Did you ever wake up with the uncontrollable urge to organize your house or office? Not the banal daily kind of cleaning and straightening. I mean projects you always mean to get to: going through piles of stuff that have been cluttering your desk or your countertop for months…cleaning out your closet…organizing your underwear drawer…matching up your socks…alphabetizing your cookbooks…cleaning out your handbag…refolding your linens…tagging all the photos in your digital albums…dumping the moldy contents of the Tupperware in the back of the fridge…writing out a bunch of notes or cards you’ve been meaning to send…running errands with sleek efficiency…shopping for and cooking a scrumptious gourmet dinner from a bunch of magazine recipes you’ve dog-eared and meant to try. (Okay, so maybe not all in one day, but you know what I mean.)
Well, when I wake up with that compulsive gleam in my eye, we say that “Helen” is here. Helen is my alter-ego who channels Martha Stewart. Started probably 10 years back, when I had spent a day on a particularly efficient organizing tare. Neat as I generally am, when I proudly recounted my superhuman accomplishments to my mom, we joked that someone had temporarily inhabited my body. So we named her. Helen. Don’t know why Helen, but the name has stuck, and ever since, when my mother or sister or I were inspired to be an efficient and crafty domestic goddess for a period of time, we would say that Helen was here. I even had funky aprons made up for the three of us, each embroidered with “Helen, Queen of the Kitchen.”
Helen is always a welcome visitor. The problem is that she gives no advance notice. I can overlook the piles in my office for months, and then out of the blue one day, I just have to tackle them. And with gusto! I then go from room to room and see all the things that have been untended for weeks on end but I never noticed, and all of a sudden I simply must get them organized. I label and refold and stack and cull and purge and reorganize and file and I cook and bake like the most celebrated chef—and it all comes easily and with pleasure. I try to take advantage and get as much done as I can, because that surreptitious Helen leaves just as unceremoniously as she arrives. You can wish upon a star that she comes to visit—to no avail. And if you are indeed lucky enough to be graced by her presence, there’s no telling how long she’ll stay or when she’ll be back. You just have to make sure to book her early for Thanksgiving, and then hope to God she shows up.
Helen has been fairly elusive this summer. Being at my dad’s house at the beach, there isn’t a lot of inspiring work to be done. But lo and behold, good ol’ Helen hopped a RIPTA bus this morning and rang the doorbell. You never turn Helen away. So I made the on-the-spot decision to make this a culinary visit. I cleaned out the godforsaken narrow, deep side-by-side fridge that I’ve ignored over the last few weeks. The olives and cheeses from the Fourth of July walked themselves to the garbage. Adios, capers from 2006. Oh, so that’s where the mayo was, and I really didn’t need to buy another jar of Hellman’s. Iceberg lettuce? I don’t eat iceberg lettuce, so that had to have been from before Papa took off for Nantucket last month. Yuck. I consolidated condiments and disposed of deli and by the time I was done, the fridge was gleaming and nearly empty. All the better to fill it back up, my dear!
So off I went to find the August issue of Gourmet somewhere in the house, with Dan Barber’s exquisite blackberry cheesecake on the cover. I found a dog-eared page with a recipe for Argentinian-Style Beef with Chimichurri Sauce, and I ultimately envisioned a whole elaborate meal, made a grocery list, and went foraging. Helen likes to cook alone, so I indulged in a few movies for the boys so I could create gastronomic nirvana undisturbed. And let me just say it was one of the best afternoons I’ve had in a while. Immeasurably rewarding. The cheesecake looks spectacular, having cooked in a water bath (who doesn’t like a nice, hot bath?). The steak marinade and chimichurri taste tangy and delectable. I’ve got to hurry and get the Yukon Golds roasting, and drain and grill the eggplant before Helen takes off for places unknown.
But while she’s here, I’ll take all that I can get. I’d send her to you, but I can’t guarantee if and when she’d arrive. Helen. The babe just rocks.