In which I have that first day feeling…

What did you do on your summer vacation?

To paraphrase Billy Madison “Back to work, back to work, to show my dad that I’m not a jerk…*” Retirement was F-U-N, but it’s time to get back to life. And a paycheck. I ironed my outfit, and set my alarm for 5:30 (5:30? Yeah, you heard me) and made my lunch, and cleaned most of my apartment, and I was as ready as I was ever gonna be. But I am not going to lie. I think this going back to work thing is taking a toll on me. My feet are a mess, totally not used to real shoes. They like flip flops, and in re: the four-inch heels I picked out for today that perfectly match my necklace and my toe nail polish? Pissed. Additionally, I had a dream last night that I got a $36.56 ticket for skinny dipping. Did you know they give out tickets in the amount of $36.56 for that? I was in a pond with a large group that included Zachary Levi, the actor that stars in Chuck, who also received a $36.56 ticket for skinny dipping. The others received no such ticket, as they were clothed appropriately for public swimming. Lastly, some crazy lady in striped socks and a Hawaiian shirt was staring maniacally at me this morning as we were all walking to work. Lady, it is 8 am, keep your eyes to yourself. Also, you are about to walk into something.

*Don’t be alarmed. My dad would never think I was a jerk. He is incapable of doing so, even when I am a jerk. Rent Billy Madison, then you’ll understand.

Going back to work is  not for the faint of heart. But luckily, I have this to help me through the day.

oh man oh man oh man oh man oh man...

That was my first day of work lunch. It is also my second day of work lunch. It is ratatouille, and it is a delight.

Ratatouille is perfect for this time of year because it is a stew of sorts with eggplant, summer squash, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onions and herbs, and even thought it is cooked, you want to use the best and the freshest. You can roast everything, or saute everything, and the big debate is whether all the ingredients should be cooked together, or cooked separately and combined. I had a recipe all picked out, I was going to saute, and then I was reading Salon.com and an article by Francis Lam just happened to pop out at me. He has a recipe for ratatouille that he calls “weapons-grade” and it looked intriguing. I couldn’t resist, and I am so glad I didn’t, because this is the most delicious thing I have made in a long time. I am planning on stopping at the farmers’ market again tomorrow to pick up more vegetables because it is that good and I want to make gallons of it so I can stuff it into my freezer that is already so full it throws stuff at me every time I open the door. Anybody want some frozen cupcakes?

This ratatouille is a commitment. It took some time, but I did not have to be singularly devoted to it. I was able to do other things while I was making it, like cleaning, filing, watching a classic General Hospital marathon (Brenda’s back!) and planning my outfits for the week, but I would say total cook time for this is close to 3 hours. WORTH IT. It is really delicious. And even thought it has a fair amount of oil in it, it feels really healthy, which is good for the new me. The one that is going to celebrate the new job with a new workout routine. The adipose cells that have found me are getting a little too comfortable…

With ricotta and toast...lunch perfection.

Ratatouille (makes a lot – for my first attempt I halved this recipe.)

adapted from Salon.com

1 head garlic, minced

3 shallots, minced

1 large onion (about 12 ounces), minced

3/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

2 large red peppers, stemmed, seeded, roughly chopped and puréed in the food processor

4 pounds of very good tomatoes, cored and puréed in the food processor

2½ pounds of summer squash and zucchini, ½-inch dice

1½ pounds of eggplant, diced into ½-inch cubes

Thyme and basil to taste

Start by cooking the garlic, shallot and onion in ½ cup of the olive oil over medium-low to low heat in a heavy pot so that they soften and give up their liquid. Stir and try not to let them brown. (This takes awhile.) Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Once they became pale golden and look sticky, add the puréed red pepper and stir to combine. Season lightly with salt and pepper. The pepper should have a ton of water, so let it cook down, stirring every few minutes to make sure nothing gets too caramelized and burned, you’ll have a rich, rusty jam.

Add the puréed tomatoes. Bring it to a boil, and turn it way down to cook off all its liquid. Season lightly with salt and pepper. This already tastes awesome, but you are going to continue cooking for a long time. Around this time, heat your oven to 450. Continue to stir the tomatoes occasionally, just so they don’t burn at the bottom.

Meanwhile, toss the zucchini with salt, pepper and half of the rest of the olive oil. Spread in one layer on a baking sheet (roast in batches if you have to.) Roast until the sizzling starts to slow down and the squash is browning underneath. Take it out and let it cool a bit before putting it in a big bowl. Then do the same with the eggplant, putting it in the same bowl.

When the tomato mixture has cooked down a ton, looks really thick and drier and  tastes even more delightful (you’ll know it’s ready when it gives the oil back up, and sounds squishy when you stir it) chop up some thyme and basil, as much as you like, and stir the herbs into the tomato base. Carefully combine the tomato with the rest of the vegetables so that you don’t mash up your zucchini and eggplant. Serve. It’s even better the next day. Can also be frozen.

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