There was a time when I devoured new cookbooks, marking them with post-its and eagerly trying new from inside the pages. I tried my hand at making bread, or other more involved dishes that required a bit of time and patience.
Now, there are two kinds of cooking now: aspirational and real life.
What is aspirational now, was normal before this happened. My weeks are regimented, dinner is simple, and I rely on a rotation of reliable standbys, save for the occasional fancier meal over a weekend. Here's what I mean: beans and rice, some kind of pasta, a big salad (lately with the creamy garlic dressing I share below) curry with whatever mix of lentils I have in the pantry, and perhaps a big scoop of paste from a jar.
Last week, I crisped some bacon in a cast iron pan. After draining the fat, I added two cans of chickpeas, plus a handful of frozen peas. I left it on the stove until it was warm, seasoned it with salt and pepper. In a glass measuring cup, I whisked equal parts tahini and yogurt, added a squeeze of lemon and honey, salt and pepper, thinned it with water, then drizzled it over our bowls and called it dinner.
But here's what I really did: I cooked something from nothing, as Tamar Adler likes to say. I cooked with economy and grace. I opened the pantry and, combined with my instincts and experience, made dinner without a recipe.
Isn't that magical? I have to remind myself what a tremendous thing it is, because I used to be one of those people who made something new every night and kept food magazines sprawled open on the dining room table. I'll probably meet her again one day, but until then, here's to keeping things simple.
Creamy Garlic Dressing
Once I start making something I like, I latch onto it. This recipe has been in my weekly rotation since I first tried it when Laura's book arrived at my door in April. It's just the right thing to make a double batch of, and keep in the fridge all week for easy salads. I've also poured it over steamed broccoli and quinoa (just add an avocado and a bit of cheese to round out the meal). Laura's recipe doesn't use apple cider vinegar, but when I was doing three things at once one evening I ended up adding a splash instead of the lemon juice, and loved it! Her book is a real gem, and definitely worth adding to your shelf, if you haven't already.
Recipe slightly adapted from The First Mess Cookbook
1/4 cup cashew butter
1/4 cup water, plus more as needed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 garlic cloves
Freshly cracked pepper
Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until well combined and creamy, about 1 minute. If it's a bit thick, thin with additional water, adding a teaspoon at a time. Refrigerate in a glass jar for up to 1 week. If not using immediately, just add a few drops of water to thin out the chilled dressing before using.