I sometimes play a mental list sort of a game concerning "desert island" ingredients. I didn't make this up for blogging purposes-I've fooled around with it for years. This is how it works: You can pick 10 foods to have in reasonable supply, and must survive on them, alone and in combination. Acceptable cooking facilities are presumed, but nothing else. You can't have salt, for example, unless you pick it. And the ingredients must not be complex dishes. You may not choose chicken cacciatore, for example, and then pick out the mushrooms to prepare something else. That would be cheating. You can however, have bacon-and I always do- even though it has been prepared with salt and other stuff. Duck confit, chorizo sausage, harissa-well, those would be borderline, but probably okay-if you see what I mean. Demi-glace, on the other hand, would seem somehow inappropriate. Oh, and there's plenty of fresh water.
At this very moment my ever mutating list is as follows:
3. thick sliced, peppered bacon
4. unbleached all purpose flour
6. turkeys (preferably nicely prepared -I don't want to have to kill or gut anything. If that were part of the rules, I'd have to stick with fish and shellfish, animal kingdom-wise.)
7.spinach, kale, chard or mustard greens
8.unhomogenized whole milk
I think I could go a long time without boring myself, though I deeply regret the absence of fishes and shellfishes,beans, apples,mushrooms, olive oil, garlic, herbs, sugar, peppers and spices. Probably should have picked olive oil instead of the bacon-healthier and all that, but this cook loves her bacon and needs something salty from time to time. I think it would take me a long while to get bored with these choices. And there would be some interesting projects-apart from the obvious wine/vinegar thing. I could try churning butter, capturing wild yeasts for bread, and raisin making. Anyway, I'd have plenty to read, what with my 5 books. Never mind.
Want to play? This is a very different list, in my mind, from a favorite foods list, as you must consider how the ingredients work together. I'm wondering if some stone ground cornmeal would be a better choice than the potatoes? But tonight, my islanders are having this super basic potato salad. I love all manner of fancy potato salads-there are endless excellent combinations, warm and cold. But I retain a fondness for the simplest sort, too.
This one was made from still warm potatoes and julienned leek, which were boiled in some turkey stock, and then drained, plus a few chopped hardboiled eggs. I cooked up a bit of bacon, and poured a little of the hot bacon fat over the potatoes, squeezed on some lemon juice, and added a handful of the bacon, crumbled up. Not half bad. The lemonyness is very nice with the potatoes. I can't say I've ever used lemon as the main acid component of a potato salad before. It is hard to ruin potato salad. Tomorrow: eggs florentine? Once I figure out the yeast/bread thing, I could stuff a turkey in time for Thanksgiving. I'd be a little worried about the prospect of a sugarless grape pie, though. Luckily, this is all (mostly) imaginary.
Somehow, when I play this game, I am left with a renewed appreciation for the variety of food available to me, as well as the conviction that I don't need to be always getting wound up about exciting new ingredients to have a tremendous variety of good things to eat and drink. The potato salad, which I really like, is quite different from any of my numerous previous ones. Still, no need to give that new ingredients thing up altogether; it's too much fun.
illustration is a 19th century Danish embroidery design, by Willi Koch. Seen in a paper given by Anna Wenner, in 1991.