Stewing Around

One of my youthful memories involves getting home to the Tin Palace late one night and opening the fridge on a quest for food. Spotting a large Tupperware, I cracked it open to find some sort of stew concoction inside. I was hungry and it was late; I didn’t want to bother heating food, so I remember fishing out a piece of meat and eating it, cold, with the open fridge door casting a pool of light on the floor. The meat was so tender that it fell apart in my mouth, melting away like cream while I delved into the container again for a chunk of mushroom, part of a potato, another piece of the heavenly soft beef. It didn’t take much to be sated, but that, of course, is the way with stew.

For some reason, the memory of that stew has been haunting me this week, so I decided to have Baxt and Petey over for dinner last night, and to make stew. I’d never actually made stew before, but I figured it couldn’t be that hard; marinate some meat, simmer it for a long time, add vegetables, skim, eat. My prediction turned out to be correct, and I have decided that I love stew. Love. Stew. I love how the house slowly fills with the intoxicating smell, how stew forces you to be patient as the meat is gently broken down in delicately simmering broth, how the ingredients soften and caramelize slightly in a complex marriage of flavor. I’m a big fan of food which demands waiting and respect, warming the house while it cooks.

I also love that stew tastes better on the second day. I’m enjoying a bowl right now, heated rather than cold, and it’s mighty fine. I suspect that stew is going to be a regular menu item around these parts, since soup and stew seem like very appropriate winter foods. I love that I can play endlessly with ingredients and spices, that no stew will ever be repeatable. There’s something so deeply satisfying and filling about stew, as well, especially when you pack it with winter vegetables. I want to try curried squash, now, and turnips. Beets, sweet potatoes. Strange spices and ordinary ones. Hrm. Yes.

Last night, we enjoyed bowls of it in the cool evening while we watched Mirrormask, which is, by the way, an excellent movie. It’s freaky, eerie, and hauntingly complex and beautiful. I’ve been on a bit of a fantasy kick lately, and I like the darker side of fantasy, like Mirrormask and Pan’s Labyrinth, or the City of Lost Children. Of course, there’s something to be said for good clean fantasy fun like the Princess Bride, but I have a soft spot for dark, interesting fantasy on a dark night with a bowl of stew. While it takes place in an entirely imaginary world, there’s something deeply compelling about it, perhaps because fantasy explores human nature through the imagination. And I believe that human nature is, in general, dark, so I like to see a little honesty in my fantasy. However, I would not recommend watching Mirrormask while on the influence of any drugs, as I could see it crossing the border from eerie to scary, or perhaps even upsetting, if you were in the wrong mindset. Hopefully stew doesn’t count as a drug.