The great thing about French is that it makes even the most ordinary things sound fancy. I cooked ratatouille for the first time tonight and discovered that it is not at all fancy.
I think ratatouille must once have meant, “I’m tired from screaming at the kids and milking the goat and cleaning the house all day. I don’t know what to make for dinner, so I’m going to roast whatever vegetables are ready to pick with some olive oil, garlic, and, hm, the rosemary bush needs trimming so I’ll throw in a couple branches.”
To make this dish, you cut vegetables in big pieces, toss them in some olive oil and salt, throw the pan in the oven, and end up with a rather delicious dinner (at least if you follow the recipe in the wonderful cookbook Cook This Now by Melissa Clark). Not delicious in the “my mouth is turning somersaults trying to figure out what this unique flavor combination is” but delicious in its simplicity.
Simple things bring us back to ourselves, snatch us off our hamster wheel of thoughts about past mistakes and future pressures and say to us, “Here, try putting your feet on the ground. It is a little easier that way.” Some people may feel most relaxed wearing an evening gown and dining on duck a l’orange, but I suspect for most of us it’s macaroni and cheese and our favorite sweats.
Our daily lives demand a lot of being on—on top of things, on the ball, on target. Stews, soups, and sweatpants, on the other hand, offer comfort without demanding a lot of skill or attention. You don’t have to impress the chicken and dumplings; they love you already. And your chicken and dumplings don’t have to impress whoever’s eating them; those people already love chicken and dumplings.
After dinner, the cat curled up in my lap, and we lounged until a moth appeared who needed to be chased. I think the Quakers had it right: ‘tis a gift to be simple.