Come together

I wanna hold your hand

It is going to be an uncertain path toward something like familiar life again. It is going to be a long while before we really understand the impact of all we’re still going through. But this I know for sure: we need each other.

I can’t wait to make a kitchen clambake and a bourbon blueberry pie, served at the longest table that’ll fit in the backyard. And with as many friends as can fit at the table. Will 2021 bring summer barbecues? Albeit still different than before. It is increasingly likely. Spicy grilled pork skewers, grilled romaine lettuce salad, grilled potatoes, sticky barbecue chicken (finger-lickin’ good!).

I can’t wait to rent a vacation house with friends so that we can wake up to overnight French toast or a veggie-filled frittata, both of which can sit on the counter next to the pot of coffee awaiting stragglers slowly emerging from bedrooms with messy hair. Later in the day, around 4pm, we’ll wonder aloud if it’s not time for a spritz or something. Which, of course, it is.

One of my favorite memories is from one such time. I was staying at my friend’s beach house in Tuscany (I know). We’d gotten home from exploring a charming nearby town. Hungry and a little sweaty, we stood barefoot in the stone kitchen fixing lunch for our small crew. A vinegar-y farro salad, a plate of melon and prosciutto, and the most gorgeous caprese salad. That caprese salad, with our hand-torn fresh basil and mozzarella, is how we coined our moniker. We are Hands on the Mozzarella Girls because, with total sincerity, I picked up the cool, wet ball of mozzarella, closed my eyes, and said “this mozzarella in my hands, it just feels so good, so fresh.” And as any good friend should have, she laughed so hard that tears streamed down her face.

I know that for me, the novelty of cooking for one has worn off. I do enjoy it, from time to time. I turn the music up and dance in my kitchen while I make a big-ass salad, coconut chicken curry, or tomato-poached fish which I serve with one of those half-sized take-and-bake baguettes from La Brea bakery and a small dish of salted butter.

I’ll make something I know my son wouldn’t like, when he’s at his dad’s. Like this crazy-easy penne with gorgonzola and honey, to which I add a heap of arugula. The recipe I’ll make at lunch and tuck into again for dinner is ground chicken larb with lettuce cups. As good with sparkling water and Zoom midday as it is with a glass of chilled white wine and Netflix come evening.

All that said, the data doesn’t lie. My Postmates account is increasingly active on days and nights I’m home alone. (Wipe your tears! My orders arrive around the time I’ve decided I don’t need to watch Bridgerton for a third time. See? I’m A-OK.)

Maybe the best edition of Ask Nicole yet…

Q: Can you convince me to try making pie crust? I still think about that galette you made for [a dinner party] ages ago and I really want to make one. I think I’m ready to try it this weekend. Maybe.

A: This is my favorite question and not just because she complimented a galette I made pre-Covid! Making pie crust feels intimidating but it’s about paying attention to the visuals. This is my favorite pie crust recipe, which is from Smitten Kitchen and has a great, detailed explanation of what you’re looking for and how to get there. This breakdown by Melissa Weller (author of A Good Bake) is also very helpful.

As for convincing you, I think the best thing to know is that it’s surprisingly easy once you know what you’re looking for. It also doesn’t take much active time. But the best thing is that once the crust is done, the pie world is your oyster! Strawberry rhubarb, apple (incredible with miso butter), plum galettes. A heaping Mallomar pie and/or this creamy lemon custard pie, both by Pie Queen Erin McDowell, author of literally The Book on Pie. As Ina would say, what’s not to like?

At the end of the day, it turns out I like you. I really like you.