Stalks of (late) Spring, Part 2

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Failure: most people are afraid of it, don’t want to admit to it, and certainly don’t want to eat it.

It’s understandable. Failure can be embarrassing, shameful and all of those other things that make you want to curl up in the fetal position in the dark and listen to Alice in Chains’ Dirt on repeat (or is that just me?).

Fear of failure can also prevent you from trying something in the first place. I suspect this is one of the many reasons that Americans are less inclined to enter the kitchen these days. Sure, there are lots of excuses reasons why people don’t cook. Time is often cited as the major obstacle, but Americans don’t seem to have a problem finding nearly 3 hours per day to watch television.

And what are they watching? Well, Game of Thrones.

But also lots of cooking shows.

Turn on the television or social media and it seems that everyone is cooking some multi-course culinary masterpiece or baking a cake frosted like an ombre sunrise. Often these delicacies are presented atop a charming vintage platter, casually (yet oh-so-strategically) scattered with fresh herbs or flower petals. Increasingly we seem to be fetishizing food and cooking, while simultaneously doing less of it ourselves. According to the Hartman Group, a firm that analyzes food market trends, only 24% of dinners are made from scratch.

So I have to wonder if fear of failure is what prevents some people from turning on the stove. We rarely see when the chef or food blogger made a fatal error, resulting in a stew that looks like a mud puddle or a cake that refused to leave the pan. And that can be discouraging.

When we hide the messiness of life or cooking, we’re doing others a disservice. Why can’t we talk about the mistakes, disasters and other mishaps that make us human, cooking included? Why do these things often get glossed over in our Facebook and Instagram feeds?

I think that we should all be talking about our screw-ups as much as anything else. We can all learn from each other, and maybe then we wouldn’t feel so anxious about trying new things. Hell, we might even feel more connected to one another.

As a home cook, I don’t worry too much about perfection, and neither should you. Yes, you need to make sure your poultry is cooked through, but it doesn’t have to look like a Norman Rockwell painting.

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And now onto my other favorite stalks of (now late) spring: chives and asparagus.

LIC Chives
I spotted these chives growing near a subway station in Long Island City, Queens, surviving where few things can.

Chives are the kinder, gentler allium, akin to a super mellow, skinny scallion. They are perfect on fish, eggs, salads, and pretty much anything savory. I have fond childhood memories of running outside just as dinner was being served to grab some chives out of the garden for my baked potato. Chives  grow practically anywhere and thrive all through spring, summer and fall. Look for specimens that are grassy green and not wilted, brown or slimy. You can eat the flowers, too.

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Flowering chives in an empty lot on Houston St. in Manhattan.

Asparagus is the polar opposite of chives. Apparently it used to be classified as an allium as well. However, scientists have revised their opinion on that, and now asparagus is in a class all its own. This makes sense, since it is unlike any other vegetable in appearance and taste. It’s earthy. It’s funky. Yes, it will make your pee smell funny. But it is awesome steamed with a little butter, or on the grill.

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Keep an eye out for upright stalks with tight, dry buds. I like my stalks thin; my father likes them fat. Either works. When prepping, wash well, snap off the woody ends (not the bud ends, as a friend once did). They will naturally break where the tender shoot begins. A chef will probably say to peel the woody end down, but this is much faster.

I set out to make a lovely springtime asparagus and chive omelet using some leftover asparagus, and some egg whites I had on hand from an ice cream making session. The ice cream came out perfectly; the omelet did not.

Here it is cooking:

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And here is the aftermath:

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It still tasted good though!

But what did I do wrong? I consulted the bible (aka Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)

My pan wasn’t hot enough. Apparently omelets, unlike every other egg dish, need to be cooked at a high temperature. According Bittman, a thin protective layer of egg forms where it meets the pan, thus saving the rest of it from being scorched. Who knew?

I also didn’t unstick the eggs from the pan during the cooking process. Oops.

So here’s my recipe for a chive and asparagus omelet, with the correct instructions, thanks to Mark Bittman.

Chive and Asparagus Omelet for One

2 T butter or oil for the pan
2-3 eggs or egg whites from 5 eggs
1 T milk, sour cream or crème fraiche or water
1-2 T grated cheese (I recommend gruyere, cheddar, or Swiss, but anything other than American will do.)
2-3 stalks of chopped, cooked asparagus (I had some left over from the previous night’s dinner. See recipe for steamed asparagus here.)
1-2 T chopped chives

If using regular eggs, whisk in a small bowl. If using egg whites, place in small bowl. Add milk, sour cream, etc. or water (not necessary for the egg whites) and whisk together. Add butter or oil to a medium or large skillet and turn heat to medium high. Once butter is melted/oil is shimmering, move the pan around to make sure the bottom is thoroughly coated. Add the egg mixture.

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT touch the eggs for about 30 seconds.

When 30 seconds are up, use a spatula to gently unstick the edges of the egg from the pan, moving in a circle around the pan and towards the center. The eggs in the middle will run out towards the sides of the pan and cook. Keep doing this until the eggs are just about set, at which point you can sprinkle the cheese on top, and add the chives and asparagus to one side of eggs. With a spatula, carefully fold the egg over itself. Flip over if you must, or just put it on a plate and garnish with a little extra chives.

No matter how it looks, take a picture and post it to your Instagram account. You can at least say you tried!

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