Eastside Road, Healdsburg, March 30, 2009
EATING EVERY DAY; everyday eating. Many of our meals repeat, of course, though not usually as predictably, or on as short a cycle, as was the case when I was a boy. Back then, sixty-odd years ago, it seemed like the repertory was small and regular. Let's see: we had liver and onions, chicken, macaroni and cheese, roast pork, an occasional fish of some kind, Swiss steak, beans and chili. I don't know if these came around on a regular weekly cycle, but I think they did. There were the exceptions, of course. Ham was for Christmas and Easter, with pineapple rings and brown sugar. Sometimes there might be venison. But those were exceptional.
Here on Eastside Road we alternate among repeating a familiar repertory, stretching with excursions into new territory prompted by who knows what, and eating out. At home, of course, there are the frequently-sounded notes: green salad; cheap Pinot grigio, pasta. Tonight we had chickpeas, very much like those we had on March 23, a week ago. And almost every night we have the same vinaigrette.
Tonight I noticed for perhaps the first time how little vinegar goes into that vinaigrette. I always make it the same way: I crush a clove of garlic (or two, depending on how big they are) into the big stainless-steel bowl, crush sea-salt into it using the tines of a dinner fork, cover the resulting paste with olive oil, and let that stand while we eat our dinner. Then I add the vinegar, whisking the vinaigrette into a smooth emulsion with the dinner fork; toss in the lettuces, which Lindsey will have washed and dried, and hand her the bowl to mix the salad.
The Italians say you need four people to make a proper salad: a spendthrift for the oil, a miser for the vinegar, a judge for the salt, and a maniac to mix it all up. This allotment makes no sense in my family, where I am mania and spendthrift, and Lindsey is judge and miser. But it works.
Most sources seem to converge on the same formula for vinaigrette as the one I rely on for my Friday-Saturday Martini: Three to one. Three oil, one vinegar. As I say, I seem to go use less vinegar than that: four, perhaps five parts oil to one of vinegar. The right amount produces a true stable emulsion; too much vinegar and the result is watery, too much oil and it's, well, oily. I suppose our vinegar is stronger than a lot of storebought stuff — it's our own, from our own grapes. I gave up making wine years ago, but vinegar, now that's something worth staying with.