I never knew an Oakland summer might transport me back to Texas. And yet, last summer if the house already pulsated with warmth as we woke up, we knew the day would unfold, sticky and sweltering. I contemplated visiting a mall or seeing a movie just for the coolness of the commercial space or darkness of the theater.
Talking about food is almost as good as actually eating it. Obsessions can start innocuously. Trolling the farmers’ market and tasting the sweetness of the season’s first albion strawberries. Tasting beets as if for the first time in Santa Monica. Once an obsession is in its full throes, it makes a person practically quicken creatively in the kitchen.
Is it possible that we have recreated the Tower of Babel by emoji? With the right string of icons, anyone can now communicate by smiley face or thumbs up. And, new smart phones feature them as one might find an alphabet or keyboard of letters. It’s easier than ever before to connect and communicate. Or, is it? Deep down, I wonder.
Jacques Pepin got me thinking: how many recipes does one person commit to memory in their lifetime? The question doesn’t suggest a one-size-fits-all answer but maybe you’re already beginning to rattle off recipe names or tick fingers doing a lap on the mental treadmill of memory.
When you think of maple syrup does your mind first conjure up a stack of pancakes and a warm amber-colored drizzle pooling around the edges of the plate below the tipped spoon? If there is any ingredient that can usher in a taste of fall and winter, it might just be maple. The sweet caramel notes remind me of tearing into beaver tail brioche doughnuts slick with hot maple glaze during a Quebecois Christmas. More recently in Vermont, I saw firsthand how this beloved ingredient makes its way onto menus (like the irresistible pairing of Vermont cream and Vermont maple in Maple Walnut Ice Cream) or on store shelves, in everything from jars of “maple crunch” clusters to a bag of sriracha maple cashews that both passed the carry-on permissible souvenir test.
You get used to 60 degree summers. Somehow, the body in all of its intelligence deduces how to survive in any environs. I visited India twice during the monsoon season of sticky long sleeves with sweat and cotton as air conditioner. I grew up in a place that might sound fictitious with its now “normal” climes of 110 degree weather. And at one time, I lived in a slice of the sparkly city by the bay that became blanketed by a dense fog, muting colors and making a hoodie summertime uniform. There was a time when if we got really desperate, we would leave our hovel, climb into our car and just drive in an attempt to chase the sunlight on the rare occasions when the dull gunmetal gray sky sucked all hope that sun would ever visit our neighborhood again. We ate soup in the summer. Threw the extra down blanket over the duvet. I would walk the few blocks from our apartment to my favorite coffeeshop chilled to the marrow and loving every moment of grey-skied summer humor.
Weekend warriors take on many forms. In my case, I used to reserve the weekends for cooking projects. There will be a batch of Morado Jam in my near future as soon as the first Concord grapes hit the farmer’s market. Even if my once prodigious-to-me preserving has taken a bit of a backseat, can we reflect on the idea that cooking during the weekend looks a little bit different from weeknight meals? Perhaps the time is looser and not quite so structured. Maybe you regularly invite friends over for long, leisurely meals sobre mesa. I like that European ideal that the time spent at the table can linger without all of the weekday requirements. Good stuff happens over meals.
Picture this: a get-away car, a driver, and a passenger with two cookbooks in tow. Is this you headed on a grand summer adventure? Maybe. I hope you will be excited for a spate of book reviews I’ve got coming up. Think of it as a Summer Required Reading List of sorts that will be several parts cookery and several parts poetry with a dash of memoir stirred into our class-is-out cocktail. Sometimes on road trips, I am the passenger, and I’ve always had a proclivity for reading in the car. Our first book of summer came all dolled up in muscovado and turbinado from Shauna Sever. Today, I want to bring to you hard crack. Another way of saying that is here comes a sweet surprise in Lollipop Love by Anita Chu. Do candy-makers have a special sense of humor? I hope so.
In the cold evenings of deep winter, you can get a bit desperate. Perhaps it’s the shortened days paired with the fact that our kitchen overhead light is on the fritz again, but darkness comes too soon. With it, it brings a chill that penetrates the thin windows enough to make me reach for an extra layer, slinging a scarf around my neck, pulling a knit cap onto my head or sometimes burrowing under a wedding gift of a chenille throw I call “the Moses blanket.” Between the tea cup that gets refilled as it’s emptied and roasting vegetables for oven heat, turning on your heater is the final straw in this chain of events.
If I could wish anything for you, it’s that you might know joy. In early 2014, back when I contemplated if I should make resolutions or whether I should balk at the idea of making the same resolutions for the umpteenth year, I began thinking differently about the promise of what a new year gives us. Instead of resolutions I could easily eschew, I wanted an anthem that could carry me through the unknown curves and dips of the year to come. At that early stage, I declared it would be a year of joy. What I didn’t know then is the kind of year that this one would shape up to become. What I did know is that joy sometimes is a choice and can traverse terrain where happiness might not easily go.
You know how some people became enraptured with cupcakes and dolloped, smeared or piped their weight in cupcakes during the time that that particular trend peaked? Do you remember the blocks long line to obtain the famed cronut and the intense scrutiny of bakers to try and match that masterpiece of Dominique Ansel’s? If you live in the Bay area, do you remember the kouign amann hysteria that began curling its sugar buttered edges around many a local patisserie? Or, let’s mark the time when macarons made their debut as the potential new darling once cupcakes had ceded their spot? All roads lead to cupcakes and candied bacon.