For someone who was all “Harrumph! Cacio e Pepe Does Not Contain Cheddar Cheese.” a few weeks ago, I have some nerve telling you what I’m going to next, which is that I’m pretty smitten with an unapologetically “100% Inauthentic!”-boasting cookbook, the celebration of American-Asian cuisine that is 101 Easy Asian Recipes from the editors of Lucky Peach magazine. There are recipes for “Mall Chicken,” for Rotisserie Ramen, Dollar Dumplings, Miso Claypot Chicken (No Claypot), and then, the recipe in the dessert section that’s going to make you shut the book and never look back again, that for sliced oranges. You know, like the kind they put out at Chinatown restaurants at the end of a meal.
Is there anything more inspiring than a farmer’s market at the height of the summer, piled high with funky heirloom tomatoes, eggplants from fairytale to freakishly large, crinkly peppers, bi-color corn as far as the eye can see and stone fruits in every color of the rainbow? Wouldn’t this be a great time to cook with all of them? Isn’t it almost a moral imperative to fill our systems with as much of summer as we can before it passes and we spend the rest of the seasons pining for its return? Probably, I mean, yes, of course. But cravings are cravings, and what I’ve really been dreaming about is so-called Chinese food, like, the terrible stuff that comes unceremoniously in white boxes with an embarrassment of chopsticks (because they thought you were ordering for a dozen people, and not just the three of you). I’ve long accepted that if I don’t at least occasionally indulge cravings, they’re never going to pass.
On the very long list of things that I am convinced that other people do effortlessly while I typical flail and fail in the face of — dancing, running, walking from one room to another without forgetting what they were looking for — making dinner on a regular basis with a minimum of brow sweat and complaining is near the top.
It’s a fairly accurate indication of how charmed my life is these days that I considered the act of having to choose what I would make to bring to a New Years Party tomorrow difficult. If makes you wonder what I’d consider easy — which spa gift certificate I should use first to get a manicure before the party? Whether I should wear the earrings from this year’s or last year’s little blue box to the party? Which jet to take there? It’s all in a day of the glamorous life of a food blogger. Ahem.
According to my calendar — the one I believe I just looked at for the first time since last September, when someone made my life go all date- and timeless — the Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day fall on the same day this year. In New York at least, the Lunar New Year is an excuse to eat egregious amounts of fried rice, spare ribs and to make your way through Chinatown streets over piles of strewn red paper* from firecrackers. Valentine’s Day, however, is dominated by French food because what could be more romantic than copious amounts of wine, butter, cheese, steak and chocolate?
The fact that today is a startling 78 degrees with low humidity and the sun is streaming in wide ribbons through every windowed wall is leaving me as torn as I have ever been between my simultaneous urges to Take Walk! Frolic Outside! Drinks Beers on a Terrace, Somewhere! And come home late tonight with my skin smelling like summer and my forehead re-freckled and fall into a deep sleep, my legs twitching like a puppy who dreams about catching frisbees… and, you know, bake some things for tomorrow’s Seder. Hrm, is it actually any question what will win?
In case I haven’t broadcasted this loudly enough in the 114 entries prior to today, I tend to get a little obsessive in the kitchen when trying to find “perfect” recipes. “Perfect” is always some approximation of an ideal that got etched in my tastebuds in some other time and place — there’s salted butter caramel (Paris), bretzel rolls (a Fresh Direct discovery), frisee with poached eggs (Balthazar, 2003) and one day soon, those truffles from La Maison du Chocolat, as my wee Valentine’s Day supply has rapidly diminished. I know better than to try to go back to such a place and expect the same experiences time after time, but it doesn’t mean I can’t have warming fits of nostalgia when I find a lost flavor on my dinner plate.