Thursday, February 24, 2011
The way to a man's heart is through his...
As I write this post, there are four dozen freshly baked gingerbread cookies still warm from the oven, covered in crackly sweet sugar, cooling on my kitchen counter. Food Network is muted on the television and I now have visions of homemade chocolate pudding dancing through my head. Giada and Ina both made cous cous which I take as a sign from the foodie gods that I should imbibe in some Middle Eastern cuisine for dinner tonight. On the bucket list for normal people are things like travel to Hawaii, go sky diving, and learn to ski. On my bucket list are things like eat the tempura fried bacon at The Red Cat, try the toasted marshmallow milkshake at Stand, and indulge in something, anything, by Eric Ripert.
Some people eat to live. I live to eat.
I don't have too many memories in my life that aren't directly (or in some cases, indirectly) connected to food. There are the more obvious ones like devouring my way through the cheese cart at Picholine, a dining experience I'm still paying off - but was worth every penny. There was the birthday dinner at Le Cirque where my date and I actually forgot to talk to each other, a very rare occasion, because the food was so damn delicious. Or the time my boyfriend and I drove all the way to Boston for lobster bisque in a bread bowl. Pure heaven!
Every New Year's I've ever spent with my parents has been rung in with lobsters, champagne, shrimp cocktail and crab dip. I work hard trying to re-create my mother's crab dip recipe: I'm sure she's holding out on her secret ingredient! Her "mushy chicken" can drag me out of the deepest depression and I'd rather eat that than any gourmet meal a superstar chef could prepare. My grandmother's Swedish meatballs are famous in our family and it took her hours to roll out hundreds and hundreds of them. She'd probably roll over in her grave knowing we buy packages of frozen Ikea imposters now, so please don't tell her! My grandfather's tomato garden was a legendary summer tradition, one that my father and I still painstakingly carry on year after year. He insists on peeling them the way his father did - first a dunk in boiling water, then shocked in an ice bath. He does this with his bare hands which I am never brave enough to do, seeing the skin peeling effect the process has on the tomatoes. Yet I tend to the herb garden (with all fourteen herbs) and my father and I both pray that just one batch of our sauce comes even close to his dad's Sunday Gravy.
Food, to me, represents love, tradition, family and friendship. It is a religious experience - one to be shared.
Every time my little brother comes home from the Coast Guard, he asks for my parents to make him Chicken Parmagiana and for me to make him chocolate chip cookies. The chicken dinner is always delicious - after all, what could be bad about crispy breading and melted cheese? I must admit with deepest shame though dear readers, that the cookies I make him come from a bagged mix. Betty Crocker to be exact. I've made a lot of desserts from scratch in my day and nothing comes close to these cookies. I put my own spin on them of course, but it's warms my heart knowing that my brother and I share a bond that cost me $1.79 and 12 minutes in the oven! We don't have much together but he and I demolish a tray of these with every visit. My little way of saying I Love You to my military hero.
Even my fondest memories of being overseas are flooded by the food I was eating. I can tell you where to get the best gelato in Rome (Il Giolitti - right by Piazza Navona), the best crepes in Paris (walk away from the Champs Elysees and tourist traps - head towards the parks), the best churros in Barcelona (the little breakfast place near the flower market with the huge orange tree outside that they actually make your orange juice from), and the best deep fried Mars Bars in Edinburgh (the chip shop with the tin ceiling imprinted with roses and thistles - on the corner near Prince.) My London food memories are a little less pleasant. Not being able to find a turkey to celebrate American Thanksgiving, curry powder in everything, and paying $14 for one box of Oreos. Oh, and if someone could please explain to me why they butter the bread on EVERY sandwich, I'd appreciate it.
*Note to England: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are delicious. Peanut butter and tomato is fucking weird!*
Of course, not every food experience is a good one. I have been attacked with surprise peppers enough times that I am terrified of even the "best" restaurants now. You don't really know an establishment until you've thrown up in their restroom. There was the amazing seafood place that didn't put peppers in the crabcakes (YES!!!) but chopped them in with the corn relish on the side and "forgot" to mention that. Kinda put a damper on the evening. There was the week in New Orleans that I managed to survive five whole days without getting sick in the gumbo / jambalaya capital of the world before Emeril LaGasse's restaurant hid cayenne in a macadamia nut cookie. That sucked. The worst one had to be at Disney World when my cinnamon cream cheese hot pretzel was accidentally switched for a jalapeno stuffed. That tied my stomach in knots worse than three straight rides on Space Mountain!
Yet despite the imminent danger at every turn, I crave excellent dining experiences the way most people crave sunlight. I feel like good food is not a luxury for the elite, rather a necessity for the fulfilling enjoyment of life. It catches me offguard when I meet a person who does not share this same view. Someone who thinks Kraft Mac n Cheese isn't just for kids. I'm as big a fan of comfort food as the next guy but having sampled Daniel Boulud's truffled mac n cheese, I fear I may never be able to return to simple life. Having eaten real Italian pizza while sitting across from the Trevi Fountain means that I can never go back to Domino's ever again. Food is a part of me, my family, my culture, my life. It is essential to my well-being. I don't know how to be with someone who does not understand my passion.
You see, I've rather harshly judged men in the past based (partly) on their concepts of food. Frankly, the guy who showed me the picture of himself on a billboard brought about his own demise! Everyone else I have gotten to know slowly and usually over conversations about food. Michael and I discussed bacon on our first three dates! Spidey Watch got a second chance because he showed me the best place to get tapas and chocolate martinis. Both the Jewish historian and the "100 pounds heavier than his picture" guy tried taking me for chain Italian. Sorry boys, but if it's in a Rite Aid shopping center, I can make better at home. Trekkie virgin was too nervous to eat anything in front of me and I can't have that. Oh, and don't even get me started on the man who would only eat brown food. That guy needed serious therapy.
Perhaps it's because I've been reading so many cookbook memoirs lately. Perhaps it's because I want to write my own. Perhaps it's because I've been dating men who just don't "get" me in the kitchen. Or perhaps it's because I haven't found my culinary soul mate yet. Something in bugging me in a way I can't describe. Yes, I want to be with a man who loves me but I also want to be with a man who loves what a crazy baker I am and how I cannot imagine life without lasagna. I want a man who thinks it's adorable that I eat ricotta like it's yogurt or that I stash chocolate truffles around the house for emergency cravings. I want a man who understands my deep seeded need for all things hummus dipped and feta stuffed and phyllo wrapped. And why sometimes, just sometimes, I have to make fudge at three o'clock in the morning.
If you need some late-night reading / love stories, might I suggest:
A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg - her blog Orangette led to both her book and her husband
The Gastronomy of Marriage by Michelle Maisto - her marriage is one of Southern Italian vegetarian pledges I Do to years of Chinese tradition
I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti by Guilia Melucci - one failed relationship equals one great recipe and there are so many to choose from
Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard - when an American girl falls in love with a Frenchman, cheese and pears are sure to follow
My Life from Scratch by Gesine Bullock-Prado - what happens when Sandra Bullock's sister gives up life in LA and moves to Vermont to start her own pastry business? Yumminess - that's what!