I have a few things in common with Melissa Clark. We share a name. We both have bright coppery hair. I hired her once, in my first job after college, about 18 years ago, to write a section of a travel guide. She probably doesn’t remember me. But I still remember how embarrassingly young I was and how nice she was to me. I was too young for the job, actually, but that is another story involving a supervisor who didn’t like my age and, in hindsight, me, and I think planned to fire me from the day I started. She eventually did. And for the record I recommend getting fired once. Once you know what the worst is that can happen, you realize it’s not so bad.
But back to Melissa Clark. I have a vision of her dinner life—all beer-sipping, leek-sweating, calmly-chatting, with hip music playing—that looks nothing like mine. Think: flash mob of three kids vying for my attention, avoiding homework, and chucking backpacks. My 5-year-old likes to climb the fridge, and my 2-year-old figured out how to tie things around the fridge handles. My cooking soundtrack is my 7-year-old taking slap shots in the garage. My husband travels, a lot. There’s joy in it, but not the kind NYTFood photo shoots are made of.
And yet, I’ve found room for Melissa Clark at our ketchup-smeared table. A double or triple batch of the Coconut Rice in her book, Cook This Now gives me a base for three night’s of dinner. Buy the book for the recipe. Up the stakes with brown rice from Massa Organics. I skip the peas, use 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, and sub light coconut milk since I like the way it cooks up more rice-like, and less pudding-like, than full-fat coconut milk. Then pair it with roasted salmon dusted with five-spice powder, chicken skewers, or….Melissa Clark’s easy stir-fry,done Athlete Food-style.
Which is to say, more abundant and more flexible. I triple the sauce, buy two blocks of tofu, 1 pound of chicken, 1 really big shallot instead of the leeks, and two bunches of broccoli or,1 pound snow or snap peas and 1 pound asparagus. I use a rasp to grate the ginger and garlic, so that the kids don’t smart about biting into chunks of it.
Then I cook everything separately, in batches. Tofu, then broccoli, then chicken, using Clark’s method.
It all takes longer than 30 minutes, since there’s more to prep and more to cook. But not having to do it all again tomorrow makes it all worth it. And the stack of food in the fridge, all organized and neat, gives me some sense of order and beauty even it’s not the kind glamorous food photo shoots are made of.