Next on the List

mango bread

I am a compulsive list-writer. I live and die by the “to-do” list. Although my home screen is cluttered with those little reminder notes, I prefer making my lists on stark white computer paper in ballpoint pen. I don’t like lined paper; my words can’t fit into those predetermined spaces, their importance limited, obscured by their confinement. I use journals sometimes so I have record of the previous day in planning the next, but I also revel in recycling the printer sheets and starting over — a sign that Day=conquered. I enjoy nothing more than marring the page with my crossouts., moving along like a diligent worker-bee, and adding and rearranging the tasks as the day rolls on.

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Take Me Away

pineapple sorbet & rum-coconut friands

I’m not at all well-traveled. Sometimes I foolishly think that I am; my love of food and my cookbooks have been my passports, my tour guides. Although the physical journeys have been few, through self-teaching and reading, I’ve traveled the globe. I’m a curious cook and an adventurous eater (within reason). It may take years to learn Arabic or months to fully understand, to easily breath in and exhale, the cultural mores of a foreign region, but one bite of something new can bring you cheek to cheek with a nameless stranger on another continent. In that bite, you can learn practical things — what crops are fertile, what flavors most popular — but you can also dig a bit deeper, feeling the pulse of the region and what moves its people. Take North African couscous. Not just the mini pearls of semolina, but the dish itself. Large trays of sandy stewed and jewel-like ingredients. It’s a symbol of family, community, patience, care.

The farthest I’ve traveled physically was to France on a ten-day trip with my French class way back in high school. I appreciated it, but I know I didn’t take from it what I would if I were to go today. I was just too young. I can’t help but think it was a wasted opportunity. I couldn’t possibly see the world at that age in focus when I wasn’t even grounded in my own.

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Pies & Tarts

new-school banana cream tart

I cook for fun, I cook to eat, I cook to discover, but baking makes me feel something. A loaf’s slow rise helps me value simplicity and time, a multi-layered torte grounds me in the discipline it requires. In my heart, though, I am a baker of pies and tarts, as simple as they are in comparison. If I owned a bakery, I would be tempted to limit its offerings to these two things. The pie makes everyone smile. The tart is a canvass for combining classic flavor combinations or experimenting with new ones.

When I read the words of other pie enthusiasts, I usually find adorable stories about “Grandma’s Strawberry-Rhubarb” or “Mom’s Custard Pie.” I cannot reference any such history. In fact, while I have plenty of food memories, they don’t come from a long line of anything in my family, really. My grandmother doesn’t deal with crusts. My grandfather shares my love of pie – eating it, not making it. My mother stopped baking when I started and at that it was always just quickbreads and cookies. And my father can barely tell torte from tart from taco. Oh, and half my family lives 6,000 miles away, across ocean and continent.

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Lunchbox Memories

tuna-packed piquillo peppers

tuna salad with mayo, black pepper, and chopped celery. white bread (crusts off, naturally). green grapes. carrot sticks. wheat thins. a peggy lawton cookie

That was my standard elementary school lunch. The memory came to me a couple of months ago when the good folks at Food52 started tweeting and posting “Amanda’s (Hesser) Kids’ Lunch.” Unsurprisingly, twins Walker and Addie eat better than I do on most some days. On a scale from Lunchables to Amanda’s Kids’ Lunch, I think mine sat respectably in the middle. That’s not too bad considering that access to information about “good food” wasn’t as egalitarian when I was that age as it is now (thank you, internet).

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