That's because tonight I'm making gumbo.
Sure, I have plenty of other things I could be doing tonight, but gumbo is something that I really enjoy--not just eating it, but making it. It's hard to explain in any rational way.
Making the roux alone takes thirty minutes, and it means standing over a medium-high burner and whisking fat and flour until it feels like your arm is going to fall off. The goal is to transform it from a thick, blonde roux to a deep chocolate roux, and the only way to do that is to keep stirring and stirring and stirring.
There are shortcut methods that allow you to make roux without being shackled to the stove. Alton Brown has one that a number of people seem to like.
But I prefer the traditional way. In fact, making the roux is what I like best about making gumbo. Like any repetitive process, it becomes meditative. The busy thoughts of the day empty out of my head and all I'm left with is the beauty of watching the whisk blur underneath my gaze. It's a total zen-like state.
This afternoon I realized that it reminds me a lot of the art of traditional Japanese painting, aka sumi-e. Before the painting actually begins, artists spend five or ten minutes grinding ink using a traditional ink stick and a grinding stone, Visually, the practices are the same -- artists circle the ink stick over and over in a puddle of water on the grinding stone, and cooks deftly navigate the whisk in circles through the ever-darkening roux. The two practices even sound alike.
Well before I ramble on any further, I think it's time I headed off to start my thirty-minute meditation.
Oh, and if any of you are interested in learning to make gumbo, let me know and I'll post the full recipe. I know I was pretty scared to try it the first time because I'd heard horror stories about making roux. But once you get over any initial fear, you realize that it's actually not so hard. And a great thing about making gumbo is that it's like lasagna -- you can make a big batch and have tons of planned-overs to freeze and enjoy later. So just let me know -- I'm happy to post the recipe!