(by Margie Goldsmith)
My mother was a photographer who studied with Walker Evans, an American photojournalist best known for his work documenting the Great Depression. Although she wasn’t a professional, I learned after her death that three of her photographs are at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. (Unfortunately, I’ve never seen them because they are somewhere in storage.) She was also as strong as an ox despite having survived cancer three times. Perhaps her practice of daily meditation helped. I am a writer, triathlete, marathoner, and take pretty good photographs, but I don’t have the patience to meditate. The thing we shared the most was that neither of us cooked. She relied on TV dinners. I eat out or take out.
But recently I decided that it’s never too late to learn, so when I heard about a company that offered truffle cooking classes via Zoom, I signed up, choosing the easiest class I could think of: truffle lobster roll. My mother died before people had personal computers, but I doubt she would have ever signed up for a Zoom cooking class because there was not one strand of technical DNA in her entire body. When I once bought her a cassette recorder so she could listen to meditation tapes, she never could figure out which button to push.
But she would have loved how easy and relaxing this class was. The FedEx box arrived two days before the class started. The ingredients included a huge portion of cut-up lobster packed in ice, shaved truffles, pre-measured butter, chives, shallots, oil, brioche buns, even egg yolks and two bags of truffled kettle corn. I tore open the popcorn, and it was so good, I instantly scarfed down an entire bag. I had to staple the second bag closed, a more appealing form of lockdown, so I wouldn’t be tempted to eat it prior to the class. I could almost hear my mother’s voice, “Now, Margie, you’ll ruin it if you eat everything beforehand,” or her favorite warning, which was always, “You’ll be sorry.” But I never was.
I downloaded the mise en place list: cutting board, nonstick pan, knife, spoon, two medium mixing bowls, whisk, paper towels, and a microplane. A what? I had to Google "microplane" to learn it’s a grater that looks like a traditional woodworker's rasp, and the end result tends to be a lot fluffier than with a zester. Being the perfectionist I am (thanks, Mom, that’s your fault), I emailed the company in a state of panic, but was reassured that a grater would be fine. I know we never had a grater when I was growing up, or even a whisk, and surely not a nonstick pan—we had a cast-iron skillet in which my father scrambled eggs every Sunday.
An hour before the class, I moved my laptop to the kitchen (this computer has traveled around the world but has never been in a kitchen). I thought the shock of the new location might cause it to crash, but it behaved, and I signed in. To my shock, I saw myself in a little box wearing my Hello Kitty T-shirt (my go-to pandemic outfit). My classmates were four couples and one mother with a teen-aged daughter—I was the only one solo. For a brief moment, I missed my mother (something I rarely do), even though there were only a few times that we were in the kitchen together, making my sister’s birthday cake. I would pour the cake mix slowly in the bowl as she stirred it with a big spoon.
After the chef directed us to chop a shallot into one bowl and chives into another, we began making the aioli, a flavored mayonnaise, which involved whisking the egg yolks with the oil, a drop or two at a time. I whisked and whisked and whisked. My arm was killing me. I wanted to dump in all the oil at once and be done with it. I am sure my mother would have been able to drizzle in the oil while I whisked. She had the patience I’ve never had or will have, ever.
We browned the brioche buns in butter to a golden brown deliciousness, which the chef called GBD. Finally we spooned the lobster into the rolls, added shaved truffles, and garnished with chives and kettle corn.
I took a big bite. It was better than any lobster roll I’d ever tasted in my life, and I’ve eaten them everywhere from Maine to New Brunswick. I looked at the second lobster roll. Did my mother like lobster? I don’t remember. But as I scarfed down the second roll, I thought about her again. The class was so easy that even she would have been able to call herself a chef.
Since this class, I realize that cooking doesn’t have to be a chore, and it’s fun to be really proud of something you’ve made yourself. So with the extra time in this pandemic, I’m going to take another class, and then I’ll be able to call myself Chef, even if no one else will. Instead of dreaming of winning a marathon, I will dream of effortlessly wielding a microplane.
Margie Goldsmith, a writer in New York City, is the author of Masters of the Harmonica: 30 Harmonica Masters Explain Their Craft and two other books. She has been to 140 countries, has won 94 writing awards, and has written over 1000 magazine and newspaper articles. She plays blues harmonica at NYC open mic jams, but since the pandemic has played each week safely distanced on Zoom.
Truffled Lobster Rolls
(adapted from www.truffleshufflesf.com)
small bunch of chives
1 shallot, peeled
3 egg yolks
1 t. Champagne vinegar
1 1/2 t. Dijon mustard
pinch of truffle salt
1 c. grapeseed oil
1/2 lb. cooked lobster, cut into chunks
2 T. butter
1 oz. shaved truffles
2 brioche hot dog buns
truffled white cheddar kettle corn
Slice chives and cover with a damp paper towel.
Finely mince shallot and place in a bowl.
Finely grate the lemon and add to the bowl.
Add the egg yolks, vinegar, mustard, and a pinch of truffle salt.
Add a squeeze of lemon juice.
Very slowly, drizzle in the oil, whisking to form the aioli.
Add as much aioli to the lobster as desired.
Melt the butter in a non-stick pan over medium heat.
Cook the split brioche buns on both sides until golden brown.
Split the lobster salad evenly between the buns and garnish with chives.
Drizzle with lemon juice.
Enjoy with kettle corn.