Lucid Food, Combustible Kitchen

that dinner was nearly the death of me

I can't say I have a lot of experience stealing, but the cookbook Lucid Food had just enough going for it that stealing became a very real temptation. First of all, Lucid Food was on display at the store inside the Central Library, one of my absolute favorite places to buy/consider stealing books and whatnot. It's also my go-to place for "Reading is Sexy" stickers. Second, Lucid Food groups its produce-heavy recipes by season, which is great for Farmer's Market shoppers like myself. Third, it has an interesting looking granola recipe and I've already declared myself a granola fanatic... maybe fanatic is a little strong. No, I'm going with "fanatic."

I have a small collection of cookbooks, and as much as I love them, I also neglect them. I use recipes when I bake, but I rarely use them when I cook "real food" and I make "real food" much more often than I bake, because Kelsey cannot live by bread alone (she's tried). As I leafed through Lucid Food, its whole aesthetic appealed to me, but I couldn't justify buying it. So I put it back on the shelf and went on my merry way.

A week later, I was back. This time, I brought a notebook and a pencil and the hope that I could copy down a recipe or two without the salesperson seeing me. But the library store is a wee one and there was really no way I could stand in the middle of it, writing out a recipe without someone noticing. But maybe I could take a few photos with my phone? I clicked a pic of the granola recipe and another that called for fava beans (which were in the height of their season at the time). I would have taken more, but the salesperson seemed on to me.

Eventually, I found the Lucid Food siren song unavoidable. I kept thinking about all the great things the book and I could do with seasonal produce. I saw rhubarb at the market and thought wistfully, "Lucid Food loves rhubarb." I bought it. I brought it home. I began to read it in earnest. And I realized I was in over my head. The market-based books I've seen before boast delicious but rather simple fare. A little salt, a quick saute. Definitely no dried wakame (?!) or barley malt syrup. Lucid Food went quickly from inspiration to albatross. It laughed at me from my cookbook shelf. It told me I'm not a real cook, even if if Jonathan Gold did mention the restaurant where I used to work in a blurb about another restaurant from the same chef in his most recent 99 Essential Restaurants (I just had to work that in somehow).

So I dusted it off last weekend, found a do-able recipe and walked to the Farmer's Market with a fresh shopping list in my pocket. First stop, the mushroom guy. I usually just buy white and brown button mushrooms from him. And they are delicious, but they are safe. Last week, I headed straight for the basket of large, luscious portabellos and I picked out four. EIGHTEEN DOLLARS. It was $18 for four big fungi. I suffered from the sticker shock during the rest of my market shopping. And I didn't even need four mushrooms, I needed two, but I didn't want to half the recipe, because that doesn't always work out. Oh well, I thought, I'll just invite my friend Kate over. Kate is the easiest person to have to dinner, because she comes when I call, likes whatever I make and brings a cheese plate. Sadly for me, Kate moved to New York last weekend and while I mostly recognize that fact, some part of my consciousness is trying to keep from missing her by pretending she never left. I was about to text her, when it hit me she couldn't possibly come to dinner.

I went into the kitchen with a heavy heart, a strainer full of expensive mushrooms and Lucid Food's recipe for "Pan-Roasted Portobello Mushrooms with Mashed Parsnips". It was to be a long night. I swore I already had two parsnips, so I didn't buy any at the market. Turns out: no parsnips. Whatever, the "mashed parsnips" was really a parsnip/potato blend, so I just peeled a few extra potatoes. I used my immersion blender to make the marinade... soy sauce, balsalmic vinegar, garlic, honey, olive oil. Check, check, check, check and check. Oh and "tamarind ketchup, or regular ketchup"... remarkably, I was fresh out of tamarind ketchup (sarcasm). I also didn't have sherry, so I substituted rice wine vinegar mixed with apple juice. The marinade was tasty, I bathed the shrooms in it and heated oil in a pan to sear them.

Of course, I didn't have a single pan in which they would all fit, so I had to sear them one by one. I guess the pan was too hot, or... I don't know. As I took the first shroom out, I noticed burned marinade in the middle of the pan, but I ignored it. As I took the second one out, the burned spot had grown and I couldn't ignore it. I also couldn't ignore that my apartment was filling with smoke. I poured a little more oil in the pan, added the third portobello, set the microwave timer for a minute, and ran to the closet where I keep my stepladder so I could grab the smoke detector off the wall before it went off. I tossed the smoke detector onto the couch and ran back into the kitchen to find that I hadn't started the timer on the microwave, I had started the microwave itself and with nothing to absorb the radiation, a fire had started. Sparks were flying around inside of the microwave, popping and being generally disturbing. Of course, my view of the microwave fire was somewhat clouded by the masses of smoke now billowing through the kitchen, but I could still tell it was a bad scene. I hit "STOP!" and that killed the sparks. I swirled the now very very hot oil in my pan and in doing so, turned the pan at such an angle that the burner's flame licked into the very very hot oil and BAM flare up. My first instinct was to stick the pan under the tap, but my better sense prevailed and I just stood there dumbly wondering how I could get a lid out of a bottom cabinet to cut off oxygen to the fire without setting anything else on fire. Did I mention my pot of potatoes was also boiling over at this point? It was. And the smoke detector started to blare, because apparently yanking it out of the wall didn't turn it off.

When my brother was a kid, he did a remarkable impression of Julia Child saying "this is how you make the tuna," which she had said during an appearance on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. I love that memory and I also love footage of something going wrong on Julia's own show and Julia just moving right along, picking it off the floor, dusting it off. Bad things happen to good cooks. It's just a thing that is.

Eventually, the microwave cooled, the pan fire went out, the smoke cleared and the detector quieted. The thoroughly seared mushrooms went into the oven and came out not too black and very tender. The parsnip-less mashed potatoes got a little grate of that amazing cheddar I used in the apple and cheddar scones and were super delicious. Dinner was enjoyed. I lived to tell the tale and will maybe even cook from Lucid Food again... maybe.

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