Monday, December 15, 2008

Letter from Manhattan: What a Crock!

In this installment, GSNW contributor and our man in the Big Apple, Mark Dundas Wood, has introduced me to a completely new concept in cooking. Believe it or not, it had never occurred to me that you can cook by color—brilliant! If you have a story of similarly colorful cooking, do let me know.

In most Manhattan apartments, kitchen space is scant, which is possibly the chief reason New Yorkers regularly forgo home cooking in favor of takeout and delivery. (One of the side effects of the food delivery trade is that local restaurants litter the entryways of apartment buildings with flyers. "No menus" signs are regularly tacked up to dissuade this kind of messy low-grade marketing, but without much luck.)

I try—especially in such treacherous economic times—to "cook in" as much as possible, so I rely on a few basic pots, pans, and utensils. One large frying pan, for instance, sits permanently on my stove and gets almost daily use.

Then there’s my antique Rival Crock-Pot. When my Grandpa Dundas passed away in 1977, I inherited his stout, sturdy, avocado-green crock. If you look closely in one of the scenes in the recent film W, you’ll see a cousin to this appliance in a depiction of a vintage Texas cook-out.
My crock has followed me through several relocations, including the move to New York. When I was living in Eugene in the late 1980s, I broke the glass lid, but with some research was able to reorder a new one. Whether I’d be able to do so now—as the crock enters its fourth decade of life—I’m not sure. So I handle the apparatus with special care.

During summer months, unlike the cinematic Dubya and Laura, I seldom use the crock, but when winter rolls around I pull it out of the cobwebs. I’m always a little nervous, once I’ve got it loaded up with ingredients, that the heating element will finally give up the ghost when I turn the knob. But, without fail, I place my palm on the side of its green belly and, within a minute or so, that welcome heating-pad warmth kicks in.

In the earliest days when the crock was in my custody, I was still an omnivore. I seem to recall cooking some sort of roast in it at one point. But now I use it chiefly for fish stews and vegetarian winter soups. One of my favorites is something I invented called (not very imaginatively) "Red Soup," which I plan to make later this week.

I'm not much for recipes, so the soup is never exactly the same twice. Basically, I throw into a tomato broth every tasty red food I can think of and season it all with curry powder. I plan to haul out the crock this week, and I’ve already purchased most of the ingredients: Red potatoes, beet root, sweet red pepper, red onion, kidney beans. I'll put in chunks of a single Red Delicious apple, too, which blends nicely with the curry flavoring. And, for a seasonal variation, I plan to toss in a handful or so of cranberries this time. I'll let you know how it turns out.

But two things I know for sure. It will be bright borscht-y red and I'll be eating it for days.

No comments: