THE SWALLOW: Meals of Convenience

Amiel Stanek

As much as I love and cherish long hours in the kitchen — dinner preparation that begins after brunch, an afternoon spent reading beside a simmering Dutch oven — I am no less awed by the grace and elegance of those simple, dependable meals that we prepare for ourselves when time is short. Such meals, often eaten alone, at odd or weary hours of the day, are born of necessity, a response first and foremost to the material demands of the body.

But their value is more, so much more, than their functionality alone. These meals stand as an affirmation that, even when we are stressed and sleep-deprived, overworked and underpaid, we still know how to make ourselves happy.

It feels good to do something that we know how to do well and without worry, reassurance of our competency in the face of adversity and self-doubt. I love watching my friend and housemate Max prepare his signature peanut noodles, something that he does about once every week.

Max would readily admit that he is not the most confident person in the kitchen, but when he assembles the ingredients for the peanut sauce and puts pasta on to boil, he is the king of his realm, as competent and efficient as any hardened line cook on a busy night. There is an economy to his movement that is sort of awe-inspiring to me, and he works with the complete confidence that the resultant plate of food will never, ever disappoint him. Or me, for that matter.

And so, in honor of the impending week of finals and the semester drawing to a close, I’d like to share a dish that has been a real standby for me this semester, a simple little number that I can make with my eyes closed and never fails to satisfy.

I’ve always been enamored with the crunchy vegetable- and seafood-laden pancakes that I used to get at this Korean restaurant near my house growing up, and last semester I tried a dozen times to recreate this delicacy, failing every time. I had all but given up when I got a call from my friend Jake, a recent Oberlin graduate living in Pittsburgh, who told me about the cabbage pancakes that had come to constitute roughly half of his diet for the preceding two weeks.

Hoping that this was it, I tried out his method and was immediately hooked. Not because they were the exact pancake I was shooting for, but because the recipe was so simple and the result so eminently satisfying that I quickly found myself making one for a quick supper at least once a week.

I’m still striving for the pancake of my childhood, but I know that I won’t be this coming week. I’ll be sitting alone in the kitchen with one of Jake’s cabbage pancakes, reminded that I can make myself happy.