a good beginning
December 31, 2005

The phone rings: "It's just the two of us tonight," she says in that ominous tone, like it's possible she's buried his body somewhere along the East River. "Come to Brooklyn," I say. "I'll make dinner."

I've never been a great fan of New Year's, so it's almost a relief to bail on going-out plans, but something about the night ought to be special. It's 4:15; she'll be here in an hour. There's leftover tabbouleh in the fridge—it's currently my favorite comfort food, the more lemony the better. The recipes in Dean & Deluca and Joy of Cooking have too many ingredients; Mom's is about right if you reduce the olive oil, but by the time I'm off the phone with her I've forgotten all the measurements anyway; mine ends up a mix of all three, tempered by what I actually have (stale shallots as opposed to scallions, garlic salt instead of garlic powder and sea salt). Anyway, how can you keep track of a recipe that can't even spell itself with consistency (tabouli, tabboule, from the Arabic tabbula—even Merriam-Webster's has more recipe than definitive spelling)?

I've had ground lamb in the freezer since I ordered Thanksgiving groceries. (I'd wanted Turkish Lamb Pitas months ago, but apparently you can't buy ground lamb in Park Slope. You can buy whole lamb and have it ground, but I'm informed that the lamb-grinder only works on Sundays until noon.) If I forego the Pomegranate Tomato Sauce (it turns out pomegranate molasses is the same as pomegranate juice, but at the time it seems more complicated than the ground lamb), then the only ingredients I need are Greek yogurt and pita bread.

Outside it looks like snow, but it's wetter and nastier. The line at the wine store streches all the way back to the rioja (of which I buy two bottles). My favorite Greek takeout is across the street; they sells grape leaves for $4. Someday I'm going to learn to make my own; for now, I let the owner call me "sweetie" and bring me a towel to dry off while I wait.

Cooking shows look easy because all the ingredients have been chopped and measured out into various sized bowls (in fact, my favorite part of cooking shows are all those bowls of ingredients, perfectly portioned—it's poetic). It's also a great tiny-kitchen trick. You get rid of the cutting board and you don't have to search for the tablespoon while you're sautéing with your other hand—I just never have the patience for it. But I've already set the table, so by the time Krista gets here, I'm making it look easy (and she's duly impressed).

Making meatballs is incredibly cathartic. I knead the lamb while she adds each measured-out bowl, then we both roll meatballs in our palms, like playdough. Krista even washes all the bowls, so by the time I've sautéed the lamb and warmed the pita pockets, the kitchen is clean again. And it smells incredible. I'm generally suspicious of recipes with too many ingredients—even when I have most of them already—but I swear you can taste every last grain of cumin and allspice that went into these meatballs. They melt in your mouth, a richness nicely balanced by the chewiness of that lemon-saturated Tabbouleh.

We don't have champagne or noisemakers or black-eyed peas, but it's a good beginning for 2006. We're well-fed, we talk late into the night, and the kitchen is already clean.