The other day I got a call from a headhunter. She was checking-in to see what I was doing with myself, and if I was looking for work. I explained her that no, I wasn’t, and instead I was trying to make a leap to the world of food writing, recipe development, and more blogging. There was a notable and uncomfortable pause before she stiffly wished me luck. Another step away from my old life.
These days, I get a lot of questions what it’s like to be a freelancer, to take a leap from a desk job, away from something steady and predictable into the unknown, where you are the one responsible for setting your schedule and your income isn’t set in stone. Is it hard? Yes. Is it emotionally challenging? Definitely. Do I get anxious? All the time. Have I regretted making the switch? Not even for an instant.
One thing I noticed since my “new life” so to speak is how weekdays and weekends are no longer clearly defined. I don’t think of Saturdays and Sunday as days off. In fact, these are, quite often, my most intense days, full of recipe testing, writing, running around the neighborhood procuring ingredients, cleaning and organizing. When you become your own boss, in essence, when you feel like you are working towards something, and it is something you love, your mind is going, going, going. It starts going from the moment you wake up and goes well into the evening. You will be falling asleep with thoughts full of ideas for recipes, grocery shopping lists, and to-do items.
In the two months I’ve been away from an “office” I’ve not looked back once.
Look, it’s been interesting times, I won’t lie. There are a lot of emotional ups and downs. There are myriad questions, mounting anxieties, periodic feelings of inadequacy. All the things that, I’m told by many who have been at this lifestyle for awhile, are perfectly natural. And I’m human just like everybody else – and probably more neurotic to boot – so my concerns and worries come in furiously, like a flurry of tiny little birds descending seemingly all at once. I’m a real joy then. Andrew picks up the pieces. He believes in me. He tells me to breathe.
The last couple of days have been trying. I am told (and I know this) a lot of what I do here is measured by numbers. I hear a lot of blog lingo thrown around and while we all look at our stats and numbers, we are, I hope, are guided by far more than just the arithmetic of traffic. Those of use who’ve been around awhile, those of us who have been cooking and writing a long time, who feel like we have a mission that goes far beyond math, far beyond the “easy” and the “convenient” – we would be doing this here still. If all the book deals and whatnot were to disappear, this little corner here would still be the place where I hang my hat, or toque (to extend the metaphor). And while I make plenty of simple, easy meals that can be done by a busy cook on a weeknight, my mission is not to provide a three-ingredient, no-cook, ten-minute dinner. My mission is to offer you delicious food – that you will love eating. Some of it will take ten minutes to pull together. Some of it will take all day.
I am at my happiest when I’m in the kitchen. I find that the time I spend there is somehow restorative. Even if a recipe fails me, and a momentary panic sets in, leaving a bruised ego to nurse. But then I just usually eat a few pieces of my mistake, and start over. And when I finally do get it right, I want to leap across the kitchen island in slow motion, with confetti falling all around the room. It’s a real “Glee” moment in the kitchen here when something works exactly the way you imagined it to.
And other times I’ll totally fail in the kitchen. I’ll overbeat the whites, I’ll underfold the cake batter and the whole thing looks like Godzilla threw up in my baking pan. It happens, I tell myself.
But, failures and successes aside, it feels good doing this now. Really good. It feels like this is what I’m supposed to be doing. It is hard, back-breaking, exhausting work, but in many ways it doesn’t feel like work at all. It’s always interesting, deeply engaging, and thoroughly fulfilling. When I worked in finance, it never quite felt “right”. It was never something I was passionate about – and deep inside I knew it was only a matter of time before I made the transition.
Nowadays I’m spending a lot of time working with this amazing lady who’s already taught me a great deal and I’m really so so honored to be helping out. In the last few months, I’ve already learned so much, I’m not sure I can put it into words. Some things are the little “aha” moments – like dissolving salt for your salad dressing (genius, right?). Some things are more involved – how does testing a single recipe nine times sound – where you learn the kind of things that only repetition and trial and error provide? That moment when you get the recipe just right, when you figure out exactly how to make it work your way – it is a priceless, gratifying, fireworks-worthy moment. It makes you want to do a dance around your kitchen island. It makes all those hours of failed previous versions worth it.
And some things are just magical – who knew that if you add a generous helping of olive oil to a bean soup, it’ll go from just a bowl of plain old bean soup to an ambrosial, celestial, deeply satisfying dinner? Let’s just say I can’t imagine ever cooking my beans without a generous helping of olive oil.
Soups are the sorts of things that, I think, have transformative powers. You let the pot simmer over low heat for about an hour, and then you get this thing of beauty in your bowl that you can’t stop eating. A soup that is particularly restorative when fickle March, in its final days, throws you February weather – like what we’ve got right now.
Kale and White Bean Soup
1 pound dried white beans, such as Great Northern or cannellini, or navy
1 onion, halved (with a clove stuck into 1 half)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 (3- by 2-inch) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper (25 turns on your pepper grinder)
1 bay leaf
2 rosemary sprigs
3 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch rounds
2 celery ribs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 lb lacinato kale, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for grating
Fine extra virgin olive oil for serving
1. Soak beans in water overnight. To soak, place the beans in the pot and cover with water so that water is about 2 inches above the beans. In the morning, drain the beans, rinse, and set aside until ready to cook.
2. Sear the cut onion halves in a Dutch oven or a soup pot for a minute until fragrant. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and the garlic and cook for 2 minutes until the garlic is fragrant. Add the beans, the rest of the olive oil, the stock, 2 cups water, the cheese rind, rosemary, bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Cover the pot and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook, covered, for 30 minutes.
3. Add the carrots and the celery and the tomato paste. Stir, cover and cook for 15 minutes.
4. Stir in kale and another cup of water (if the soup is looking too thick, which is never a problem for me), and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender 12-15 minutes. Season soup with more salt and pepper, if needed and sprinkle each bowl with a tablespoon of grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.