Saturday, December 11, 2010

Food Adventurer's Goals for 2011

Nation, I am both anxious and a Capricorn. I, therefore, live my life in list-form, desperately crossing off what I've done to demonstrate - to myself I suppose - that I am alive. This is not stated to elicit pity. Rather, I hope to offer a model of living to other anxious Internet seekers who have late-night existential angst.

And so I am developing my 2011 Food Goals which I will share here in hopes that a public(?) forum will keep me on task:

In no particular order
1. Dinner with Calvin Trillin.
Mr. Trillin is my favorite food writer and I have many favorites. His obsessive quest for the best food in every American town during his journalistic travels in the 60s, 70s and beyond seems so ahead of its time, food-wise. I inhaled The Tummy Trilogy and recommend you do too. Thanks to my kinship with many writers, I have a 2-removed connection to Mr. Trillin and just mailed him a letter yesterday requesting a meal together when I'm in New York next month for a conference. Who knows? My writer friends have a vast continuum of responses to their fanbase's outreach. Plus, I offered to pay.


2. Alinea
Molecular gastronomy is not a new thing these days but it's still new to me. Ever since reading a fabulous play-by-play by one writer/eater whose essay wound up in the 2008 Best Food Writing, I've wanted to drop some a whole lot of money in this Chicago restaurant and take the culinary tour of what is chemically possible in the realm of food science. I have cause to visit Chicago this April with my bestie and my girlfriend and it's ON.

 Fruit on a Stick, Beijing, China.

3. Haw berries on sticks in Beijing
I won't bore/gross you out with what's happened to my right kidney but assume I've reprioritized my life thanks to recent health scares. Bodies break down, we die. And there is SO MUCH FOOD to eat before we finally do.  I'm going back to China, a country I love  dearly. Traveling in China is one giant culinary goal because the food is so amazing and so varied but one taste I need in 2011 is the sugar-coated Haw berry on a stick in Beijing. You see these everywhere; peddlers bike them around town in winter. 

In 2000, too depressed to leave my dorm room in Tianjin, watching endless VCDs with my equally depressed roommate, we would leave only to get food. Within 5 minutes of our sad international dorm was a holeinthe wall Korean restaurant, billions of Chinese snacks, Fei Chang cola (the future will be better was its tag line), and Haw berries on a stick. So tart and crisp, they are coated in caramelized sugar and a person just gnaws them right off. Better than an American candied apple, truly.

I'm on better meds and a decade older so I will gather 3-6 of my best adventurous friends and we will travel all over China at the end of 2011 and I'll introduce them to this delight on a stick!

 4. Make and eat a classic Beef Wellington
For some, Beef Wellington is a typical holiday meal. I've never eaten one since Christmas Eve in my family meant poker, drunken fighting over what time to leave Aunt Carol's, cold cuts on a tray, and me watching Gone with the Wind with my cousin on the rec room floor.

Beef Wellington represents more time and money than my family members typically put into food, except for the time my dad built a brick grill pit in our backyard to entertain his work buddies. 

Before I need to call my therapist for an emergency phone-session, I'll move on. My gf's dad recommended I get a subscription to Fine Cooking (linked above) which I did and -behold- there is a photo essay on BEEF WELLINGTON. Old timey and old Americana, I knew it must be mine. I'll recreate the upper middle class WASPy childhood I was denied.

5. Expand my Yucatan cuisine prowess
Because I am more fortunate than I deserve, each summer I cook for writers on an artist retreat in Akumal, Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula.

A self-taught cook, I decided that if I were going to earn my keep and continue to be invited back to this paradise on the Mayan Riviera, I'd better expand my repertoire. The first year, I explored Simply Mexican by Lourdes Castro and loved it so much I almost sent her a fan letter. Lourdes really breaks down a recipe into simple beauty and she gives a comprehensive shopping list and glossary of foods and spices. In year 2, I expanded with Diana Kennedy's Mexican Cooking and The Essential Cuisines of Mexico for which the writers were grateful. This year, my 3rd annual summer as a cook for a writers retreat, I want to try the dishes I've been avoiding out of fear, insecurity or plain laziness. There are a few barriers (no oven is a big one) but I now bring a suitcase of cookware and my ceramic chef's knife to use so tick tock.

African cucumber

6. Sample new fruits
Since reading Adam Gollner's The Fruit Hunters, I've suspected/feared I will have wasted my life if I do not devise a way to taste coco de mer.

I'm lucky that I've tasted some fruits that the dead and dying back in my little town would consider rare: buddha's hand, dragon fruit, lychee, mangosteen, durian, miracle fruit (as of tomorrow), the aforetomentioned haw berry and more. I even bought a Grapple one time in a Columbia, Missouri grocery store.What's horrific is how many edible fruits there are in the world that a person never even learns about let alone tastes!

Time to get on with it! How about jack fruit, cloud berries, heritage apples, ice cream beans, jaboticaba, kinbaran, fresher mangosteen and everything that is pictured above that I do not know the names for.

California has a large rare fruits growers community that is reputed to be nearly unpenetrable.  But I have endless charisma, so penetrate I shall! Read Gollner's book. It's incredibly absorbing and you get very existential wondering what you've spent your life doing in lieu of hunting rare fruits. Then come with me on a roadtrip to California rare fruit growers where we will do unseemly things to try new fruit!

1 comment:

  1. LISTS! and GOALS! i love it. i am moving to SF just for FAC. brilliant post.