Tapenade. I've been an enormous fan of it for years, since I discovered that it satisfies not only my near-constant hunger for salt, but allows me to honor my ancestors without having to try too hard. It's a flavorful homage with a sharp, French twist, which suits me just fine. It is earthy and basic. Any sort of tarting up should be avoided.
A little while back, I received a phone call from my friend Lyle:
"Hey, uhhhh... Mike? So... Cybele and I just got back from Mexico and saw that Chipper just laid and egg. Cybele was wondering if you wanted to come over and eat it."
Do Canadians eat anything that is distinctly Canadian? What, if anything, defines Canadian cuisine, let alone Canadian breakfast? Poutine? No, that's Quebecois, which simply won't do since, Olympically speaking, it smacks of Montreal and is therefore too 1976 for my tastes. I cornered a Vancouverite the other evening at work, asking her if she could help me think of anything that was distinctly Canadian and, more specifically, British Columbian I could prepare. All she could come up with were Nanaimo bars. At least it was something. I decided to stop asking questions when her boyfriend suggested Hawai'ian pizza might do, since it had Canadian bacon on it.
But there was something else tucked into that crispy tortilla which made my tongue heated up. A lot. He threw in peppers. Scotch Bonnet peppers. Craig and his girlfriend Shannon had just started dating and were trying to out-macho each other on the Scoville scale. As an occasional participant in their bizarre, heat-related courtship ritual, I considered myself a wimp when it came to such things, but I continued to eat. My eyes burned, my nose began to run. After a couple of bites, I was in discomfort; after a couple more, I was in pain.
The gulping of hot tea did nothing to help. The swishing of orange juice around my gums only seemed to spread the heat everywhere. I had never eaten anything so hot in my life. It was horrible, yet oddly delicious. And then something unexpected happened.
2009 was a rough year for restaurants in San Francisco and (if January is any indicator) 2010 isn't going to be a bed of truffles and lollipops either. As a 20-year veteran of the restaurant industry, I cringe.
Have you taken a look at the list of restaurants that closed their doors in the past year?
January is rather king-heavy in its celebrations. At the beginning of the month, we've got the baby Jesus, who some call the King of Kings; right after that comes the birthday of Elvis, the King of rock and roll; and, finally, there is Martin Luther King, jr. Holiday. Three kings. Count 'em.
It was all too perfect to pass up.
Rather than make a straightforward, Jesus-oriented King's cake cake, I could celebrate all three kings by adding three different kinds of beans.
I don't much feel like being clever today. My thoughts are 3,286 miles away in Port-au-Prince-- a city I have yet to visit.
Perhaps it is the fact that I live in a city that has been devastated by earthquakes in the past and will be, undoubtably, devastated again that the earthquake in Haiti has taken up so much of my attention. The thought of those people I love most in the world killed, or trapped alive by fallen concrete and steel is something I wonder if I would have the strength to bear.
Fortunately for us, we have strict earthquake-driven building codes. We have support and money and infrastructure-- what little of that the people of Port-au-Prince had is destroyed or severely crippled.
Haitians need food, they need shelter, they need clothes, and they need medicine.
And, no matter what Mr. Limbaugh says, they need our sympathy and our money.
As my mind turned to thoughts of lunch for the week, I couldn't make up my mind as to whether I should make a batch of chicken salad or egg salad. The annoying old chestnut "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" came to mind? Frankly, I had no idea. It's a frustrating scientific/philosophic question that has no business complicating my luncheon plans. But I thought about it some more.
See these Greek coffee grounds? They just told me my future.
I am sitting here, wired and edgy from two cups of the stuff, trying to let my mind become open to what the residue left behind is trying to tell me.
And I am not entirely sure what to make of it.
Of course, there are a lot of people who might not know what I'm talking about, since I have encountered a hell of a lot of people who don't even know what Greek coffee is, let alone what Greek coffee can tell a person.
As it turns out, Mele Kalikimaka really is the thing to say on a bright Hawai'ian Christmas Day. So, in honor of all my friends from The Islands Big and not-so-Big, I am saying "Merry Christmas" with a big bowl of poke. Of course, since this is a Holiday piece, I felt it necessary to make this raw tuna dish look as Christmas-y as possible, under the circumstances.
As we were all gathered around the coffee table chatting, I asked my friend Rebecca what she had been up to.
She told us she had recently worked some swank party for 500 or so guests that had employed some 80 chefs, Rebecca being one of them. Apparently, it was so swank that she was not allowed to specify names or locations. What she did mention, however, was that she was in charge of making fritto misto for all 500 guests. In other words, fried seafood platters for the entire population of Dow City, Iowa.
"Wow. five hundred?" I asked, "How many bags of Fritos did you go through?"
This winter, one of my several drinks of choice is a nod of solidarity with my half-frozen Swedish brothers and sisters-- glögg. It's festive without trying too hard, it's simple to make in large batches, it's warm, it's delicious, and, with the help of a little brandy, it really helps take the edge off the Holidays. And, of course, it's just plain fun to say. If you're not quite certain how to pronounce it, just sidle up to a Swede-- they're a friendly lot.
I have always had this thing for Southern people. I don't know exactly what it is about them, but I tend to collect them much in the same way I collect Canadians and Edward Gorey first editions. Maybe it was my obsession with Gone with The Wind at age nine, or maybe it was the fact that, at the age of five, I insisted I was a Southerner because I was from Southern California and could argue that Anaheim was at approximately the same latitude as Atlanta, Georgia.. There are lots of reasons, really, but none of them are really very important.
To someone like me, who may have the bad fortune of having holes in his pockets, but the good fortune of having nothing burning anywhere near them, it makes sense to spend the Friday after Thanksgiving holed up in order to recover from the orgy of food, wine, friends, and family.