Simple vs. Easy
Hi friends! Thanks for the well wishes on the new house! We love it, and are so excited about it—I’m really excited to post pictures of it, but I guess I’ll wait until we actually, you know, own it. In any case, the inspection went really well and it seems like everything is going to (knock on wood) go off without a hitch!
Universe, please don’t make those my famous last words.
Yesterday morning, my composition students read a piece from the book Julie and Julia to discuss in class. We had fun watching an old clip of Julia Child’s first cooking show, and then we talked for a long time about what it means for food to be easy versus simple. In the excerpt we read for class, Julie, the soon-to-be (world famous) food blogger has picked up the ingredients to make Julia Child’s Potage Parmentier—simple potato soup– but she notes that, despite the relatively few ingredients and basic cooking process of the soup, “The thing you learn with Potage Parmentier is that “simple” is not exactly the same as ‘easy.’ ”
We spent a long time discussing this concept—simple versus easy. We talked about the way it applies to cooking and eating—it’s certainly “easy” to peel the cellophane wrapper back on a microwave dinner. But then, if you turn the cardboard box over to look at the ingredient list:
Tortilla (Water, Enriched Flour [Bleached Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid], Whole Wheat Flour, Modified Wheat Starch, Canola Oil, Wheat Gluten, Glycerine, Tomato with Pieces [Tomato Concentrate, Guar Gum], Baking Powder [Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Bicarbonate Soda, Cornstarch, Monocalcium Phosphate], Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Sugar, Salt, Granulated Garlic, Citric Acid), Cooked White Meat Chicken (White Meat Chicken, Water, Modified Potato Starch, Salt, Sodium Phosphate), Ranchero Sauce (Tomatoes [Tomatoes, Tomato Juice, Calcium Chloride, Citric Acid], Water, Chicken Base [Chicken Meat with Natural Juices, Salt, Organic Cane Juice Solids, Corn Maltodextrin, Chicken Fat, Yeast Extract, Natural Flavors, Dried Onion, Spice Extractives, Turmeric], Chili Paste [Chili Peppers, Dried Onion and Garlic, Yeast Extract, Salt, Spices, Beef Extract, Citric Acid], Roasted Tomatoes, Granulated Onion, Granulated Garlic, Jalapenos [Jalapenos, Water, Vinegar, Salt], Modified Cornstarch, Modified Cellulose, Spices, Chipotle Chili Powder], Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese (Part Skim Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes, Annatto [Color]), Monterey Jack Cheese (Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Bell Peppers (Red, Green), Fire-Roasted Onions, Roasted Poblano Chiles, Modified Cornstarch.
….it becomes clear that the dinner you’re consuming is far from “simple.”
On the other hand, a soup with four ingredients has a beautiful simplicity to it…but peeling vegetables, mincing herbs, potentially making your own stock—are these things easy? Not so much.
One of my students made the astute observation that the soup becomes a metaphor for Julie’s life. Her life, at the time in which she is about to begin writing her blog, is relatively simple—she has a simple secretary temp job, she has a husband, she has an apartment. But she’s also wrestling with whether or not she should try for a baby, and she’s yearning for a job with more creative fulfillment, and she’s wondering what happened to her dream of becoming an actress—her life isn’t easy.
My students can be pretty smart sometimes.
I started thinking about it in terms of my own life—my life right now isn’t simple. It’s pretty much the opposite of simple. Balancing a baby and a teaching job has been, I think it’s fair to say, a challenge this year. Most days are pretty complicated. But at the same time—it isn’t hard. Because I love it. I love the time I spend staying home with Lila. I love teaching my occasionally-brilliant students. And I love the complicated, sometimes-crazy task that balancing the two has become.
Here’s another soup for you—it’s not potage parmentier. It’s white bean soup. And in fact, I’d venture to say that this soup is both simple and easy. The best combination there is, right?
Simple White Bean Soup
3 cups dried white beans (I used one bag of navy beans)
12 cups liquid (I used chicken stock, and therefore didn’t add salt to the soup. If you use water, you’ll need to season it considerably)
2-3 ham hocks (I used a 5 oz package with 2 hocks)
1 onion, quartered
Place all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed soup pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover pot partially, and allow to cook for 1-2 hours, until beans are soft and the ham meat is falling off the bone.
Once meat is falling from the bone, remove from the pot with a slotted spoon. Remove fat and bone, setting aside the ham to place back in soup.
With a submerging blender (or in a blender itself), blend the soup until creamy. Chop ham and place back in soup.
Top with parsley.
Seriously easy. Seriously simple. Seriously delicious:
Can I just say that cooking with a ham hock has me feeling like some sort of line into southern-ness has been crossed that can never be uncrossed? That’s all.
Hope your day is easy. Or simple. Or complicated and hard and magnificent.