I never quite realized until now how easy it is to slip into a new routine. Starting in March – when I had my “aha!” inspiration for my book/story (see “Who is this night owl chef?”) – and for three months straight, I couldn’t stop writing the story. I literally would start writing around nine or ten o’clock at night and not stop until past midnight or one in the morning, despite having to wake up the next morning before six in order to make it to work on time (“on time”, for anyone who knows me). My weekends were equally filled with long sessions at my laptop’s word processor; after waking, I’d write straight away with my first cup of Joe next to my mouse and not quit until either lunchtime beckoned or I needed to shower for fear of never cleaning up the whole day if my pace kept on, whichever came first. Then again during the late afternoon and possibly at night as well I would be back at my computer. The story was like a volcano erupting in my head, the words flowing out my fingertips and onto the keyboard like lava down the cone.
After this initial rush, my pace slowed and then sped up in August and September; by the beginning of October I estimated I had written about a third of the story already – not bad for my first serious attempt at a book and having to write around a full-time job’s schedule which includes semi-frequent travel. However, in the last six weeks I’ve touched my latest chapter once – just once! – and even then I ended up only editing that section a bit and getting stuck at the end.
Is this fruitless period really a case of the infamous writer’s block? Perhaps the lack of productivity is caused more by being unmotivated … or being more motivated to cook something instead, and then blog about it. I find myself most inspired, lately, by what goes into my mouth than what comes out of it. Nowadays, I’m more apt to write about my latest food adventure (detail, example here) rather than my characters’ latest jaunt. Is Muse messing with my head? Is she hungry? Haven’t I fed her ENOUGH already?! Muse, throw me a bone here!
Maybe I need to make an offering to silence her. Maple-glazed cookies, perhaps? A walnut-espresso tart? Tortellini in a lemon-cream sauce? Coq au vin blanc? What do I need to do????! Or perhaps, the simplest answer is to stop grocery shopping, brew myself a cup of tea, snuggle into my most comfortable chair with my laptop, and shut off the rest of the world for the weekend. That ought to jump start the writing creative juices! Of course, this blog will start to suffer, right at the time when I’m starting to be really proud of what I’m creating in the kitchen and blabbing about here. I’m learning new techniques, finding new flavors, and making friends with other bloggers. After all, that’s what this is all about, right? But it’s really just trading one routine for another, unless I can figure out how to mix the two. Oh, if only I were a faster night owl chef! Or perhaps a real night owl … then I could manage to write everything, all the time, and still be able to cook….
Speaking of cooking, that’s where my latest burst of creativity happened. I had this big eggplant in my crisper drawer, you see, and it had to be eaten toute suite unless I wanted to fish out a rotten eggplant from my fridge if I neglected it any longer. There was also the homemade roasted red pepper which was left over from making a batch of my favorite roasted red pepper, tomato, and garlic soup. And – unusually since I don’t tend to have any other cheese laying around except Parmesan – there was a very tempting hunk of smoked Gouda somewhere in there as well. Oh, what to do for dinner, what to do…
Usually I roast eggplant with herbs and garlic or make ratatouille, but I wanted to try something new – and I wanted to make up something rather than hunt around for a recipe. No, scratch that: my brain automatically made up a recipe, because that’s what it’s into doing these days….
And this is what I came up with – a sort of grilled cheese sandwich, except the bread is replaced by eggplant slices which were roasted in the oven and a few extras were stuffed in with the cheese, namely the roasted pepper, chopped baby arugula, and a dab of mayo spiked with smoked paprika. That’s not the only place I used mayo, though; my crazy inspiration for this dish centered around treating the eggplant slices a bit like those in eggplant parmesan, minus the egg and seasoned breadcrumbs. Here, I brushed on a very thin layer – just enough to moisten the exposed spongy sides of the eggplant and give the plain breadcrumbs something to stick to – of mayonnaise mixed with a generous shake of smoked paprika (see a theme here? Smoked Gouda and smoked paprika? Yum!).
The eggplant turned out soft, flavorful, and sturdy enough to play the part of bread in my dinner production. Making that was the hardest part of the meal; the rest was merely assembling the “sandwich” and setting it in a warm, covered, nonstick pan for a few minutes to melt the Gouda. Result? A tangy, gooey, tummy-warming marriage of vegetables and cheese. Certainly weird? Yes, but certainly delicious and a do-over if I ever have these ingredients in stock again; it was pure chance my brain put these together, but my creative juices did me proud. Thanks, Muse!
Now, if only, dear lady, you could leave the kitchen for awhile – I’ll even take just an hour here or there – visit me when I’m in book-writing mode….
Eggplant sandwich with smoked Gouda and roasted red pepper
Here is my version of this “grilled cheese sandwich”, but I’m sure there are myriad variations on the theme. Swiss cheese and pickled red onion – perhaps with some ham? Or maybe wilted spinach and cheddar with a few currants or raisins? A spread of cherry jam with Boston Bibb lettuce and Stilton? Oh God – Muse is striking again!
- 1 eggplant, sliced to 1/3″ thick round slices; notch the skin around the diameter of each slice a few times
- 1 red pepper, roasted, peeled, and de-seeded
- enough Gouda slices, 1/8″ thick, to make a few sandwiches
- 3 Tbsp good quality mayonnaise
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, or more
- 1/4 cup or so plain breadcrumbs
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- handful baby arugula, chopped somewhat
Preheat the oven to 400ºF and place the wire racks at the upper and second-from-lowest positions. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil and spray lightly with an oil spray (I used olive oil flavored PAM) to prevent the eggplant from sticking fatally; alternatively, brush the sheets with olive oil.
Mix together the mayo and smoked paprika. Add a dash of salt and stir the mayo mixture. Holding the rim of an eggplant slice, use a pastry brush to apply a bit of the spiced mayo on each side of the slice. You don’t need very much – you should be able to clearly see the eggplant through the mayo! Using a soup spoon, spoon the breadcrumbs onto both sides of the slice and shake off the excess. Place on the baking sheet. Repeat with all slices, and reserve the remaining mayo for assembling the sandwiches.
Put the filled baking sheets into the oven and bake for 20 minutes until lightly browned (the tops of those on the upper sheet will brown and the bottom of those on the lower sheet will brown, so after flipping they will look the same). Using tongs or a fork, flip over the eggplant slices and bake for 10-15 minutes more. You want the eggplant cooked through, but not too soft so they fall apart. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and let the slices cool on the sheets for 5 minutes.
Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat; no oil in the pan is necessary. To assembly the sandwiches, lay one slice on a plate and add enough Gouda to make one layer. Place a bit of red pepper on top to make a solid layer, trimming the sides so it doesn’t hang over. Sprinkle this with salt, if desired, and a crack of freshly ground black pepper. Pile on a bit of arugula leaves. Taking a second slice of eggplant (the same size as the bottom slice, obviously), spread on a bit of the spiced mayo, to taste, and top the sandwich. Using a spatula, place as many sandwiches as will fit into the pan, cover, and heat for about 3 minutes – just until the cheese has melted. Remove with a spatula, carefully, and enjoy. (By the way, this is definitely not a “use your hands” sandwich – knife and fork required!)