5
Jul 04

My turn. I’m Bill, whom some people know as Tep

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 365 views

My turn.

I’m Bill, whom some people know as Tep from abbreviating my last name, and I’ve been thinking all weekend about what on Earth to post about, while being engrossed by cooking: it’s Independence Day, and a holiday for me is pretty much an excuse to play around with food according to some thematic guideline.

Eventually, we were full, and the fridge was full of leftovers, and I had a chicken I’d roasted for no reason except wanting to, and I had time to think less specifically, so I sat down to return to pleasure reading: I’m making my way through Steingarten’s It Must’ve Been Something I Ate, which is sometimes wonderful and sometimes frustrating. He mentions a sandwich in the essay I’m reading now, of butter and sliced black truffles on bread that’s left to sit in the fridge for two days to let it all infuse together, before it’s grilled.

Well, I thought. Now that’s something.

Because ultimately, that’s what I love: not recipes, but models, templates, implications. Think of never having heard of soup before, and then being given a bowl of chicken noodle soup. Nevermind the specifics of that bowl — it could be terrible, but if you’re paying attention, you’d still infer soup, and maybe you’d recognize the possibility of tomato soup as a fusion of this new-fangled soup thing and your favorite red sauce. Maybe you’d go the other direction, viewing soup as a sub-class of sauce, and try to sauce your steak with a reduction of chicken noodle. Who knows. Either way: you’d be inspired beyond recipe.

I grew up in rural/suburban New England, with its long and tired tradition of not seasoning anything, at a time when there were no ethnic restaurants and frankly few restaurants at all. When my mother moved out of our house of fifteen years, a friend of hers came to help me pack up the kitchen so my mother could focus on trickier stuff: and the spices we threw out, many of them barely touched, were the same ones we’d had when we moved in. They weren’t large containers. The exceptions were the warm brown spices used in apple pie: there are two times you use seasonings in old-fashioned New England cooking, apple pie (cinnamon, nutmeg, clove) and poultry stuffing (rosemary, sage, thyme). Everything else is a salt and pepper world. It wasn’t my mother’s fault — her family’s been in New England for as long as there’s been a New England, and she did a good job (great baked chicken, excellent sweet potatoes, perfect sourdough bread) with what was available.

But pretty much everything since my early teens — when I discovered Tabasco sauce, Thai food, Vietnamese spring rolls, and the Philadelphia cheese steak — has been a constant process of inferring soup.

So I thought, hey, you know what I don’t have? Black truffles. You know what I do have? Some reasonable bread and some homemade butter that’s a little tangy from the buttermilk I used to culture it. And a huge bag of basil so fresh I smell a cloud of it every time I open the fridge, bought insanely cheaply at the Farmer’s Market.

And that’s what I’ve got in there now: two short rolls of bread that’re the closest local analogue to baguettes, spread with butter, coarse salt, and a handful of basil leaves, infusing for two days before I grill them enough to melt the butter without cooking the basil. Total cost, about thirty cents.

So that’s me, introduced.

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