With another year ending, I get a little reflective over 2014 and of my eating. Mulling it over in my head, I chronicled my year with food, cooking and eating as spurring me forward. I still marvel at my ever changing tastebuds. Now that I’m firmly planted in middle age with no way of going back, I know it it’s my tongue that is leading me forward.
Growing up I never even comprehended that I would physically get to be in the places that I’ve been nor did I ever think that I would eat and roast cauliflower once a week or make bread every other. It was Shasta grape soda and the rare Filipino Chicken Adobe stewed up by my father. As an enlisted Navy man, these were rare occasions since he mostly was at sea. With my Southern-bred and Caucasian mother, it was a can opener and a can of Campbell’s “franks and beans” since she wasn’t a big homesteader. If cooking was in the maternal cards, it was a meatloaf made with ketchup, stale bread, onion soup mix, topped by shrink-wrapped Kraft cheese slices. (Is that even cheese?)
Looking into 2015, my world is rife with new opportunities of eating differently and experiencing more flavors. It’s less about surviving and more about living. Nick and I are planning an early spring trip to Mukwanago, Wisconsin, where he’s from.. Nick has told me about growing up with his siblings and ice fishing in the winter, the mighty Green Bay Packer fans and town fairs where everything is fried. Twinkies. Onion Rings. French fries. Pretzels. Oreos. All coated in batter and cooked in oil. (Yes, please.) Served with beer. (I started running again just to keep up with eating.)
We’ve also discussed going to Miami where Nick lived for over 20 years. With Cuba opening up, Miami is going to be a glorious hotbed of traditional Caribbean infusion; even more so, I suspect, than
before. (I’ve been to Miami once. I ate at Versailles, walked Lincoln Road but stayed at the Four Seasons which isn’t in the Cuban area nor near South Beach.)
For work, there are, as always regular trips to New York City and San Francisco. Last year, I felt so grateful for working with the much admired San Francisco culinary couple Lori Baker and Jeff Banker, of the closed Baker & Banker. They, as chefs, epitomized what I truly love and admire in a great restaurant. Extraordinary yet simple recipes that were made with love of cooking. Lori Baker’s bread and housemade butter alone where enough of a reason to go to San Francisco and plunk down eight bucks. Banker’s signature dish of Potato Latkes with House Cured Salmon was celestial; a charming yet slightly innovative take on the American deli plate.
Early in 2014, Nick and I traveled to Palm Springs where I ran into the lovely and masterful chef, Scooter Kanfer. She reigned supreme in Los Angeles with her restaurant, The House, and was one of the much lauded chefs turning out beautiful replications of American favorites like “Meatloaf & Mashed Potatoes”, “Macaroni & Cheese” and “Shortbread Animal Cookies with Milk”. She’s cooking up some of her staples and other fare at Café Tropicale. If you haven’t been there in recent months or years, it’s time to go. Scooter is one of the best chefs Southern California has produced.
The local LA restaurants that I still continue to patronize are Il Fico on Robertson and Beverly Boulevard’s Cook’s County. The latter is spearheaded by another husband and wife team, Daniel Mattern and Roxana Jullapat. They remind me of the So-Cal version of Baker & Banker. Unfortunately, the couple, as reported by the LA Times, are moving on from Cook’s County and hopefully, their love of cooking will transpire in another venue. At Il Fico, Chef Giuseppe Gentile, a native of Puglia Italy, re-creates exemplary pastas, pizzas and other regional dishes native to his homeland. The restaurant itself reminds me of a local Pugliese trattoria. My favorite place to eat is at the bar facing the rows of beautiful at the wine bottles and their Italian labels.
I guess the key thing though is that I’ve continued to cook and work which is all I really want to do. I worked a lot. I cooked a lot. Regarding cooking though, three things predominated in my digestion: Chicken, baking and sugar. That’s because Nick casually strolled into my world and he LOVES sugar and roasted chicken. It doesn’t make a difference where the sugar comes from as long as it comes in the form of baked goods. Cheesecake. Chocolate chip cookies. Peanut butter cookies. Skillet cookies. Apple, blueberry or banana crème pies. German Chocolate Cake. If it’s concoction that goes into an oven, filled with custard or topped with frosting…Nick will eat it. Let’s be clear, do not confuse candy, which can be used in pies, cakes and cookies, to be preferable. Nope. M & M’s in the cookie dough is far more delicious than eating the morsels out of a bag.
This of course spurred me on to making even more cookies than I ever have. I’ve always been one to whip up a batch of chocolate chip dough, wrap it up in foil and parchment to freeze for the occasional guest. Now, I make about two to four dozen cookies in a month, freezing them so Nick and I have them on hand to eat before bedtime.
There is also the revelatory “No Knead Bread” that I discovered (always behind the 8-ball…that’s me) which has allowed the baking of my own bread. Sandwiches. Croutons. You name it…I make from this easy bread baking recipe. It comes from the Sullivan Street Bakery recipe but was adapted by the cooking enthusiast and New York Times writer Mark Bittman. Now, I’ m perpetually making my own loaves about every two weeks. When I lived in New York City during my twenties, I made puff pastry which I labored over for days before a cocktail party which was honoring a Francophile. I was making Cheese Straws, which in my youthful head, I thought were the sophistication of sophistication. They seemed innocuous enough to attempt yet become laborious appetizers and with that…I was done with baking. Of course, this was before the internet, computers and smartphones and now I can find recipes for baking that are really easy like “No Knead Bread”. (We call it the “Ice Age”.)
Lastly, the chicken, mostly thighs, which Nick and I have roasted, baked, skinned, fried, boiled, dredged and whatever else you can do to the plucked bird. Mostly, we roast chicken thighs with the skin side up, drizzled with olive oil, squirts of lemon, chopped rosemary and garlic and salt and pepper. Cooked for about 35 to 35 minutes, making a crunchy skin and succulent meat fortifies us for the evening, when served with a salad. The leftovers we nibble on for lunch.
In 2015, I see more of the same. More work with really great people like Jim Burba and Bob Hayes, who hopefully will have a stage production in New York City, the opening of San Pedro’s 26,000 square foot, craft brewery, Brouwerij West, and really great food.
At the end of 2014, I don’t think I have been more content in my life. Sure, I have my anxiety attacks…who doesn’t but I feel at peace…and cooking has really been an important personal action in maintaining that balance.
It could all fall to pieces….but as long as I have a place to cook and eat, I think it will be okay. Happy 2015!!!