Thursday, June 16, 2011

learning curve

If you ever want to feel completely inept, start a new job. Even if you are the only person in the entire world with the particular skills and talents to do said job, you'll still feel like an awkward, bumbling mess as you try to remember everyone's name, figure out a new routine, and learn the various ins and outs of your new workplace. It's just the way it goes. And eventually, once you get past this rough phase, it becomes old hat. Here's hoping, anyway!

After my first week at my new job, I felt so mentally exhausted that I almost burst into tears at the grocery store when my friendly neighborhood cheesemonger asked me how I was doing. It was so embarrassing, getting teary eyed next to the olive bar. "You can do it," he said. "I believe in you."

Fortified by his unwavering confidence in me, I continued my shopping. There was lunch to be made for friends the next day and anyway, if the cheese guy thinks I can handle it, I probably should believe in myself, right?

Leaning into a knife and chopping a big mess of vegetables always helps me forget my troubles. That night I made pan bagnat, a rustic Nicoise-style tuna sandwich on a baguette. I blanched skinny haricot verts, chopped up a bell pepper, some olives, marinated artichoke hearts, and a handful of tiny tomatoes. To this mix, I added a handful of chopped parsley and a little vinaigrette. I wrapped up the long sandwich and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight so the flavors of the salad could meld together and soak into the baguette. Hence the name, which means "bathed bread."

The next morning, I made tartines (open-faced sandwiches) of dijon mayonnaise, avocado, sliced radishes, and hard-boiled eggs on little squares of pumpernickel. I sliced up the ban bagnat and arranged everything on platters. I made a fruit salad of summer berries. I set out a bowl of potato chips and made a fresh pitcher of iced tea. It was like an indoor picnic--a good thing, because it was raining outside.

Our friends arrived with their adorably chubby baby girl in tow, and we all sat around looking at her, admiring her tiny feet and soft skin. A newborn tends to suck the air out of the room. How did we all start out that small? But eventually she dozed off and we ate the sandwiches and everyone said how good they were and had seconds and thirds.

Something clicked for me as I watched my friend hold her daughter. Even though she has only been a mother for a few months, she knows how to soothe her baby, when to feed her, how to coax a laugh or smile. And how to wriggle on a pair of pants when baby is not having it. Some of that is instinctual, but a lot of it is just the passage of time. My friend said that in the beginning she felt like every day was going to be a struggle, an unending stretch of difficulties. There's so much you don't know when you become a parent no matter how prepared you are. No aspect of your life is the same. But things change, and now she is navigating new motherhood so gracefully.

Everything new seems daunting at first--having a baby, starting a new job, cooking a recipe for the first time. With practice and time, it always gets easier. Especially cooking.

Saturday lunch
Pan bagnat
Avocado-radish-egg tartine
Summer berries
Potato chips
Pan bagnat
Adapted from Food 52. If you have leftover tuna, it's great eaten on its own or tossed with salad greens.
(Serves 4 to 6 people)

1 loaf crusty French baguette
1 clove garlic, cut in half
A handful basil leaves
2 6 oz. cans of tuna (preferably packed in olive oil)
3/4 cup Nicoise or Kalamata olives, sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 cup marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup blanched haricot verts (or regular green beans), blanched, sliced into thirds
1 lemon, juiced
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Slice the loaf of bread in half lengthwise. Remove some of the insides of the bottom half to create space for the filling. Brush both halves with a little extra virgin olive oil. Rub each half with the garlic. Line the hollowed-out half with the basil leaves.

In a mixing bowl, combine the tuna, olives, red bell pepper, onion, parsley, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, and green beans. In a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk the lemon juice into the olive oil until it is emulsified/combined. Pour the vinaigrette into the tuna mixture and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon tuna mixture into the baguette on top of the basil leaves. Wrap the sandwich well in plastic. Crush it down by placing a heavy cast iron skillet on top and refrigerate, preferably with the weight, overnight. In the morning, cut the sandwich in half, or smaller pieces.


Barbara said...

What a lovely post. It's always stressful starting a new job, even if it's one you're super excited about and perfect for. You will get the hang of it, you know that, but in the meantime, it's always nice to fall back on something that brings you peace, like chopping onions, or making sauce, just like you said. Anywhoo, good luck to you at the new gig!

Julie said...

I always think if we remembered how hard things are at the beginning, we'd never do anything new. Hoping you get your sea legs quickly!

PS How sweet is your cheese guy?!

Casey@Good. Food. Stories. said...

Listen to the cheesemonger - you CAN do it!

Lisa said...

Barbara: I couldn't agree more! Thank you :)

Julie: He is THE sweetest.

Casey: Cheesemongers are so smart.

Daniel said...

What goes better than an inspirational pep talk and a runny brie? Feeling the love, Juan?

keishua said...

the learning curve can be so awkward but once you make it through that things will come more naturally.

Judy said...

Trouble with the baby thing is that you can't just go home and chop vegetables.
It does have its rewards though. Just look at sweet little Dan and his lovely wife.
And Dan, watch out for the cheesemonger.
Let me be the umpteenth person to say it, beginnings are always tough. This will be a distant memory one day.

Glad you're enjoying the napkins.

Sarah from 20somethingcupcakes said...

Congrats on the new job! What an achievement. I started mine over a month ago, which explains why I've been absent from here and other places I love to visit -- so, so busy. I'm sure you will find your groove sooner than later :)

Lisa said...

Keishua: Thank you :)

Judy: I love those napkins. Interested to see how they will wash.

Sarah: Congrats to you too! Where are you working now?

Nikki said...

This is genius. It's also a great lunch to have on a stressful day. I agree with your cheese guy completely. You can do it!

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