My first year in the Master’s Program in Food Studies at NYU is barreling to a close. Holding down a full-time job–one where I am expected to be both physically and mentally present–while taking two courses is rough. And it gets worse at the end of the semester. This past weekend I swore off social engagements and locked myself in my apartment in a desperate bid to make some headway on the first of my two research papers. When the fog lifted on Monday morning, I had some rather impressive spreadsheets, maps, and charts. I also had a lot of leftovers.
It is a common misconception that Food Studies involves cooking. While most of my classmates love cooking and many hold culinary degrees and/or have made a living working in kitchens, Food Studies is an academic discipline and most of our time is spent slogging through old cookbooks, historical documents, scholarly journals, and online databases.
In my experience, this disjuncture gives rise to a unique form of procrastination. Allow me to present A Day in the Life of a Food Studies Grad Student (as Told through the Medium of Food)…
Saturday, 6:00pm – Having dutifully stayed home on Friday night in order to research the geography and history of New Orleans’ Bywater neighborhood, and recognizing the importance of quality food to keeping my energy and my spirits up, I allowed myself a foray to the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket earlier in the day. This meant there were Cayuga Pure Organics cannellini to rinse, sort, and soak.
I also bought a chicken and some andouille from Flying Pigs Farms. The sausage went into the freezer for some future use and the bird got rubbed down with salt, pepper, and Herbes de Provence. I would soon make short work of the leeks, kale, rosemary, chives, and apples that I toted home.
Saturday, 8:00pm – My eyes were starting to go in and out of focus as I struggled through a spreadsheet detailing census data. Assuming it was some combination of fatigue and hunger, I decided it was time for a break. While the oven preheated, I cracked open a beer and set to work making a stuffing of kale, leeks, lemons, fresh rosemary, and toasted almonds. (Shout out to my dear friend Louis for the almond inspiration.)
Saturday, 8:30pm – It had been several hours since my lunchtime salad and the beer had gone straight to my head. There was a light rapping at my door. A neighbor who had spent the day on a silent meditation hike and knew that I was grounded for the weekend wordlessly handed me a very full glass of red wine. That is the only excuse I can come up with for this compromising photo of my beautiful stuffed heritage chicken.
Saturday, sometime after 10:00pm – I am not sure what I did while the chicken roasted (save for ponder whether my oven temperature was accurate), but at some point the bird was finally, mercifully done. Even better, my makeshift roasting rack had proven a success. I hacked off a leg, scooped out some stuffing, and went to town.
Sunday, 9:30am – After a leisurely hour sipping a latte and catching up on the gossip blogs, it was time to get back to work. Well, first it was time for an omelette made with whatever bits and ends were in the fridge. In this case, it was red onion, red pepper, and feta accompanied by a slice of toasted whole wheat sourdough and arugula and (past their prime) grape seed tomatoes dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.
Sunday, 10:00am – Just one more task before I got to work. I needed to get some vegetable stock going for those cannellini beans. In went the tops from the previous night’s leeks, a large onion, some garlic, a carrot, a few desultory celery stalks, some dried shiitake mushrooms, the grape seed tomatoes that hadn’t made the cut for breakfast, and some whole black peppercorns.
Sunday, 12:00pm – Having put in a couple of solid hours researching mentions of New Orleans and the Bywater in The New York Times, my vegetable stock had achieved a rich caramel hue. I strained it into a bowl, pressing on the solids to squeeze out any additional broth. I was about to discard the dregs when I remembered the chicken carcass I had drunkenly picked before bed. The bones and the leftover vegetables went back into the pot with whatever was left in the fridge – another onion, some garlic, and a bit more celery. This all simmered for a couple of hours before being strained and placed in the fridge.
A couple of days later (tonight, in fact, when I happened to remember it while rooting for the leftover roast chicken), I pulled the bowl of stock out of the fridge. I skimmed off the fat that had congealed on top and added it to the jelly jar labeled “schmaltz” that occupies a place of honor in the freezer. I then spooned the stock into ice cube trays, which I will transfer to a plastic freezer bag once they are set. (If you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out my tips for making stock.) The warm color and the Jell-o consistency tell me that this is going to be good stuff.
Sunday, 2:30pm – Time to get the cannellini going. I very loosely followed an online recipe that someone had adapted from Sara Forte’s The Sprouted Kitchen, a book I had not previously encountered. (If this recipe is any indication, I’d say it’s worth giving a look.) From what I can recall, my alterations included adding a whole lemon sliced into thin pieces, the rind from a hunk of hard cheese (the ham hock of the vegetarian world), some fresh rosemary, and the aforementioned homemade vegetable stock. It’s safe to assume I took some other liberties.Sunday, 3:30pm – Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between distractedness and hunger. Better safe than sorry, so I cut up an apple, added a spoonful of peanut butter, and got back to the books.
Sunday, 4:00pm – OK, it really was hunger. Next up: peanut butter and raisins. This is one of my all-time favorite snacks, which I picked up from a friend of my parents who lived with us when I was somewhere under the age of four. He and I were the morning people in the household. (I grew out of it.) One of my earliest memories is hanging out in the icy cold kitchen of our farmhouse taking turns scooping spoonfuls of peanut butter and raisins while my parents slumbered upstairs. (Our roommate preferred to add the raisins to–and eat straight from–the jar.)
Sunday, 5:30pm – I had an early dinner party with neighbors scheduled, so I scooped about half the beans into a bowl left over from my short-lived ceramics hobby. I mashed them up, folded in shredded parmesan cheese and chives, dusted a bit more cheese on the top, and popped it under the broiler. While the cheese browned, I toasted slices of the whole wheat sourdough in a cast iron skillet with a little olive oil. I garnished the dip with additional chives and headed downstairs for some much-needed human contact.