I started my spring cleaning this past week. (Yes, I know, it is technically not spring, but in seven short months it will be, so I thought I’d get a jump on the season.)
I didn’t have the stomach to tackle the refrigerator door (the place where old condiments go to die), so I decided to ease into cleaning with my clothes closet.
I sorted through the garments looking for ones to weed out, and was struck by the advanced age of many of them. While I wasn’t looking, I discovered that (much like me, my car, my house and most of my possessions) they had entered that twilight period where they weren’t young and fresh anymore, but also weren’t able to claim renewed value as “vintage.”
As I moved them into a pile, making the hard decision to give them away, I looked at the bare hangers and came to a realization.
I need to dress up more. And I really need to go shopping.
In “Walden,” Thoreau famously wrote, “beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.”
What was he thinking?
True, in context, it was part of a larger metaphorical observation about growing as a person before you change your externals. But still. What a “guy” thing to say.
Try telling me, or just about any woman of my acquaintance, that we don’t need new clothes. Or (if you really want to live dangerously) new shoes. Who could even think such a thing? I can hardly imagine an enterprise that would not be vastly improved by a new outfit.
(Well, OK. I can imagine a few. Let’s exclude jobs that require fast-food uniforms or Hooters hot pants.)
But seriously, Henry David, you really should have reconsidered that position. Clothes may not make the man (or woman), but they make everything better. Even hanging out in the middle of nowhere near a bucolic pond contemplating the follies of civilization would have benefited from a pair of spiffy rubber boots. I’m thinking plaid.
One of the very best reasons to try new things is the opportunity they offer to enhance one’s wardrobe. Lots of times, the clothes are the best part.
Any aspiring 3-year-old ballerina will tell you that leaping around is fun, but what she really wants is the chance to wear that fluffy pink tutu. I stayed in dance class several years past my interest and ability just so I could get a pair of pink toe shoes to match.
I thought studying violin was cool in elementary school, but when I got to junior high, I discovered that the marching band got to put on sharp uniforms, whereas the orchestra wore boring white shirts and black skirts. Needless to say — and I’m sure music lovers of the world will rejoice to hear this — I dropped violin forthwith.
For years, I greeted each new challenge with new togs. I tried out horseback riding (never got up the courage to go faster than a trot, but the boots and helmet were adorable), folk dancing (who could resist those swingy skirts?), skiing (I fell a lot, but the clothes were way cute), art school (anything would do as long as it was weird, colorful and strange) and, of course, cooking school (because who hasn’t coveted a starchy white chef’s coat with her name embroidered on it?). When I started working in an office, I found the best part of the job was the wardrobe of stylish clothes needed to impress your co-workers and provide a distraction during the endless, boring meetings.
But looking through my closets this particular morning, I realized that during the past few years I have abandoned my obsession with having the perfect outfit for every occasion. And my stylish office wear is now a bunch of totally out-of-style clothes gathering dust on their shoulder pads.
Working at home, I’ve taken to wearing the same small rotation of jeans and T-shirts day after day. With my tiny wardrobe, I could be a poster child for Thoreau and his advice to wear your clothes until they fall apart.
So do I now agree with him?
Of course not.
But it is a wake-up call of sorts. I just need to do the opposite of what he said. Forget his warning to beware of new enterprises — I need to find some and embrace them, pronto. And the more new clothes they require, the better.
Forget cleaning. I’m going shopping.
I have nothing to wear.
Sweet Corn with Miso Butter, Bacon and Caramelized Onion
I was looking for a quick recipe so I could get out of the house to go clothes shopping, and one that would not require me to open the fridge, as I really didn’t want to be reminded of how much it needs a thorough cleaning. This doesn’t quite meet the criteria, as the onions take about 45 minutes to cook and a number of the ingredients are stored in the fridge, but it’s worth it.
My friend Keith recently sent me this and told me it’s one his family’s summer favorites. I can see why — it is now one of mine, too. The two things endowed with the miraculous power to make nearly any food better are bacon and caramelized onions, and this recipe includes both. In addition, the miso adds that indescribable flavor umami, making this a wholly satisfying dish.
Keith told me he leaves out the bacon to accommodate his vegetarian son. I haven’t tried it that way yet, but I think it would be equally good. I did make one change to his recipe, though: Corn is so sugary these days that the combination of it with the onions tasted overly sweet to me, so I balanced them with a touch of cider vinegar at the end.
2 Tbsp. grapeseed or canola oil, divided
1 medium onion, sliced
2 Tbsp. white miso
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
6 slices bacon
4 cups corn (cut from 4 to 5 cobs)
1/2 cup unsalted chicken broth
3 green onions, sliced (white and green parts)
1-2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
To caramelize the onions, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook, turning occasionally, until slightly browned, about 3 minutes. Turn heat to low and cover. Cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Mash and stir together the miso and butter until well combined. Reserve.
Cut the bacon into 1-inch pieces. In a 10-inch skillet, fry them over medium heat until they are cooked and slightly crispy, about 4 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towel.
Discard the bacon grease and wipe the pan. Return it to the stove, turn heat to high and add the remaining tablespoon oil to the pan. When it starts to smoke, add the corn. Sauté, stirring, until it starts to look cooked and some kernels start to brown, about 4 minutes.
Add the bacon and caramelized onion, stirring to combine. Then add the broth, miso butter mixture, green onions and a grind or two of pepper. Cook, stirring, until the broth no longer pools in the bottom of the pan, about 2 minutes. Taste and stir in the vinegar as needed. Serve hot.