...or "hot bath".
I didn't know what I wanted to eat yesterday. I always start to think about dinner round about lunchtime. There was a pot of goulash in the freezer waiting for You Know Who (the Canadian, sillies), whose arrival is imminent, but that was off-limits; the previous night I'd had potatoes baked in their jackets with good cheese and sweet butter and thinly sliced scallions, plus salt and pepper. I mention the latter because they are entirely underrated as seasonings. The night before that I'd had pita pockets filled with arugula in lemon dressing, feta, olives, chickpeas, cherry tomatoes and some crispy non-nitrate bacon.
I didn't feel like meat. Or chicken. I knew I should eat leaves, but the colder the weather gets, the less I want leaves (in summer I may as well be a goat, or a guinea pig - my mother can't keep up with my demands for LEAVES! in Cape Town, when I'm there). But vegetables, that's different. Crunchy vegetables, quite compatible with cold weather. And to make them seem like a real meal (ie "there's got to be meat in here somewhere?"), nothing better than the anchovy-laden bagna cauda [speaking of anchovies there's a good recipe for them in the NYTimes this week. Click]..
I picked up some beets, carrots, daikon radish and endive at Mr Lee's on Atlantic as well as some heads of firm-looking garlic. At home I chopped 8 cloves quite roughly and put them with a quarter cup of olive oil (yup - don't think of it as fat, think of it as Omega 3), to heat in a cast iron pot, and added the entire contents of a jar of anchovies. On really low heat this all cooks slowly until the salty fishes disintegrate and the garlic becomes soft. About 20 minutes. Sometimes I add lemon juice.
Then I put it in a dish with a burner beneath, like a mini fondue pot, to keep warm. This is essential. With a bowlful of cleaned, chopped vegetables and some slices of good baguette, a glass of red, this is one of the best things in the world. It's not fishy, it's not garlicky, it is entirely itself.
Even James approves of this. James, also known as God in our Cape Town household, used to be my mother's clean-living and nutritionally informed Pilates instructor (long before Pilates was hip), until his new grand studio moved too far away. James has blue eyes, and we often heard at home, "James says...". James is also a surfer. Anyway, James and beautiful Nikki (Mrs James) came to dinner one day and bagna cauda was what we kicked off with. His famous blue eyes lit up. Vegetables! All these minerals and vitamins, and people are fooled into eating them with the delicous can't-have-enough-of hot dip!
So there's James, and there's Al di La. Mine is better. And that's the closest I'll ever come to genuine heresy, because that place may as well be church for me. But for some reason they parcook the vegetables, which is a mistake. Flacid, no crunch. And there is no burner for the bagna cauda, which grows slowly cool.
Mimi and Eric belong to the school of converts, and I hope it grows. I have known it since childhood. It entered our home in the 70's inside a Sunset Cookbook, a surprisingly good series of paperback magazine-like books about various country's cuisines. There we were in the cultural flatlands eating something quintessentially Mediterranean.