complaints. I’ve read too many food narrative books and watched too much food-preparation on TV to not pick up a few tricks of the trade in the years since I stopped standing opposite a line chef, reading out orders as they came in, and expediting plates out the door. I chop vegetables, whirl around a kitchen and season liberally much like a pro but the audience is singular most nights.

Surrounded on the Cape by three other cooks always makes me stop and observe the differences though. Some are slaves to the recipe they’ve printed out. Others have the tested, tried and true mainstays we all crave. Few just cook.

And while I enjoy the elaborate, the simple, the delicious food that is turned out morning, noon and night from our rented kitchen to feed a family that has swelled to 10 hungry and sometimes picky stomachs, I can’t help but wonder if they all get bored.

Cooking for me is much more of a mediation than an act of need or performance. I think about what I want to eat – on this vacation? Surrounded by ocean and with access to fresh seafood all the time? I pretty much just want to put fire to fish and grill fresh vegetables as accompaniment with every meal. So far, I’ve skewered things and steamed things and generally said, “more olive oil!” a lot.

Only a few more days of our blissful week of sun and sand before we all return to our busy lives. Maybe I should be paying more attention to the recipes people make? I don’t know. Recipes feel stressful. Stress is the one thing vacationers should avoid, right?


Price Negotiable


Between my front door and the subway stop, there are four coffee shops. They all know me by name.

I go where the wind takes me on any given morning. Sometimes it has more to do with my bank account balance. Sometimes it is because of the shortage of cash in my wallet. Sometimes it is simply because I have walked the ten blocks in a haze of early morning confusion and forgot to get coffee until the last possible second.

The relationships I have cultivated over the last nine months living in this neighborhood are some of my nearest and dearest. If I don’t appear for more than a week at a time, they ask where I have been, what has been going on, and how my job is going. I know their names, their regular schedules behind the counter, and who has the wickedest sense of humor.

This morning, still licking my fingers free of apple mush thanks to my breakfast, I was reminded that relationships I sometimes take for granted – being a known quantity to a small business own

There is no bell at the coffee shop in question. I can’t even tell you the name of it. The lintels are bright red. The barista and cook are a husband-wife team about my age with more tattoos than you usually see in a spot with arty decor and bistro foods. They smile a lot. They know all their regulars by name. They serve cookies with cayenne pepper that are, I mean – can be the difference between getting my morning jolt and being denied.

I entered this morning already brandishing my wallet and refillable coffee cup. I’m not going to lie: I chose this particular one because I had bought it in this store. I approached the counter somewhat hesitantly and somewhat avoiding eye contact.

“What can I get for $3?” I asked, rubbing the crumpled bills between my fingers.

“What do you want?” he asked with a laugh.

“Well I want a latte but I think it’s more than that. Will $3 get me ice coffee?”

“A latte it is,” he smiled. “The price is negotiable.”