Goat Cheese Puffs and Kir Royale

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We live in an age where convenience is king and attention spans have diminished to focus on a steady stream of 140-character sound bites and grab-and-go eats. Taking time to enjoy a meal or having a lengthy, real life conversation that extends beyond a thumbs up “like” on a Facebook post are going the way of the dinosaurs. A sit down meal, which used to mark a dinner with the family or close friends, is now a rare occasion involving copious amounts of preplanning and synchronization between the technologies and timeframes of various people all operating within distinctly individualized schedules. In an extreme backlash against all of this twenty-first century behavior, I am committed to make the moments that I eat actually mean something. And not something in the special way of birthdays or anniversary occasions, but special in the way that reminds me that life is in the ordinary hours. Life is right now.

The one time a week when I cook for the Cute Gardener and myself is a time when I can slow down for a moment and reflect on what I want to convey with my efforts. I am not merely making a meal or a dish but crafting an experience that bubbles up from someplace inside of me first, borne of a feeling, and then crafted outward. It is not about flipping through a list of recipes but rather culling from an internal well, something conjured that tantalizes all the senses, rather than just the tongue.

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Recently, I finished reading An Extravagant Hunger by my ex-Stanford writing class teacher Anne Zimmerman. The book was a biography of the famous food writer MFK Fisher and something that rang true throughout Fisher’s life was her absolute commitment to enjoying food and drink, even if eating solo or making a simple lunch at home. It also made me recall all the meals I had read Fisher describe in her books that were accompanied at the end by Crème de Cassis, the dark red liqueur made from black currants, which had always given me a tinge of romantic fantasy in the gut but which I had never yet tried. I researched and discovered an elegant drink, the Kir Royale, which is made from floating fine French Champagne atop a few tablespoons of the liqueur and decided to build an appetizer course around this drink; one that would equally fulfill my many deep hungers that had been percolating in my mind regarding the making and sharing of food.

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Dorie Greenspan’s goat cheese mini puffs were the perfect solution. Made from her exquisite choux dough recipe and accentuated with a whipped goat cheese filling, the resulting clouds of herb-spiked goodness added a light and airy bite between sips of the heavier, sweet cocktail. I served the drinks in fine stemless  flutes on our everyday, ordinary coffee table as we came together at the end of a regular old workday, shoving unread stacks of newspaper aside to partake in our ongoing obsession with Game of Thrones. The juxtaposition of classy bites with our regular scheduled television programming made our evening special, with nothing more to celebrate other than our lust for life and enjoying the present moment with each other—and that in this day and age is becoming ever so priceless.

Literature as Lunchbox

IMG_9728 On Monday morning as I sat at the small, wooden table I park at habitually for daily tea and my Internet newspaper I noticed that my breakfast was a hodgepodge of edibles I had discovered through my love of great literature: a pudgy square of green tea mochi and a bowl of flaming orange papaya chunks.

I first read about the exotic papaya fruit in Sandra Cisnero’s The House on Mango Street. I was in fifth grade and fell in sisterly love with Esperanza, the young Hispanic girl who documents her neighborhood characters with a sassy wit. One of those characters was Rafaela, a woman locked inside her house by an overbearing husband, whom Esperanza would see sitting at a window looking wistfully out into the street as she passed on her way to and from home. Sometimes, Rafaela would throw down a dollar and Esperanza would run to the corner to buy her papaya, which she would hoist up to Rafaela in a paper bag on a string. This caused me to eye the street side vendors in my own life, who sat with carts stocked full of tropical fruits, eternally looking for my own chance to taste the foreign papaya. Finally, on a fifth grade field trip to Olvera Street, I bought my own cup stuffed with the fuchsia fruit chunks and tasted rapture in the subtly sweet flesh that oozed messy, squirts of juice across the chest of my Catholic School uniform. Rafaela’s forbidden fruit had become real.

In high school, while perusing Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club I found myself absorbed in the descriptions of various Chinese finger foods and ritual holiday treats. I started researching across the Asian spectrum for similar small bites that loomed fantastical to my American snack vernacular. Of special interest were the glutinous rice balls filled with red bean paste called mochi that peppered Japanese grocery store aisles, beckoning like jewels of every color and flavor. Today, they are a mainstay on my tongue, fun and squishy to eat while delivering sugary protein bursts alongside various combinations of tea.

I realize that my love of and adventurousness toward food, and an early impetus in my gradual inclination to food writing, was sparked by my very early passion for reading. In my traditionally American household, I knew nothing of bagels or luscious, black moles or puffed rice with hot spices or French omelets or sexy, sensual oysters. That is, until I stumbled upon my existential crush Jean Paul Sartre’s silly food vignettes, or MFK Fisher’s remarkably independent Consider the Oyster, or Isabel Allende’s women ablaze in the humid, summer kitchens of Like Water for Chocolate, or Jumpa Lahiri’s displaced East Indian women attempting breakfast in cramped U.S. apartments in Interpreter of Maladies, or snippets within the best Jewish essay compendiums of my youth. A big part of my lust for the written word was birthed by the escapism that stories of other cultures provide. But as I look back now, I realize that these stories also became a big influence in evolving my contemporary palate.

P.S. Here’s a lovely essay from this week’s Rumpus by Chef Dana Tommasino, owner of Gardenias floating pop-up restaurant in San Francisco that alluringly combines food and literature in all the ways I love best.