I got laid off last summer right before Memorial Day. This is both good and bad. The good: it was bright and sunny (staving off depression) and I could hang out at the pool. I didn’t have to worry for a little while, so I could focus on catching up on the pile of magazines in the living room and a million books to read. The bad? I’m pretty sure no one in my industry makes hiring decisions in the summer, which is bound to make a girl feel a little… unwanted. I am lucky: I was only out of work for about four months, and had plenty of leads and interviews, and I have a great network. Still, in between the aforementioned pool-sitting, job-applying, flying to interviews and commiserating with my girlfriends over wine at 1215, I had some free time.
So, of course, I cooked. I like cooking projects: multi-step recipes that take days (or even weeks) to complete. I made a bunch of syrups, several kinds of ice cream, cured and smoked bacon, roasted pork belly, and tried my hand at kombucha. I made enchiladas whose ingredients cost about $50 and took about 3 hours to make, not including the time it took to make homemade tortillas (the dish was spectacular, for the record, but not $50-spectacular). I am pretty sure I made bread at least once. Every salad dressing was homemade. Barbecue sauce? Horseradish cream? All homemade. Yes, I even made myself a little nauseous with my pretentiousness. “Why, have some bourbon slush. I distilled and aged the bourbon myself, in barrels I coopered in my parking lot and mixed with lemons sourced from a tiny lemon farm in southern Greece. I’m sorry they’re not local.”
Fine, I didn’t go quite that far, but I don’t think anyone would have been surprised if I did.
At least I wasn’t wasting my free time. I hadn’t had time off– real time off, not “vacations” where I still checked email and never really relaxed, or sick days where I hopped on conference calls, but put them on mute so my coworkers wouldn’t hear me cough (or worse). I am the type of person who would check email on her wedding day. Yes, actually, I did, in the back of the Renault that was shuttling us around Paris. Really.
I suppose the fact I was making my own bacon and tortillas suggests the that I am terrible at doing nothing. The Better Half ate very well last summer.
The piece de resistance? Homemade mayonnaise. Sure, it’s simple– but I did it by hand, without a food processor. Holy cow, was it good. You see, The Better Half’s favorite food in the whole entire world (well, besides barbecue) is a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. With mayonnaise. On squishy white bread.
As you can imagine, we don’t have squishy white bread in the house very often. I acquiesced, and took great pleasure in making a nearly perfect sandwich: home-cured and smoked bacon, perfect tomatoes from Findlay Market, homemade mayonnaise and squishy white bread. Okay, the last part isn’t perfect in my mind, but hey– know your audience. One afternoon, The Better Half said, “Oh, I’m going to make a sandwich.”
I pointed out the ingredients and headed upstairs. I came back down just in time to see…
You would have thought I found him torturing puppies or something.
“WHY ARE YOU USING KROGER MAYONNAISE?”
“Well, I like cheap mayonnaise on my BLTs.”
“BUT THE BACON IS HOME-CURED AND SMOKED AND I MADE MAYONNAISE FOR YOU!”
“THE ONLY THING I HAVE TO DO NOW IS TAKE CARE OF YOU!”
Commence soap opera star-worthy bursting into tears. It was not a high point of the summer (or, say, my adult life). It did, however, make me realize several things: 1. My husband is a saint to put up with me. 2. I show my love for people via food, so turning down my food is sort of like turning down my affection. 3. Sometimes you just need the stuff you ate when you were a kid. 4. Don’t mess with me and my mayonnaise.
We obviously survived both the jobless summer, the Great Mayonnaise Encounter of 2013, and many other projects since. I let him have his cheap mayo (nothing wrong with the Kroger stuff), he lets me take up the counter with tonic water, bun dough, and goodness knows what else. It works out.
If you want to make your own mayonnaise, I use Alton Brown’s or Michael Ruhlman’s recipes. I love adding a little bit of garlic (to make aioli) or some sriracha (because there isn’t anything that sriracha doesn’t improve). With the sriracha, I use rice vinegar instead of white vinegar (per Alton’s recipe). Experiment. That’s the best thing to do with a little time off, right?