A few weeks ago I made a cucumber salad and it felt like the most ambitious and intrepid gesture of my entire life thus far, and maybe it was.
There’s a line in Nora Ephron’s novel Heartburn that I think about a lot: “I had gotten to the point where I simply could not make a bad vinaigrette.” I, too, have sometimes entered this exalted state, where instinct and muscle memory guide me more than recipes or conscious thought, and I turn out the same perfect dressing every time. This sweet spot lasts about a week, or maybe less, and then it begins to ebb away. The same confidence that makes it possible is also what causes me to slip: I get cocky and stop paying close attention, and soon enough I serve a salad that’s wilty with vinegar or salted just shy of being inedible. All my cooking goes in waves like this. Maybe my whole life goes in waves like this. Sometimes I think the problem is that I live in the hope that sitcom logic, where every mistake turns out to have been for the best, might operate in real life, too. But it’s probably more that when I get overconfident, I get sloppy, and then I get discouraged, and then I give up and buy a rotisserie chicken.
Having a newborn added a number of obstacles to my preexisting shortcomings. The first, most obvious problem was that it was hard to come by raw materials: A lot of good cooking is about good shopping; running out of chicken stock or lemons can derail any chef. But leaving the house was now chancy and fraught. The shortest outing required negotiation, advance planning, a checklist of conditions that needed to all be fulfilled simultaneously and rarely were. By the time I got the baby and myself dressed, fed, packed and in a reasonably okay mood, it was time to change a diaper, take a snooze, feed and start the cycle again. Leaving the house without the baby was harder; for the first couple of weeks, I didn’t even attempt it. Giving someone else a shopping list was fundamentally unsatisfying. Inevitably one crucial thing got left off the list, or swapped out for an inferior brand. Using FreshDirect seemed like it would be accepting defeat prematurely; half the reason I reason I bother to live in New York City is that we have access to such quirky and good food shopping.