It was the first day of fall, and time to check the plantains. The plantains were from Ecuador, the size of cartoon bananas, Mickey Mouse phones, the old land-line kind. I had them in a paper bag to speed the ripening until they were black on the outsides, soft to the touch. They were for a dish called Pastelon, Puerto Rican comfort food. You fry the plantains and layer them on ground beef seasoned with sazon, green olives, a slurry of cilantro, green pepper and onion topped with shredded cheese and finally, two large eggs. It sounded disgusting or delicious, I couldn’t decide which.
It’s the first day of Autumn and because I like pastimes I’ve gone back to my favorite cook book, the one with notes on dishes I always make this time of year. It’s one of Jacques Pepin’s first, now out of print, no pictures, just flourishes on the typeset for the section headers. The book is divided into four parts, by season, and fall has colorful names like Easing into Autumn, or September’s Riches. And because his wife was Puerto Rican, Pepin brings in some of her favorite recipes too.
I must have gotten the book before I changed my last name, because I signed the inside cover Gibbard. One of the first books where I learned to cook, through Pepin’s pragmatic, unpretentious approach. And his emphasis on using everything in your refrigerator, not wasting anything.
This is where we got the famed seafood gumbo recipe, the tomato zucchini gratin, the macaroni and cheese made with sauteed eggplant and topped with tomato, the pork and beans dish with fresh cilantro and achiote rice on the side.
Mom has the same cookbook in Germany which is nice, because when we lived together we could make some of our favorite family meals. Like her, I’ve gotten more fixed on daily and seasonal routines. And often I wonder why I’m so habitual about things, like a dog circling clockwise each time I lay down.
Maybe in a world with such uncertainty, we crave the micro acts of routine that bring comfort in the known. I’ve always been that way, always putting the left shoe on before the right, superstitious to where I couldn’t imagine what horrors would come from breaking the pattern.
And because I’m that way I go back to the old recipes from fall, and get out the slow cooker and candles, and now each morning, I check the plantains.