“To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.”
I came across this quote of Thoreau’s only very recently. It must have struck an existential chord because my mind seems to want to regurgitate it, to be mulled over, in unexpected ways. Cooking daily meals for instance. Cooking a family meal ranks among ‘the hightest of arts’, say I. And for the most part, I engage in all that it entails with great gusto. There are some days, however, when the very idea of ‘affecting the quality of the day’ makes a Gordon knot of one’s already twisted knickers.
Picture the following virtual scene. ‘All right then … what would you like for dinner this evening?’, I ask members of my family. This question is met by blank stares more often than not, and that’s if they are even looking in my direction. The hesitant response is usually a variation of: ‘Oh whatever. Whatever is easiest.’ They think they are being obliging and nice. And they think I am being nice. I am not being ‘nice’, not altogether at least. I am asking because I am in a hurry or tired or otherwise constrained by deadlines that day and having to think up a menu will mean yet more efforts calling upon my implacably dwindling attention.
It’s hardly right, now, is it. And so I energetically enjoin members of my family to kindly understand how unhelpful they are being and to put forward at least one meal suggestion. That’s when they realise I mean business and get to work but even then, on average, their ideas are a bit random and not necessarily inspiring. And that’s because thinking requires ‘existential’ effort as well as taking up non-negotiable ‘physical’ time. It may be an ‘invisible’ activity but … it most definitely requires time and we are all prone to wanting to cut corners in that regard.
If the details of life are to be worthy of our contemplation, we must find ways to coax meaning into them — otherwise anything we do that has to be done will be heavy and feel like a chore or dreary drudge. Cooking takes time, it does. And creates work by way of washing up. That and one has to do the shopping first. But I cannot think of a better way ‘to affect the day’ than to imbue the act of nutrition with the seasonings of care and affection.
The devil in the detail of this recipe was the fact that my son used to adore this dish when he was a kid. In those days, and before I knew better, I used to buy pre-prepared cordon bleu cutlets at the supermarket. They were so quick and easy to prepare and resulted in smiles all round in the kiddy department. Once I got wise to the list of dubious-quality ingredients that went into these industrial cordon bleu cutlets, they were naturally banished from my kitchen. My son reminded me of this a few weeks ago when, upon my refrain, ‘What would you like for dinner this evening?’, his answer was quick off the mark – cotolette cordon bleu. You should have seen the arch of my raised eyebrow. Now that was a ‘proper’ suggestion, and none of that feeble ‘oh everything you make is so good Ma, whatever is easiest’. And the following is the result.
Gruyère cheese, eggs, ham, slickes of chicken breast. Breadcrumbs too.Beat the eggs and add some freshly grated parmesan. I tablespoon per egg. Also add salt and pepper to this egg mixture and, if you like it, a pinch of nutmeg.Beat well and set aside.Compose the cutlet. Place a little bit of ham and cheese on one half of the chicken breast.Then fold it over so that the ham and cheese lie snugly within. Prepare all the pieces of chicken like this and set aside.
I made a celery and potato mash to accompany the cutlets.
Time to cook the cutlets.
Dip them in the egg mixture first so that they are well coated …Press them well into the breadcrumbs, again … so that they are thoroughly coated in them.
Make sure you press very hard.Here they are, ready to be pan fried.I used olive oil.Fry first on one side … only for a few minutes …
And then on the other side. These cutlets are quite heavy, so I used two spoons to turn them over.I overcooked one of them a bit … sigh.But it still tasted damn good !I obviously wasn’t inspired enough to slice the radishes a little bit more thinly. Ah well.I had also steamed some broccoli florets. What you might call … meat and two veg. Not bad for a week-day dinner.