I am a confident cook, fearless when it comes to trying new things. Sometimes too fearless. And, as a painter, prone to improvise.
At the end of a day spent working around the house, we walked to the local market under moody slate grey skies, a pungent salty smell in the air. A handful of chairs and a bride and groom posing for photographers on the beach in front of Gladstone’s. A wedding!
The fish department didn’t have cod, but they had fresh rockfish. We chose fresh green beans and carrots to go with it.
Back home we steamed the carrots with thyme from the garden, then the green beans, and the rockfish. Sliced some heirlooms. Followed the directions for the aïoli. Put the smashed garlic, salt and yolk in the cup. The immersion blender hardly touched it. Started dribbling in the oil. It was looking more like vinaigrette than mayonnaise. Transferred to a small bowl and whisked by hand but it still wasn’t emulsifying.
Remembered my copy of "Simple French Food" and found on p. 137, instructions for “reinstating the aïoli" ("relever l'aïoli"). Started anew with another egg yolk, lemon juice and added the “unsuccessful” aïoli little by little. This time I tried the food processor. Slightly thicker, but still a sauce. Ever hopeful, I put it in a gravy boat and poured. Nope.
Finally I surrendered. It was clearly time to fake the aioli. Put some best foods in a small bowl and beat in a few cloves of pressed garlic. Result? Not great, but it wasn’t the worst dinner ever. Still a lovely evening with a couple of glasses of rosé, a goofy French variety show, Les Années de Bonheur, on tv5 and a husband who knows that my culinary adventurousness sometimes backfires. I’ll be working on my mayonnaise. And might try a mortar and pestle next time, like the ones I saw on youtube.
I took some solace in this quote from Richard Olney, “There are many who believe a healthy dose of imagination is all that one need bring to the kitchen. The cacophonous results are in quite the same spirit as the poignant failures of the liberated artist.”