Alexir and I returned from Oregon Country Fair a few weeks ago now (it’s amazing how time can fly as soon as OCF ends..), and have yet to share a same weekend day. We work the same hours at least, so we’re awake as the same time when we’re both home. However, spending that long with only quiet morning coffee breaks or giving the reader’s digest version of your day after work can put a strain on your groove as a couple.
Cue a 10 day stretch appearing on my schedule at work. Luckily, it was noticed and I was gifted a 7 day stretch in exchange for split days off. Regardless, even the average 5 day work week can really wear on you. Adding additional days and having my co-lead out on vacation meant a great deal of extra effort each day.
I was exhausted, grumpy, and the absence of our typical R&R days together was really hitting me. On my third or fourth day of work, Alexir offered to drop me off at work so he could borrow the car. It was one of his days off, and he had planned on doing a little shopping in anticipation of cooking us dinner the following night.
It is worth noting that of the cooks and chefs I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, I can tell you we fall into two particular groups:
1.) Those who cook as therapy outside of work. We find solace in our own kitchens where everything is on our terms. We can play with reckless abandon and make whatever tastes best to us
2.) Those who feel that cooking 8-14 hours a day at work is more than enough. For the sake of their sanity and preserving their passion for what they do as a living, they tend to avoid cooking at home aside from quesadillas and the occasional scrambled egg.
The following morning, Alexir roused himself before me and started the day by making us breakfast. It was soft cooked scrambled eggs (the french style, whisked the whole time with just a hair more heavy cream than you want to admit), seared basque sausage links. And in the middle, are you serious? A small spoonful of caviar? It was lovely. Though truthfully, so rich that we couldn’t finish it all.
I went to work properly fed, with visions of our evening meal helping keep my mood afloat. We had agreed that since he was cooking, I’d pick the wine and dessert. I spent about 15 minutes towards the end of my shift talking with one of the wine stewards at my store. She brought me 5 different wines, varying in price and other aspects. I went for the àMaurice 2010 Red Blend for a number of reasons; a main one being that the winemaker was a woman. This is surprisingly rare compared to married couples or solo male winemakers. On my way out, I picked up a rose to round out my purchase (and also because we challenge gender norms like that).
When I arrived at home, Alexir had a mixed expression on his face. Having seen him cook in culinary school, and after the years we’ve been in the kitchen at catering events or in our home together, I can recognize this thought pattern from a mile away. Something didn’t turn out the way he had hoped, and he’s stewing over it. I assure him that all I notice is the alluring scent of roasted veggies and warm cocoa in the air. And herein lies the beauty of being cooks: we can and do change all the time. Something overcooks or burns? We remake it if we have the ingredients or improvise if we don’t.
I opened the wine and poured it into glasses to aerate for a while. After a few minutes of talking, Alexir had reformulated his plan. We’d have a salad first, and a slightly lighter set of sides to go with the main course. We chatted and joked, tension melted away, and food came together.
The salad was a combination of a head of lettuce from our CSA (community shared agriculture) box and a few leaves from the planter on our back porch. Figs were poached in a balsamic reduction. Just enough to have a caramel flavor, but not enough to let them get soggy. Some of the basque chorizo from the morning was sliced and cooked off. The greens were tossed with a spoonful of oil from the chorizo and a little drizzle of reduced balsamic. The figs were sliced and arranged on top. Because I couldn’t help using some of our back porch garden, I snipped a few chives over the top and picked some borage flowers as a side garnish. Over the top, a little shaved garrotxa for some tang.
It was a well-rounded palate warm up. The chorizo was still a little bit warm when it hit the salad, so we caught some of the contrasting temperature effect. I used to hate this as a concept, but have really grown to appreciate it and the possible applications.
We took a moment to sip some of the àMaurice Red Blend. Since developing my palate more, I’ve moved away from cabernet sauvignons. They tend to be a bit too fruit-forward and sweet. That being said, this primarily cabernet blend reminded me of the things I love. Deep aromas of warm cedar and cherries. Drinking it felt like imbibing a red velvet dress.
Which brings me to the pièce de résistance: The main course. Alexir started with a heavenly carrot puree. I’m not entirely sure what went into it, but it was a fantastic base for everything.
Next was a second side vegetable. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to restrict yourself to the standard “protein, veg, starch”. Especially when you’re smack in the middle of summer, and all the local vegetables are at their peak. Purple and white string beans made a great color contrast. Truthfully, before that night, I didn’t know that purple beans lose their color and become green. Even with a quick blanch, they fade. Still a gorgeous veggie. To highlight their contribution as a textural contrast to the puree, they were lightly blanched and shocked in ice water, then strained and dressed with fresh lemon zest and juice and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Finally came the protein prep. Two buffalo ribeye steaks. Buffalo is making a comeback as a healthy alternative to beef. Higher in omega-3’s and (at least for the moment) farmed in a more sustainable manner. The wine choice was primarily aimed at Alexir’s plan for these steaks. Into a bowl went equal handfuls of ground coffee and cocoa powder. This was followed by some salt and freshly ground pepper. The earthy flavors were rounded out by a little smoked paprika.
A few minutes on the screaming hot cast iron pan, and he had created something that rivaled your neighborhood high-end steakhouse. It was perfectly cooked. Just enough that it was easy to slice, but rare enough that you could appreciate the more subtle flavors of the meat itself. Everything met on the plate, and we sat down to enjoy our collaborative efforts for a late night dinner (it was easily 11:30 by this point).
It was wonderful to have a nice moment to reflect on for the rest of our busy week. I’m so blessed to have such a thoughtful partner. Hopefully we’ll have the chance to share a meal on a mutual day off sometime soon.
“Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.” ―M.F.K. Fisher