Long commutes have always been a part of my working life since I graduated from college. At first it was a sort of cost-saving mechanism because I lived at home for a year and a half and didn’t want to saddle myself with a lease I really didn’t want nor want to pay for on my own. Once I moved to New Haven it was because said city isn’t exactly ideal for someone who doesn’t work in academia or for the Knights of Columbus*, so I logged plenty of hours on I-95 and the Metro North. Now I do the reverse commute because I didn’t want to leave a job I liked so abruptly after starting it and since then I’ve been able to gather some really good experience, so every day I delude myself into thinking that my commute is only an hour and a half when in reality it’s closer to two most days, especially when buses are nowhere to be found or there are issues with the train or both.
While it’s not the worst commute for someone who lives in the city (and it’s important to note that we don’t even have kids), it’s a long enough day that, if it’s a fluke (like Michael having some event to go to) the siren song of Panino Sportivo can be really difficult to ignore. And while there’s nothing wrong with doing that from time to time, it is one of those things that goes from being a treat to a crutch to a trap that somehow renders you incapable of doing anything more than either going to a deli or picking up a phone and a takeout menu.
That has brought us to the heart of this sabor de soledad experiment: making a variety of fresh food quickly that would still allot time for me to workout and do other things I enjoy doing on weekday evenings. These are not ambitious dinners that take a good hour to make; instead I consulted an older article by Mark Bittman that listed out 101 easy summer dinner options that should take 10 minutes or less to complete. When poring over the recipes I noted many of them were heavily reliant on pasta (something I didn’t want to do) but it was the spirit in which the recipes were presented–unpretentious and only needing a few, good ingredients–that got the creative juices flowing.
Several suggestions in the article revolve around using a can of really good tuna packed in olive oil–one of my favorite pantry staples, if you must know. My love of good chunk light or bonita del norte tuna has basically rendered classic albacore inedible to me because I cannot abide that “fishy” taste that permeates the lousy versions of tuna salad. Bittman gets the distinction well, because mayonnaise never makes even a hint of an appearance in any of his salads, nor did it in mine. Using half a 7oz jar of good Italian tuna, I mixed in a lemon’s worth of juice and zest, a little salt, a few chopped scallions and some parsley along with half of the oil in the jar (that’s what it’s there for!). The only option I had for a sandwich roll was a long semolina hero, so I sliced it in half, laid down four slices of reduced-fat Swiss (that’s all they had downstairs), some arugula, the tuna salad and I smushed it all on the Griddler until the bread was toasted and the cheese was melted. Split in half, it was the perfect dinner-with-leftovers situation–and when I reheated it in the toaster oven the next day, I didn’t hear a single complaint about “that” smell that comes when heating a traditional tuna melt.
As the week progressed and I battled with buses and trains and screwed-up signals, I persisted: Tuesday was a particularly easy day thanks to a frozen turkey burger that defrosted all day while I was at work, and Wednesday I got really ambitious and made two dinners at once, figuring it would be easier than trying to make pasta e fagioli while also trying to puree chipotles and black beans into a dip I was bringing into work on Friday.
I’m not going to pretend to act like four straight weeknights of cooking is some major achievement because plenty of people do it every day without so much as a pat on the back. But it really did hit home for me how vital it is for people in my industry to actually spend some time in the kitchen on a regular basis because that’s the only way we’re ever going to continue to innovate and help people get wholesome food on the table that doesn’t take an excess of time to make…but that’s a whole other discussion.
A great example of something that’s wholesome, different and yet delicious was Wednesday’s actual meal, which was inspired by this “recipe” from Bittman:
40 Put a large can of chickpeas and their liquid in a medium saucepan. Add some sherry, along with olive oil, plenty of minced garlic, smoked pimentón and chopped Spanish chorizo. Heat through.
There’s not much to it, as you can see, but bringing those ingredients together turned into a lovely quasi-soup that, with a few alterations here and there, could really be a good dinner for two when paired with a salad–and something I could easily prepare for two of us even after a long commute.
That said, when Michael texted me that he was back at JFK (and then later at home), I was elated to both see him and to enjoy a rare Friday night of pasta. When I came home to this and a lovely bouquet of lilies , I was a very happy girl indeed:
Needless to say I was happy to relinquish the cooking duties and give them back to Michael. It’s just nice to know that I can fend for myself and not rely on simply aglio e olio.
*This is not a dig on the Knights of Columbus–their world headquarters is literally based in New Haven, of all places.