Saturday, April 11, 2009

Marking time

Spring has me considering things old and new.

We've had resplendent weather this April, with a mean storm now and again. Such lovely days make it hard to imagine being anywhere else. Beautiful weather floors me. My senses go wild, and I want to hold on to every waking moment. Such concentration is exhausting. I don't know what it is with me lately, but I've been adamant, downright stubborn, about not letting go: I want to jar everything beautiful (good and bad). I think I've hit my stage of revolt: Time is going too fast!

The other day I received a package from a dear friend. She and I had the pleasure and privilege of studying in Cortona, Italy, for fall semester 2002. During a recent conversation, she mentioned that she was digitizing Cortona photographs and that I should expect a package of prints in the coming weeks.

That stack was more than I bargained for. I was floored by time.

Who knows what latent interests/knowledge we have? I've probably always had a culinary penchant. It wasn't until Cortona, however, that my interest was piqued. Maybe it was the slower pace of life, a focus on mealtime, with its hours-long pace and devotion to courses and conversation. Perhaps it was the bounty of fresh produce, cheeses, olives, chocolate, small markets, specialty shops, one-euro cappuccino. Whatever the reasons, they tapped into that latent love, and I discovered the pleasure of food.

Years later, I understood its importance for marking time. I once read that a man remembered his wine by assigning a different image to its taste. A deep cabernet would evoke dark woods on a snowy night—or something of the sort. My brain works oppositely: Those dumplings? Sheer heaven in June '05. The weather was pristine, and I walked up from Chinatown in my pink tank and cocoa-brown pants.

Looking through those photographs was bittersweet. My friend's keen eye captured moments that escaped my photo-journey, so I was glad to have her records for the gaps. But more than this, I was saddened by the fact that I saw myself in time, in moments that I have forgotten. I was there! I stood there. I looked angry, or hot, or elated, or captivated. How could I not remember? Why didn't such precious time matter?

Maybe it did for a while. But (to be clichéd), everything has its season. Memories, too, have their temporal arcs. They begin, grow, peak, recede, and—eventually—die. I probably should leave the process alone. Let the mind age.

With attention and care, it should only get better by year.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Fresh, direct

Life is complicated. But sometimes I make matters worse. Is it because I get high from problem solving? Find beauty in tension? Enjoy cleaning? (Too much, actually.)

Or is it to heighten the pleasure of simple moments? Simple = whole, balanced, soul-satisfying.

The other day, as I was cracking eggs for my first frittata (Blair's first frittata, age 27.8), I had my moment, smack dab in the springtime kitchen. Late-afternoon light through the cracked window, that gorgeous golden light washing the open, peaceful space. The tomato, fragrant rosemary, eggs, the freshly grated Parmesan, buttery cheddar, and grassy brie—so direct, so simple, so fine.

My mind may feed on conundrums. But this sublime simplicity is even finer.

Vegetable Frittata
(Courtesy Julianna Pletcher)

1 cup diced baking potato
1/4 cup water
1 Tbs olive oil or butter
6 scallions (green onions), white and some green parts, thinly sliced
1 cup loosely packed, fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil and parsley, chopped (note: I substituted fresh rosemary, chopped, about a tablespoon worth)
6 large eggs
3 Tbs milk
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and ground pepper, about 1/4 tsp each or to taste
1-2 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
2-3 ounces of crumbled goat cheese (note: I used brie and Wisconsin cheddar, but I'm sure that goat cheese would be divine. If you're in the area, pick up yours here.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place potato and 1/4 cup water in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with a loose lid and microwave on high for four minutes or until tender, stirring once. Or, boil potatoes on the stovetop until tender. Drain and set aside. Then, heat a medium (10- to 12-inch) cast-iron skillet, or a nonstick, ovenproof skillet. Add oil or butter and green onion. Sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add potatoes, spinach, and herbs and continue to cook for 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Turn off the heat. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet and stir gently to combine. Cover the handle with foil if it isn't ovenproof. Place the skillet in the oven and cook for 15-20 minutes until set, then remove it and set the oven temperature to broil. Top the frittata with tomato slices and extra cheese, if desired. Broil for 4-5 minutes, or until the eggs are set and the cheese melts. Cut into six wedges and serve. Could also be served at room temperature. Feel free to incorporate other veggies, like asparagus, bell pepper, onion, swiss chard, zucchini, etc.

Omnivores can throw in sausage, pancetta, or prosciutto. (But why complicate?)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Escape (roots)

Much of our experience with food (or at least my experience) centers on the idea of escape. (This isn't going to turn into a self-help diatribe.) What I mean is that I often turn to recipes or restaurants that transport me from the mundane. Lately, I have been pining for my big-city staples, as it's hard to step across the street here in South Carolina for my favorite diner eats. But even in New York, I wanted to elevate, i.e. escape, my experience by continuously trying new and eclectic cuisine. For less than a tank, in the matter of a night, I could travel to the far reaches of the Middle East and back: Behold the power of hummus.

Keeping a blog has its benefits. Beyond its value as an immediate and low-maintenance way of exchanging ideas, it is forcing me to hone my thoughts and extract them. Among the realizations that I've come upon in recent weeks is instead of pursuing avenues of escape—my most foot-worn being food—I should be as present as possible. Open my eyes and mind to the South's cultural and culinary bounty.

But maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself. After all, we all are searching—craving enlightening and enlivening experiences different (or what we perceive as different) from our own. Who doesn't appreciate tapas? To be offered myriad delectable options for composing the most tongue-tantalizing experience possible? I want the tapas of my life to be culturally, ethnically, professionally, and personally distinct, daring, dense, and delicious. Escape is okay, necessary even, as long as I remember where I am.

I will start here. And go from there.