Dinner for three.
I didn't make it to the farmer's market today due to a sequence of events involving mainly the fact that we got very busy at work and my father has appropriated my car. Since he has the car, he is responsible for purchasing such comestibles as are required for dinner, so I came home to see what he had gotten at the fish market. Sardines. Large ones, about eight inches long, dripping dark blood and shedding iridescent scales across the countertops. It was but the work of a moment to rinse them free of blood and scrape the remaining scales from the skin (I held the fish squeamishly by the tails as I worked), rolling them in a little olive oil and sprinkling over a bit of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. (Have I mentioned how much I love my pepper grinder? It is made by Peugeot, one of the smaller models, curvaceously sculpted in clear Lucite, with some heft to it without being too heavy).
For the rest of the meal I scrabble around in the various shelves and drawers of my fridge, slicing up a Napa cabbage to stir-fry with a little salt and pepper. My father likes those tiny dried shrimp with his cabbage (actually, he likes them on everything) but my mother does not, so I leave them out. There is some cooked ground pork and cold asparagus; perhaps I will just chop up the asparagus and sauté them together. Some diced potatoes and onions lay abandoned in a bowl, left over from another night when I was halfway through cooking dinner and C. called me to go out for burgers and frozen yogurt. I could make a tortilla, that Spanish-style frittata of onions and potatoes bound together with eggs; it will round out our dinner nicely.
Once all the ingredients are ready, it takes no time at all to cook everything - the sardines broiling in the toaster oven, the vegetables quickly stir-fried or sautéed in a deep skillet on the stove, the frittata in a little non-stick skillet I like to use for this sort of thing. I've been making four dishes a night for the three of us, and it's taken about an hour each time to prep everything and cook it all, using the stove and oven and rotating pots as needed, cooking up to three dishes at once. The asparagus-pork dish is unanimously declared a bit weird, but it is quite tasty all the same, I think, one of those last-minute things when you throw together random leftovers in the hope that it will turn out to be something delicious and new. Everything else is something I have cooked time and again, so often that I can do it almost without thinking.
The more I cook for the three of us, the more I find myself falling into a groove, when familiar dishes present themselves as I dig around in the fridge and toss things together in pans. This is the most freeing part of cooking, when you can do it without thinking, almost without even looking at what you're doing. You know to cook the tougher "stems" of the Napa cabbage first, before adding the leaves; you know to season the potatoes and onions before adding the beaten eggs. The timing is all there, the confidence. And it's time to eat.