In “A Moveable Feast,” Hemingway wrote “hunger was good discipline,” and I’ve long known what he’s meant. I’ve also always found his passages about viewing art in Paris with an empty stomach to be extremely moving:
There you could always go into the Luxembourg Museum and all the paintings were sharpened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry. I learned to understand Cezanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry. I used to wonder if he were hungry too when he painted; but I thought possibly it was only that he had forgotten to eat. It was one of those unsound but illuminating thoughts you have when you have been sleepless or hungry. Later I thought Cezanne was probably hungry in a different way.
But Hemingway was in his twenties at that time, and I’m not. Now that I’m older, I say it’s not the hunger that’s good discipline, it’s the cooking. Cooking needs clarity of mind, because without it, you will fail. I can guarantee that. I know at least a day, or more, ahead of time, what I’ll be eating for lunch, dinner, and breakfast (though not in that order). The clarity of mind I bring to cooking I try to bring to my life. It’s a good meditative exercise to pay close attention to things.
On Monday, my first day back at work after being away, I knew I’d be hungry when I came home from the office. So I roasted a chicken as soon as I woke up (well, as soon as I came home from a run). As we ate breakfast, the kitchen was filled with the scent of roasting rosemary and garlic. It was odd, but enticing. (I even nibbled a few of the crispy wings before going to work, and when I was brushing my teeth that morning I thought—did I have bacon this morning? No, it was the crispy chicken skin.)
I washed a head of Romaine lettuce, too, and stored it in the fridge. Later that day, Santa Maria put on a pot of rice, and when it was time for dinner, I sliced an avocado, caramelized some red onions, and in homage to Tamar Adler, tossed the chicken, the lettuce, and all the fixings together into one rich and delicious salad.
I served all the elements—the rice, the salad, the sliced chicken, etc.—family style, so the kids could eat what they wanted. It worked very well, and the salad was perfect for the weather. I’m not going to give you a recipe for this one, but I’m going to give you some advice: Pay attention to what you have in the cupboard, and with some chicken, rice, avocado, onion, and whatever else you might have on hand, dinner will never be far away.