Each year since 2007, MacAllister Stone, Editor in Chief of Absolute Write, has fed the able hearts and crumbling minds of the annual Viable Paradise workshop with meals that are amazingly good (if you’ve been to VP, you know what I’m talking about), and insidiously healthy. Cooking the Books specializes in examining the intersections between food and fiction. Today, we bring you a public service announcement from Mac herself, about how writers can learn to cook from scratch, fast, rather than out of a bag:
from MacAllister Stone:
You. Yes, YOU.
You with the giant-size C*stco bag of pre-fab pasta and chicken and chemicals?
That’s not food. And it’s not really saving you nearly as much time as you think it is.
An alarming number of us think of cooking as this inscrutable, difficult, mysterious process. And when we struggle with ingredients we’re not familiar with and not comfortable using? It turns into one of those stories our spouse’s tell when they’ve had few too many cocktails.
You know the kind of scenario I’m talking about. It goes something like this:
It doesn’t have to be that embarrassing. I promise.
So here’s the thing: Writers, all too often, eat like crap.
While I find it a source of great amusement that I’ve earned a reputation for pulling chicken nuggets and fish-sticks out of the hands of total strangers with an appalled, “What are you doing?! That’s not food!” There’s an element of real truth to that reputation. I’ve actually been known to do just that.
It’s just not that hard, though. If you follow a couple of really simple principles, you can cook damn near anything. You’ll feel better, you’ll eat better, and you might even have some fun.
Ready? Here we go:
- Don’t eat anything you can’t identify
- Don’t eat anything you can’t pronounce
- Good olive oil is your friend
- Less is more, when it comes to additives and ingredients
That said, it’s a good thing to learn to identify some basic ingredients in their natural state. So let’s talk about greens.
Do we need to talk about why you should be eating green things? I don’t think so—it’s one of those things that we all know, like “smoking is bad” and “that 42 ounce soda is not our friend” and “bacon makes everything taste better.” No matter what you serve, if you serve a mess of greens alongside or underneath it, you can point and say, “But look! Greens! Healthy!” Then you can go away feeling virtuous about your eating habits.
I have a huge fondness for greens that can stand up to other strong flavors and textures, so no wimpy bagged spinach or delicate endive for me; give me a bunch of dinosaur kale or collard greens and I’m a happy woman.
You don’t even need a local farmer’s market or a Whole Foods Paycheck; your local mega-grocery or Super-W*lmart is going to have a bunch of terrific greens in the produce section, year-round. You don’t even have to stress out about buying organic, unless you’re doing penance for eating Big Macs, take-out pizza, and microwave burritos all week. No matter where you get them, when you go shopping for greens, you’re looking for big, crisp, deeply-colored leaves that aren’t discolored or wilted and aren’t sporting a tiny herd of wildlife.
Bring those greens home and wash them. Don’t even put ‘em in the fridge. If you put them in the fridge, you’ll talk yourself out of even trying this, and you’ll stick ‘em in the back of the crisper and avoid remembering you even have greens until after they’ve turned to squidgy black pulp in a bag.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Thoroughly rinse each leaf under cold water, and toss your greens in your biggest colander to drain. When they aren’t dripping anymore, pull the thickest parts of the stems out of each leaf. You can do that with a sharp knife, or by folding the leaf in half lengthwise and pulling the stem out by hand—doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you end up with a nice pile of green, coarse, de-stemmed leaves.
Pile those clean, de-stemmed leaves on a cutting-board, take a clean knife, and shred them crossways into coarse ribbons.
Center the pile of shredded greens onto a big piece of heavy-duty foil, drizzle a couple of spoons of good olive oil all over them, then sprinkle a teensy bit of salt all over ‘em. If you have a lemon handy, whack it into quarters and drizzle lemon juice over them (or use a spoon of the lemon juice from concentrate out of that little plastic lemon-bottle in the door of the fridge—that’s fine, too).
Fold the foil around that pile of greens into a tight packet and toss it into the oven for twenty minutes or a half hour. This isn’t an exact science.
What you end up with is a packet of tasty, zesty greens with a ton of flavor and body. You can serve them as-is, or use them as a bed on which to serve roasted chicken, fish, shellfish, rice, or garlic-mashed potatoes.
MacAllister Stone is Editor in Chief of Absolute Write. She attended Viable Paradise X in October of 2006. Since she has very little spare time and less sense, she thought head-wrangling an online magazine of speculative fiction called Coyote Wild would be the perfect remedy. She can often be found on the Absolute Write forums. She blogs sporadically at Stones In the Field, Floccinaucical, Sofa Monkeys, and Creating Home.
Viable Paradise is an annual week-long sf/f writers’ workshop on Martha’s Vineyard. Curious? Check it out here. Or, take my word for it – I write about Viable Paradise, here. Want more? Viable Paradise instructors Elizabeth Bear and Steven Gould visited Cooking the Books in 2012.
The updated library of Cooking the Books interviews is here.