Life is too short for bad coffee, and other life lessons from 2013
2013. Looking back on the year that just passed, whizzed by insanely fast, I have to say it was an amazing, utterly blessed, year for me. I traveled to remarkable new places, ate passionately, and loved the people in my life deeply. The New Year has never been a time for me to look back with regrets or sadness at what was or what might have been, but to appreciate what I learned. And, oh boy, I learned a whole bunch.
I discovered that guacamole always tastes better in Mexico, for breakfast, and with rustic corn tortillas sticking happily out. I realized that my most memorable meals this year were not even eaten in restaurants, but while staying in, while cooking together. That coffee is always better in bed and most assuredly more delicious when someone else makes it for you.
I know now that no matter how healthy it is, beet juice just tastes like dirt and no matter how ridiculously trendy it is, I still can’t get enough fresh kale. Really good bread and salty butter is always worth every single calorie and, often, can be the best meal in itself. I learned that I am desperate to return to a more food-focused career and that cooking for a hungry teenage boy is more rewarding than anyone I have ever cooked for before. My adoration of veggies grew exponentially, my tolerance for meat plummeted, and my obsession for grains has now rooted itself deep in my being.
I have learned Q-tips don’t go down the toilet.
2013 was the year when my favorite meals, it seems, were not much more than staggeringly good bread with a bit of soft cheese, crisp bacon, or a drippy tomato luxuriously laid on top. Looking back, my most important food memories of the past year were definitely not multi-course tastings menus, or even from hipster hotspots, but while sharing simple food, when cooking with people I love. Taco Tuesday. Roast chicken. Christmas crepes.
It makes me sad to think that this is the time of year that many folks look back on the previous one with regrets, things that they maybe would have done differently; calories they wish they could undo, fitness regimes not adhered to, or relationships not paid enough attention to. I continue to remind myself on a daily basis how very quickly life passes a person by. I cannot bear to think about a single minute being wasted with regrets, fear, joyless living, or — gasp! — a bad meal. There is no time for bad coffee.
I have never been a “resolution maker,” but instead, I wake up every day with goals for that day. Yes, to walk a little further, a little faster. To drink (maybe) a little less cream-filled coffee; Possibly, a little more green tea. Each day, I am determined to resist the temptations of the ice cream aisle, to resist spending money I don’t have on that fancy chocolate or that obscure bottle of Italian liquor.
I do wish to learn more this year, to finally perfect a biscuit recipe, roast that most perfect chicken, stir fry a respectable Chinese dinner. I feel a certain gravitational pull of the South. I am determined to continue the rediscovery of my roots, investigating the flavors of my family, my background. This year, if anything, I resolve to devour every new experience with utter joy and to drink deeply all the love in my life.
Advice for the New Year
Eat only what makes you feel good. Cook more. Sit down, share meals you love with people you love. Eat passionately; don’t eat when you’re not hungry. Be hungry, all the time. Drink wine from the bottom shelf. Eat only good bread. Buy a lot of veggies, from the farmers market. Cook something that scares you. Cook together. Have sex, in the kitchen. Perfect one recipe this year. Make your life delicious.
The ten best things I ate in 2013
- Bouchon’s mind-blowing Epi baguette and sweet, salty butter, with pink Champagne.
- The farmer’s toast with drippy black figs, über creamy ricotta, and sticky honey from the Fremont Diner.
- Cream-filled, made right when you order it, clam chowder from Hog Island.
- Della Fattoria’s BLT, perfection in every ingredient.
- My whole exotic, happy-dance inducing, dinner at Pok Pok, Portland.
- My memorable birthday paella at Suite D’s girl and the gaucho dinner.
- The gorgeous, wild seaweed salad at Sushi Ran.
- Super thin, crispy artichoke hearts, dunked in garlicky aïoli from the Thomas in Napa.
- The skillfully made, beautifully presented, chicken liver mousse at the Woodfour Brewery in Sebastopol.
- The crazy-good, fried Brussels sprouts from the Fremont Diner.
What these food-obsessed Sonomans are looking forward to in 2014
John McReynolds, culinary director, Stone Edge Farm. “For me, nothing beats food-centric travel. In just a few days I will join a group of Sonomans for a culinary cruise to the Caribbean where I’ll be teaching cooking classes onboard the ship. I’ve been invited to return in August to Tecate, Mexico to teach my version of healthy cooking at Rancho la Puerta and September will find me in Morocco hosting a culinary tour with Access Trips, traveling and learning about Moroccan food and culture.”
Andrea Davis, farmer, Quarter Acre Farm. “I am looking forward to the 2014 growing season, trying some new crops varieties, like dried beans and watermelon, as well as growing old favorites, like Black Dakota popcorn, and as always continuing to improve Quarter Acre Farm’s soil.”
Ari Weiswasser, chef-owner, Glen Ellen Star. “Erinn and I are going to Mendoza/ Argentina and then down to Chile. I am working at a restaurant that exclusively with wood fired cooking. Watch out for wood oven cooking and vegetable driven restaurants. I really think this is the year for both.”
Ed Metcalf, chef-owner Shiso Sushi & Grill. “I am most excited about an upcoming new direction at Shiso that is taking place. We have an amazing Japanese chef who hails from Morimoto and Roka Akor in S.F. He has joined our team and we will be re-launching a new concept this summer.”
Favorite quote of the year
“I must learn to love the fool in me — the one who feels too much, talks too much, takes too many chances, wins sometimes and loses often, lacks self-control, loves and hates, hurts and gets hurt, promises and breaks promises, laughs and cries. It alone protects me against that utterly self-controlled, masterful tyrant whom I also harbor and who would rob me of my human aliveness, humility, and dignity but for my Fool.” — Theodore I. Rubin.
Thirty-second rant: Resolutions!
Hurumph! Get fit! Detoxify! Cleanse! Diet! How about we just wake up every day, of every year and just try our very hardest to be the best, healthiest, happiest human beings we can be? Everyday, start fresh and try your best. Stop with the junk, the sugar, the food that you think will make you feel better, happier, and then just doesn’t. If you screw up, just start again tomorrow. Be good to yourself, love each other, and do your best. Every day.
Hog Island Clam Chowder
I whipped up this chowder last week and it was super tasty and surprisingly easy! I love that there is no flour to thicken it, but you use a bit of the potato cooking water instead. The result is a fresh, creamy broth surrounding a mass of tiny sweet clams, and chunks of rustic potato, carrots, leeks and bacon. Serves six.
- 1/2 pound high quality bacon, diced
- 1/2 stalk celery, thinly sliced
- 2 large leeks, white part only, thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 2 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
- 3-5 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 8-10 small-sized Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered into bite-size cubes. Do not peel.
- 6-8 pounds small, raw clams in the shell, rinsed
- Good salt and fresh-ground pepper
- Chopped Italian parsley, for garnish
Place clams in a colander in the kitchen sink and rinse under running water. Pick through and discard clams with broken or open shells. Allow clams to drain in the sink while you prepare your stock base. In a large stockpot bring 5-6 cups of water to a boil (no salt) and cook the potatoes until al dente, or just before fork-tender.
While the potatoes are boiling, in a second heavy-bottom pot, melt the butter with the thyme. Render the bacon in the butter and thyme (over low heat, careful not to burn); once bacon is rendered, add leeks and celery, cook until vegetables are translucent. Add carrots and cook until bendable without breaking. Add the potatoes and 4 cups of potato water.
Add clams to a large, heavy bottomed, sauté pan over medium heat. Ladle the chowder base on top and cover the pan, simmer for about 5-6 minutes, or until the majority of clams open. Skim through and pick out any clams that have not opened. Add the cream and bring the chowder to a simmer. If it is too thick, add in more of the potato water. When the chowder is bubbling in the middle, it is ready to serve. Pour individual servings into a large soup bowl. Serve garnished with cracked pepper and chopped parsley.