Cream-coloured ponies and crisp apple strudels,
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles…
What follows is a sample of sweet and savoury thoughts that routinely run through my mind: dream-worthy bites made possible by the professionals, as well as foods, drinks, and food-related miscellany that make my life delicious. It is a throwback to the days when chain emails, Facebook note autobiographies, and magazine quizzes were as in vogue as they likely will ever be, with a tasty twist.
Any chance to rhapsodize about food and drink,
I will RELISH:
Chinese, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern. My parents gave me the gift of a childhood redolent of Chinese comfort foods: Shanghai cài fàn (cooked until the qīng cài leaves have wilted, the là cháng sausage fat has rendered, and the rice at the base of the pot has formed a golden crust of guō bā, “pan adherents” well-worth the effort of scraping), Peking kǎo yā (roast duck with paper-thin skin that dissolves on your tongue), and Sichuan gàn biān sì jì dòu (dry-fried green beans spiced with chilies and peppercorns). While I dabble in recreating these dishes, my tastes tend toward the Mediterranean and the Middle East more than ever. I embrace the Italian culinary sensibility: focus each dish on a few seasonal ingredients, like spring peas and pancetta in risi e bisi, or basil leaves tucked between fresh tomato and mozzarella slices in insalata caprese. And whether I eat in or out, I turn to meze, featuring fat balls of falafel, tureens of tzatziki and hummus, and, when I can afford them, gold bars of fried halloumi garnished with mint.
METHOD OF COOKING:
Roasting. I am a baker by nature, after all. I love to olive oil up my produce and give them some lovin’ in the oven: roots, shoots, crucifers, and fruits ranging from tomatoes to strawberries.
Carrot cake with zesty citrus-chèvre glaze, made by me. Red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, made by anyone who avoids the sin known as overbaking.
Chocolate chip cookies from Tate’s Bake Shop in Southampton, NY. Usually, I am an ardent member of Team Chewy (soft oatmeal raisin cookies are my jam), but these crispy cookies from Tate’s melt in your mouth like no other.
Hard: Gouda. Semi-Hard: Comté. Semi-Soft: Jarlsberg. Soft: Cambozola. But really, just about anything you can slice onto a water cracker or smear on a round of baguette. I grew up on cheese, albeit of the everyman’s American and cheddar varieties. Cheese was responsible for my rolls, which rivalled those of a sumo wrestler.
A tie between riso e cioccolato fondente from Giolitti in Rome and pistacchio from Gelateria La Carraia in Florence. Future trips and further taste tests may be required to break the tie.
Baked Alaska from Oleana in Cambridge. It inspired my pairing of pavlova with ice cream. And it motivated my baking of Baked Alaska brownie bites, delicious and safe for vegan and gluten-sensitive foodies, but still nowhere near as transcendent as that beautiful Baked Alaska, a mountain of meringue with burnished peaks, encasing coconut ice cream and macaroon, all encircled by a moat of passion fruit caramel.
Masala chai, purchased for a few rupees from street vendors in India. From Telangana to Rajasthan, the vessel is identical: a flimsy plastic cup barely bigger than a thimble. This size is ideal, since the tea is so hot and so sweet that I sip rather than swig it, until my fingertips are blistered and I am down to the last luscious drop. Earl Grey tea from Twinings, Gingerbread tea from Teavana, and Mexican hot chocolate made by my college freshman-year proctor also make the shortlist.
Pimm’s Cup. One of the best parts of London pub culture was the prevalence of pitchers of Pimm’s. White Russians, cava, and cider are also standbys. And I wouldn’t say no to a bottle of Ogden’s Old Firewhiskey.
MEMORABLE FIRST BITE:
Paccheri con fiori di zucca e zafferano at Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori. Hefty, toothsome tubes of pasta and squash blossoms bathed in a satin, saffron-scented sauce. The stuff of Proustian pleasures for years to come.
Olive oil. Pure for cooking, extra-virgin for making dressings and sauces, and, not-so-food-related, organic of the latter for moisturizing my face.
Also always in my kitchen: almond milk, carrots, and seasonal fruits in my fridge; banana slices, blueberries, and broccoli in my freezer; pistachios, chickpeas, and nutritional yeast in my cupboards; and cinnamon, ginger, and black peppercorns in my spice drawer.
Cottage cheese. Roasted beets with cottage cheese in the vein of borscht are the bomb. And don’t get me started on frozen yogurt and cottage cheese sundaes, a sweet and salty combination that I will defend to the end.
Truffle oil. A few drops make plain pasta sublime. (Confession: I have never actually bought any myself, but I have cooked with other people’s supply and still dream about the truffle oil pasta from Mercato Centrale in Florence).
FOOD TO AVOID:
Stinky tofu. It tastes as bad as it sounds. I will try any food at least once: ostrich, snake, loach, you name it. Chances are that I will like that food and want to eat it again. Stinky tofu is an exception.
Licking the melted residue of ice cream and gelato out of bowls and plates, and off my hands as it spills over the sides of cones.
TASTE ADJECTIVES AND VERBS:
Unctuous. Herbaceous. Quaff. Swill.
M. F. K. Fisher, Michael Pollan, Nigella Lawson, and Adam Gopnik.
FOOD T.V. SHOWS:
Top Chef, MasterChef, and Chopped. Low on drama, high on kitchen-novation.
FOOD BLOGS AND WEBSITES:
The three kitchens: The Roaming Kitchen for Cristina’s lyrical writing and seasonal recipes, The Kitchy Kitchen for Claire’s instructive videos and effervescent personality, and Smitten Kitchen for Deb’s down-to-earth recipes and delightful anecdotes. Two Red Bowls for Cynthia’s polished prose and inventive combinations. 600 Acres for Posie’s winsome words and pristine photography. Buzzfeed Food for spoon-fed material and Food52 for more curated articles. Yelp for restaurant reviews.
Trader Joe’s. I could have thrown What’s Good at Trader Joe’s in my above list of frequented food websites. Needless to say, the amount of sadness that I experienced upon discovering that I will not be living within a twenty-mile radius of Trader Joe’s for several years was embarrassing.
A hand mixer. The KitchenAid® Stand Mixer may be on every baker’s wish list, but I attribute my bulging biceps (ha!) to regular whisking, mixing, and beating workouts.
FOOD-RELATED SHEER INDULGENCE WISH LIST ITEMS:
Cookbooks upon cookbooks, Le Creuset® cookware and bakeware, silicone mats, microplane grater, grill pan, waffle and ice cream makers, ample granite countertop, a bite (or five) of Le Calandre’s signature saffron risotto, private pastry lessons from Jacques Torres and pad thai lessons from a Thai street vendor, and to be cursed at in jest by Gordon Ramsay.
PEOPLE TO COOK WITH:
My sous-chef sister, little J-. Cooking + Baking + Eating + Life Partner, A-. My mama could not make the cut, only because cooking with her usually means her cooking and me eating everything she feeds me.
TIME OF DAY TO EAT, PREPARE, WRITE, AND DAYDREAM ABOUT FOOD: