"These days are getting long," The Bartender complains over the phone, moments before his second shift is to begin. He's been at the bar all day, painting, cleaning, arranging, meeting sales reps, cleaning, and pouring a few drinks to curious passersby, now patrons. The usual bravado in his voice is missing. He's gone soft. All is almost intimate whispers.
He lays out his day to me through an audible check list of chores accomplished, those that have been added unexpectedly and those he figured on that still need a good tackle. Then, he asks me what's new.
"Well, I'm creating a blog to share our bar goings on...Oh hey, as I was going through the photos I shot over the weekend, I noticed one of wine glasses. They are in the basement. Did you see them?" I ask because his mum had visited and told him that she'd be back next week and that he better have better wine (my task to select) and wine glasses. All we have on hand is what the previous owners left behind. Think, Sutter Home 4-pack. As a professional wino, I cringe to even type these words.
I walk to the kitchen, phone in hand, hunger surfacing. Open the fridge, eye the chicken breasts he set to thaw before this whole thing got started. "And, I'm gonna do something with this chicken...these almost empty jars of pasta sauce...oh, and the remaining ricotta cheese."
"And, I'll eat some of your cooking when I get back," he intercedes. Somewhat dreamily. Only moments before, he had shared that he missed Cambridge. I assured him, he wasn't missing anything as I reflected in mind on my commute to and from work. The utter chaos on the roads right now while they seemingly repair every route I venture to travel.
"Well, I miss my home. My stuff. It's not fun sleeping with Chocolaty (one of many of our pup's nicknames)."
"I can't imagine it is," I muse, full well knowing how our 85-pound mutt loves to sleep across the bed, taking up, frankly, all of it. I often accommodate him and tuck myself into a very snug fetal position.
When he mentions looking forward to my cooking, I know he's homesick. He's not one for commenting on recipes or cooking. He eats. It's as simple as that. And, that's when it truly sinks in. This distance between.
I should be there with him to nudge him out of stress. I should be there to serve patrons so he can organize the cooler and dry storage. I'm not. The scheduled meeting with my manager to discuss telecommuting part of the week, never came to fruition. I complain and Nils now is comforting me with the all popular phrase we utter a lot these days: We'll figure it out.
For now, as in all times of unrest, I comfort myself through cooking. Now, for one. Soon again, for two. Of late, while in this state of being, I've been crafting recipes that serve well for one immediately and two at a later sitting. As a bartender's lady, such culinary habits become ritual.
As such, I have been jotting down each recipe along with notes of that day. Most of the recipes were knee-jerk reactions to our daily fretting over the bar purchase. If I came home from work and he was lounging, watching TV with that blank stare--the one that says, I'm shutting down because I can't absorb any more aggravation--I'd scurry to the kitchen to heal the only way I know how. Rustling skillets and bowls toward something of comfort.
These recipes and memories are scribbled on paper scraps, e-mails to myself and as notes on my phone. The most recent is the one I developed on the same night I launched this blog. (What a relief it was to make this space available for immediate writing!)
I will sculpt the other recipes as time wears on. I like to share decent photos and to do so, I must rework them on the weekends, when I may encounter the most spare time (for now) and beautiful light. I will, however, share this most recent dish with you. How cruel of me would it be to keep you waiting?!
These recipes will not claim to be exquisite. As our focus and funds are being transitioned "elsewhere," I use the odds and ends on hand. They do come together in a jiff and quench the kind of hunger that resides in times of fret and strategy. Culinary therapy at its best.
I made this recipe twice in the last week. Both times, I nibbled at the dish immediately after it'd fled the oven. Hours later, The Bartender has his answer when he asks, "Wanna feed a guy?"
I played around with baking the eggs on top in the last few minutes of cooking and each time they seemed too tough. Therefore, if you, like me, think oozy eggs lingering in a pool of pasta sauce is something special, I'd suggest frying an egg a few minutes before the timer goes off for the chicken dish and topping each serving with a personal egg. Please refrain from inserting the joke most obvious in this instance...
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 avocado, split in half, pit removed
2 cups pasta sauce
5 thin, skinless breasts of chicken
1 heaping handful of baby arugula (or baby spinach)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
optional: 3 fried eggs
Place the rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350 degrees.
To a small bowl add the ricotta and garlic. Scoop spoonfuls avocado from their leathery shells into the bowl. Mush together until almost blended and a bit smoother. You want the avocado to offer chunk and texture, however, so don't overdue the mashing.
Pour 1/3 cup of pasta sauce into an 8x8-inch glass baking dish. Tilt the dish back-and-forth until a see-through coating of sauce covers the bottom.
Rest two chicken breasts, side-by-side in the dish. Carefully spread a blanket of 1/3 of the downy ricotta upon the chicken. Scatter the arugula over mixture. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of mozzarella over the greens. Layer the remaining chicken over the cheese. Spread the rest of the ricotta mixture over the chicken followed by the sauce and cheese.
Bake for 45 minutes, until the mozzarella cheese is golden. Top each serving with a fried egg, for added soppy deliciousness.