When blizzards closed down cities on the East Coast this past winter, the media reported on some strange meals people were eating. Empty supermarket shelves and slim pickings at home led to creative but stomach-churning experiments: deep-fried marshmallows on soda crackers, popcorn and pickled beets, beef tongue.
It doesn't necessarily take a snowstorm to put on a desperate meal. The other night, hungry, grumpy, and too tired to cook, all I could come up with for supper was a boiled sweet potato and a can of pork 'n' beans. ("And this woman writes about feasts?" I could hear my husband thinking.) State of mind and the state of the kitchen cupboards strongly influence either how much fun, or how frustrating, it is to get a meal on the table.
I have learned to milk my in-love-with-food days for all they are worth, madly scribbling ideas and hints, clipping recipes, folding down page corners in cookbooks in preparation for the inevitable days when the kitchen is the last place I want to be. (Those times come more frequently as summer heats up, the days get longer, and working outside in the garden seems much more appealing than being inside the house.) The scribblings also come in handy when company arrives unexpectedly and I want to cook something worthy of the honor of their visit. With little time or quiet to think clearly, I can rely on the lists I made when alone with plenty of energy to think creatively.
One sheet of notes is titled "Mainstays." It lists all the tried-and-true dishes I can make with one hand tied behind my back...meals I know people will like whether they are vegetarian, carnivorous, on a diet, or timid about spicy ethnic foods. Most of the items take about 30 minutes to make, so I also use this list to prod my memory when I can't think of what to cook on an ordinary night.