Good morning. A few summers ago, long before the pandemic came to upend our lives and economy, my friend and colleague Tejal Rao wrote a beautiful column for The Times about how she met the man who would become her life partner. The story was about how he enjoyed oysters — “keenly and quietly, without fetish or hyperbole.” I think that’s probably the best way to enjoy oysters.
I thought of Tejal’s column and the marvelous recipe that accompanied it, for grilled oysters with hot sauce and butter (above), because I’ve been eating a lot of oysters during lockdown, as New York’s oyster farms have pivoted from selling mostly to restaurants to selling them to retail customers like me.
It changes how you think of oysters, to have them be, suddenly, inexpensive in comparison to what they cost in a restaurant, and to eat a couple dozen a week with your family: off the grill as in Tejal’s recipe; on the half-shell with a squeeze of lemon; fried in butter; slipped into chowder. Your relationship with the ingredient changes. Oysters go from being something special, something you’d order a few times a month if you spend a lot of time in restaurants, to something even more special, a product of the waters near home, one consumed, yes, without fetish or hyperbole.
Of course not everyone has access to oysters. But I suppose the same feeling can come from water and flour now, from the bread that comes of it, and the pizza. I imagine it’s true of yogurt and chile-scallion oil as well. Some of us are making as much as we’re buying, and it’s a marvelous feeling even against the anxiety and stress of the moment. It’s affirming to know your food. It’s affirming to cook for yourself. Try to do it as much as you can.
But don’t just forage for mushrooms and make your own corn muffin mix. You’ll find great joy in making new dishes as well. I like this seared zucchini with black pepper and Parmesan, for instance, and this broccoli salad with Cheddar and warm bacon vinaigrette. I could see a peach upside-down skillet cake in your future, with bourbon whipped cream. And also a charred tomato soup with coriander and cilantro.
Will you consider pork chops with brandied cherries? Or the cheese buldak the YouTube star Maangchi taught me to make one sunny afternoon in a Montauk motel, which we ate at the kitchen table, overlooking the dunes?
You don’t even need a recipe, to know and cook your food. The other day I had a fire going for steaks and a big head of cauliflower in the fridge. I trimmed it of greens, put it in a Dutch oven and covered it with an emulsified dressing of minced garlic, anchovies, oil and red-pepper flakes. Then I added a quarter-cup of water, put the top on and nestled it in the coals. (You could use an oven just as easily.) A half-hour later, I had a creamy, sliceable delight on my hands, to go with my steaks. You can do that, too, and ought to.
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Now, it’s a towering home run ball away from clams and fresh chervil, but Chris Frantz on the Bowery and his early days with Talking Heads, in The New Yorker? That’s worth your time.
Here’s Curtis Sittenfeld on how to write a short story, in The Times, and it’s remarkably persuasive. Might take a busman’s holiday to Fictionville later this summer.
It’s annoying that Colin Jost’s memoir, “A Very Punchable Face,” is good reading.