As a kid mostly deprived of television (we were limited to Dan Rather’s nightly news, the occasional Saturday morning cartoons, and a few stolen moments of the Cosby show), it’s not surprising that I developed an energetic imagination. Mostly, this served me well. I could effortlessly transform our backyard bushes, trees and brambles into a walled city with cottages, castles, and dungeons and then into a windswept seacoast with shipwrecks, lighthouses, and mermaid- and shark-infested waters. Of course, I had no problem creating handsome princes and rogue (but good-hearted) pirates out of nothing.
Alas, that same imagination kept me awake at night, playing terrifying tricks in my creaky, attic-adjacent bedroom. (I swear I could actually see the closet doors slowly creeping open, and slim, green, sharp-nailed fingers slipping out.)
I guess I thought my imagination would go away, or fade, as I got older. But it remains lively as ever—though perhaps put to somewhat different use. My vivid ideas and mental pictures are now almost exclusively devoted to food. Every meal I cook begins in my head—even the utilitarian weeknight ones. Usually, I have to close my eyes and block out real-world stimuli, so I can focus on seeing, smelling, and tasting each ingredient as it goes into my imminent dish. Mixing, adding, discarding, and taking chances while the ingredients are still just pretend (and free!). I have a mind’s eye, but I also seem to have a mind’s nose and mouth, too.
This week, Tony and I were cooking for his family, and his Dad brought home the most beautiful rack of goat (when it rains, it pours, huh?). I wanted to meet the strongly flavored goat with an equally potent rub and a smoky turn on the grill. So, we rubbed it down with curry, cumin, cayenne, and garlic. Then I started to build out the side dishes in my head—I wanted to stay in the West Asian family of spices, and we had cabbage, summer squash, and tomatoes. After some deliberation, we decided on a slaw with citrus, cumin, and cilanatro, and a side of Israeli couscous with grilled summer squash, fresh tomatoes, garam masala and tumeric.
The goat was the unfortunate victim of a gas grill flare-up. But who doesn’t love a good bit of char on the outside of rare meat? The Israeli couscous and the slaw were quite good, and I can imagine they would have paired nicely with the rub—had we been able to taste it.
We ended the night with another surprise from Tony’s Dad: Goat cheese ice cream with roasted red cherries from Columbus’ famous Jeni’s Ice Cream. And that, my friends, was beyond the realm of even this imagination. (FYI They ship across the country.)