Cooking for others.
I came home last night after a brief post-work binge at Trader Joe's to find my mother and E. in the dining room, table spread with papers in every direction. (I have no idea what they are doing, and asking would only involve long, complicated answers that I would not understand). Are you going to cook for us? comes the question. Of course. From the bags littering the cold marble of my kitchen floor (at some point some former inhabitant laid the hallway, kitchen, and guest bathroom with marble tiles of a rather bilious pattern of red and gray streaked with cream) I gather packages of zucchinis and cucumbers and bright bell peppers and a couple of onions. There are frozen quiches and an enticing box of mushroom-filled pastries (intended for lunch at work), and stashed away in the fridge is some leftover braised beef (a not entirely successful concoction of short ribs and onions and tomatoes) and a bowl of rice. Surely I can conjure up something to feed us without having to resort to delivered pizza or lukewarm takeout. And then my mother tells me E. is a vegetarian. (Fortunately the helpfully lacto-ovo kind).
The zucchinis are washed and trimmed and quartered with a few swift strokes of my knife. How I love my new roasting pan, I think, as I toss the slim lengths of zucchini (why the British call them courgettes is something I will never understand, as well as why eggplants are called aubergines; given the mutual contempt between the British and the French it has always seemed odd to me) with olive oil and grains of coarse pink sea salt, the salt I spent a ridiculously long time searching for at Whole Foods at the behest of the aforementioned mother. The heavy pan will sear the vegetables perfectly; I can slide the pan into the oven and forget about it while I turn my attention to other dishes. The tricky part is cleaning the bell peppers, flinging seeds far and wide as I pull out the cores and strip away the white ribs, slicing the bright flesh, red and yellow and orange. Some olive oil goes into my favorite pan, a deep skillet with a rounded bottom and a glass lid. On another burner the braised beef heats gently as I slide the quiches and mushroom turnovers into the ridiculously large toaster oven D. gave me last year.
I throw the peppers into the hot oil, tossing them before sloshing in a little water and then covering the pan so they steam. I'm in the groove now, that golden moment where you know that everything's going to work out, that you've timed it all just right, that you've made something so many times before you don't even need to taste it to know you've done it right (but you taste anyway, for the pleasure of it). I add soy sauce to the peppers, give the roasting zucchini a stir. Sneak a few of the mushroom turnovers as a pre-dinner snack. An amuse-bouche, if you will. The zucchini is ready, the jade-skinned spears browned in spots. A bowl of rice goes in the microwave; I sprinkle some sugar over the peppers, and they will be soft and melting, the soy sauce and sugar and a little olive oil forming a salty-sweet glaze. The quiche is hot in its flaky crust, and the beef has just come to a simmer. The papers come off the dining-room table as plates are laid, napkins and chopsticks at each place. It's time to eat.