One of my favorite movies is “The Wizard of Oz,” which I usually watch outdoors on the town green on one of the last evenings of August, when the crickets are slowly fading and school is right around the corner. While I can recite every line and I know exactly what is going to happen next, it’s the final line of the movie that is its truth, “there’s no place like home.” This phrase always has rung true for me; a self-confessed homebody, leaving the nest is, at times, difficult for me even though getting away (or as I sometimes view it as running away) from my current existence is something I yearn for, desire, and need. And coming home to me means returning to the place I feel the most at home in my home, the kitchen.
I returned late Sunday afternoon after spending four days in Maine. On the drive, I started to think of the coming week and what I’d make for dinners. Last week was a wash, buttoning everything up before we left and making sure I didn’t have too many perishables on hand, I relied on my old standbys of salad dinners. A quick stop at the grocery store for some chicken before we got home and I knew where I was going to be for a couple of hours that evening.
Opening up the vegetable bin, I found a bunch of forgotten vegetables that were still fresh enough to be cooked in a variety of ways. Atop a baking sheet, I placed thinly sliced turnip, carrots, and the rest of a Vidalia onion, added a couple teaspoons of olive oil and salt and pepper and popped them in the oven at 400 degrees while the oven was preheating for the chicken. Cooked until they were crispy and crunchy, they were delicious enough we munched on these as more of an appetizer than a side dish.
I found a small bag of green beans I had bought in anticipation of making my grandmother’s side salad. Even though it was cold and rainy, I was ready for a shot of summer. I took the tops off each bean, a quick rinse, placed them in a steamer over hot water, and steamed them for just a few minutes until they were done, yet still crunchy. I let them cool in a bowl, added a bit of diced red onion, a couple splashes of white vinegar, a couple sprinkles of dried dill, and a couple tablespoons of low-fat sour cream and mixed everything together. This is even better the next day, which I finished off with Monday’s lunch.
An avocado on the counter was perfectly ripe. This is the easiest of salads: sliced avocado, some sliced onion, salt and pepper, and a few dashes of rice wine vinegar or another light vinegar. I had this in a Cuban restaurant in Los Angeles once and this has been my go-to side salad ever since.
Fresh chicken thighs cooked at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then cooked at 325 degrees until they were done, which took about an hour. Add a side of ordinary brown rice and it was the best dinner I had eaten all week.
While it is always nice for me to get away from the humdrum of my regular life and I love to have someone bring me dinner, a diet of restaurant food is unfulfilling and unsatisfying; there is something about making a meal with my own hands, the slicing, mincing, cutting that is therapeutic and rhythmic. I even found myself happily washing the dishes after supper. It was nice to come home to the kitchen.