The things eaten and enjoyed

The things eaten and enjoyed

I went out to dinner at Grand Cafe in South Minneapolis recently with Gogo and one of her friends from Chicago. We ate steak tartare with boquerones, chicken liver mousse, pork pate en croute with savora mustard, wilted spinach salad with lardons, boozy rum cake for dessert. It was the kind of dining experience that holds your hand and teaches you how good food can be; how good food should taste and feel, and then leaves you defeated as though you’ve been crushed by a cleaver to the chest, the remnants hanging onto the edge of your lips and fingertips. Food rooted in the French tradition on which we’ve based culinary excellence for hundreds of years. We tipped our waitress. We bought a bottle of champagne in gratitude for the kitchen. The next night, I smoked a joint and ate a platter of local cheeses at home on the couch. I only meant to have one or maybe two pieces, but I couldn’t stop cutting more until the entire block was gone. I finished it with a piece of dark chocolate from Madmoiselle Miel’s chocolate shop on Kellogg Boulevard and then collapsed onto the couch until morning. “It doesn’t have to be fancy, you know.” Gogo tells me. “Good food is anything that tastes good.” I made macaroni and cheese from the box, found some grapes and watermelon in the fridge, drank a beer from the can, opened a bag of chips and sour cream. “Food is meant to be eaten and enjoyed.” There’s something sexual about the way garlic smells cooking in butter. I made tomato butter for...
“86” clothes: What we gain when we take everything off

“86” clothes: What we gain when we take everything off

It was a feeling from day one, indescribable in a single word. So many different words came instead; words that came and come to mind looking into wandering eyes with wondering eyes like hers. “I want something to eat. And if there isn’t anything leftover when we’re finished, we’ll simply make more.” When things were still withheld and unsteady. When our imaginations ran wild and unchecked. When tension that could be cut with a knife was used to make Japanese udon noodles from scratch instead, and prepare dishes we knew would taste both different and the same, familiar and new, every time we sat down to eat. When words fail it is fingers and toes, breathlessness and beating hearts, inexhaustible passion and heat of the kitchen that reminds us why we stand so close to each other. Why we fall asleep intertwined, all knees and cheeks and sweet words left on the pillow. Because feeling and flavor are inextricably linked. Some people (many people, other people) don’t need much to be happy. They don’t need decadent meals, or the time spent over stoves and ovens. They don’t appreciate the plates so well composed that they beg to play the notes of Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt. So beautiful they could be placed on the wall next to Van Gogh, Dali, Renoir. We do.   A recipe for candied orange peel Ingredients: 2ea large oranges, 1/4in cut off top & bottom 4 cups sugar, in 4 different cups 3 cups water   Directions: Cut the peel of each orange vertically into 4 pieces Remove each section and cut into segments 1/4in thick Cook...
Apple sweet, coffee dark & bitter

Apple sweet, coffee dark & bitter

The Asian markets along University Avenue have anything and everything you could ever want to buy: They have the things that Minnesota’s Scandinavian, Irish, and Eastern European base will recognize, and then everything else brought from the far Eastern Asian countries along the Mekong River: Salted duck eggs, fresh quail eggs, pickled chicken eggs, Thai basil, live clams and frogs. Noodles – a wall of noodles. Hot sauces made from red chili. Coffee with sweet milk. It’s a wonderful thing, especially those who enjoy expanding their knowledge of food and their palate. A resource for everyone. It was not long ago that a farmer grandfather from Monticello looked at sushi with confused and disapproving eyes. Fried Chinese was acceptable, but, what in the hell do we need all these other things for? And he wasn’t necessarily wrong – he wasn’t wrong in the sense that regional authenticities deserve as much attention as all the new things flooding our grocery markets and restaurants. We forgot long, long ago what the Native Americans, the First Nation, indigenous populations were eating here before Europeans arrived. And now we have all of those foods, plus every single other food that has been added since then. It’s become quite crowded, noisy even, and if you don’t know how to navigate this new and exciting and ever-changing world of food; how to keep up and how to appreciate the beauty of diversity in diet, you’re going to retreat into the things you know – the things on which you were raised. Familiar things. Things that make you happy. Like my grandfather did. And it’s never really going...
We’re always searching, our culinary tongues, for something new to taste

We’re always searching, our culinary tongues, for something new to taste

Going out to a restaurant, i.e. going out for breakfast or brunch or lunch or dinner early and late, is not only about the food on the plate in front of us: It’s a culinary adventure; an experience designed to create sensations we don’t have, will not get, and cannot recreate, at home. The pros: Many new restaurants doing many new things, changing, every day, and always. The cons: Well, we don’t always need these things. Sometimes simplicity is enough. A man is hungry A friend told me once that he was very hungry for Chinese food. We rattled off for him a long list of Chinese restaurants in the Twin Cities. Does he want takeout? No. Something fried or something fresh? To sit down for dim sum? Does he want noodles or does he want rice? No. He wanted something he had never had before. We looked at each other and shrugged. He wanted a trip to China, deep into the heart of the country’s largest cities to find foods that hadn’t yet made it across the ocean and probably never would. He wanted to go deep into grain fields  and pastoral settings where a full meal is something to be cherished and respected. The flavors that can only be found where they come from; the things that can only be had where they grow and have grown for thousands and thousands of years. Global cuisine has allowed us to have so many things at our fingertips. So many tastes and dishes, so many cultures recreating their homelands right in front of our noses. Should we celebrate eating...
Thoughts on cooking at home

Thoughts on cooking at home

Many things I make for myself to eat at home I would never serve to anyone else. Many of the things I’ve made are strange but I eat them anyway. When the kitchen cupboards and refrigerator and counters are at my disposal then it is time to experiment, cooking what is available and hope that it turns out. And if it doesn’t, I eat it anyway. Usually. Especially when funds were low and the cupboards, refrigerator, counter were mostly barren. It was an episode of “Chopped” just to get dinner made and on the table. Okay, chefs. Here are your four ingredients. Because there were only four ingredients left in the kitchen before we had money again to go grocery shopping. Always rice – a big bag of it in the corner. Often potatoes. Canned black beans. Tomatoes if we were lucky, though they never lasted long. Sometimes pasta from the back cooked in an old bottle of red wine turned to vinegar, with those leftover pine nuts and some long-gone basil in a drawer. Ample amounts of salt and black pepper. And always, always some sort of hot sauce. And when it got worse than that we stole loaves of bread and peanut butter from the gas station. The friend with the largest Carhartt jacket slipping a 6-pack of shit domestic beer out the door because the buzz would help us forget our situation. I was caught once with a deli sandwich stuffed into my armpit. Turkey and cheese with mayonnaise. I pushed the man who grabbed my arm and dropped the sandwich. He let go. I ran. I’ve...
Restaurant run: Low light for food, fantastic, and categorical phantasm

Restaurant run: Low light for food, fantastic, and categorical phantasm

We are at the restaurant after the gala. It’s our restaurant. The lighting is low, except for the menu cards lit with lights almost neon, garish and hanging over the service station like the dashboard of the old car your mother used to drive. We speak in your voice; the way you speak; the way you talk to the one you love simply, the one with whom you share a table, a meal, a drink while casting sidelong glances at other tables to see what they’ve ordered, if they are enjoying it, are they enjoying themselves? Where will they go tonight after the throbbing streets subside? The server stands table side and is a short man with dark hair slicked back long behind his ears. He glistens in the changing light, a layer of sweat on his forehead. Candles on the tabletop, dripping wax. He pours wine with the nose of someone who doesn’t like to be wrong. Who would never be wrong, no, not in the presence of such treasured and esteemed patronage. “The autumn composition, miss,” he says with a voice that recalls Rome and other empires long gone, “Beneath a magret de canard. The season is fantastic and it will be the chef’s pleasure to prepare it medium rare.” “For you, sir,” he says, “the squab.” But we smell the richness of the glace de viande and Soubise, roasted pear and blueberries, vinegar, wine the way kings and conquerors looked down on their meals of great conquest. Like the skin of pure and perfect women waiting in sheets and velvet, and the carved statues of great...