Last night Wendy not-so-silently watched while I made some really basic linguine (olive oil, shallots, garlic, and basil). The way this kind of thing usually goes (and last night was no exception) is that she grabs the pan, adjusts the heat, tastes the pasta, and offers a lot of unsolicited and barely comprehensible advice that ends up barely saving my meal in the nick of time.
It's not her fault. She was the chef at her friend's chi chi Los Angeles restaurant (where Jodie Foster burst in screaming at that Amish chick during their bad breakup), then later she worked at Spago. She knows stuff she doesn't even realize she knows, and talks in a language I only pretend to understand. She can tell the difference between a cookie sheet and jellyroll pan and God help you if you can't keep up.
I already knew she was going to freak that the pasta was boiling in a too-small pan, and that the temperature of the olive oil was getting dangerously high. I didn't dare add the garlic until the last minute because she's got a big thing about that imperceptible moment when "sweet" garlic turns to "burnt" garlic. I maneuvered my way around, deflecting criticism before it was deployed (skills my mom taught me, but not in a good way).
I did accidentally expose a vulnerability when I expressed mild surprise at one of her clever cooking techniques: taking the pasta off the stove as soon as it was done. However, she appeared to think I was just joking so I quickly breezed on to the next subject.
Still! She tripped me up at the rinse stage, when she asked if my pan was going to be big enough.
Wendy asks me how I feel about the size of my cookware (in relation to what I'm cooking) I'd say every 2 out of 3 times she visits me. I know this question well enough to realize that the answer is and always will be a resounding "No!" If it were up to Wendy, all cookware would be manufactured by giants and require wooden spoons the size of push brooms. Ironically, she has my largest pot on extended loan because I never use it and it's the only thing she can make black beans in.
I had in front of me a saute pan with a few shallots in a little oil. She had in front of her a colander full of pasta. What pan? Too small for what? Turns out that the Spago way (which she assumed had seeped into our collective unconscious) was to toss the pasta into the saute pan at the last minute. My pan wasn't going to stand up to that amount of pasta, so I had to use a less effective, decidedly ungraceful method. While she watched, groan.
It always amazes me how much I can learn from just five minutes under Wendy's observation. She's taught me how to roast bell peppers, which oil to use for Cha Han, what the name is of those weird little salads I make (structured) and about a billion other things. Even so, I still can't cook.
Because I have no common sense. For the past several days I've been announcing to all my friends that I'm going to make "this really cool mashed bean recipe I found on the web." Not a single person reacted with "yum." Even though I talked about white beans, sage, rosemary, garlic, and how great mashed potatoes are but wouldn't they be even better if they contained 9 grams of protein?
But no, they were steadfast that anything called mashed beans (I even reverted to Mollie Katzen's "Bean Heaven" name, but there was no fooling anyone) was not fated to turn out well. How are people so clear-sighted?
I spent a couple of hours tonight boiling and mincing and sprinkling and pureeing. When it was all done, I had a lump of mush that reeked of raw garlic. There was a brief hallucinatory moment when I considered giving small amounts to each friend as "bean dip." I came to when I pictured them in paroxysms of laughter.
So now I'm sitting here wondering. What goes with lumped mush?