Here’s what they don’t tell you about blogging: it’s random. Crazy random. Unless you have a mission – you wish to share model railroad layouts, or describe one cloud shape per day – blogging is ebb and flow. What to say, what to cook – and why? One answer came from What Would Katharine Hepburn Do? where the wonderful Susan Champlin recently tagged me to reveal things. Random things. Oh, luck! A randomness mandate. I thought it would be fun, free-association yammer with no tale, no recipe, no point. But no. I made a list, and then lists. I listed by food, by year, by feeling; I struggled to shape those bits until it became clear they were no longer random at all.
This is not new. If given a deliberately vague task I freeze and wait for purpose, which often doesn’t show but finally did, when I carved a mission from this meme-me-me: I’d share seven foods from my past, each with a small story. You, dear reader, pick the one you like – or the least boring, whichever comes first – and the most-voted food gets cooked and blogged here on Simmer, recipe, story and all. Thank you, Susan for your too-kind words and, indirectly, the gift of one blogging day made a little less random.
S’mores Tarts Baking at an upscale Chicago pastry shop, I was expected to devise new desserts for the case. New desserts that would please both customers and our novelty-driven boss who, if he sensed a trend, would have sold chocolate-dipped pig ears and motorized cake. I came up with S’mores tarts, novel in 1995, composed of graham tart shells, milk chocolate ganache and fluffy house-made marshmallows which we would – big finish – set ablaze in front of the crowd. Seemed like a winner, and all went great until we actually blew out flames, and a lady in the window shrieked heavenward that she’d seen our spit hit the tarts. So much for blaze theater.
Curried Mushroom Soup In high school Behavioral Science class, we had a semester-long project in which we’d be pretend-married to another student, and live on a budget, and work out issues, and all types of situations designed for maximum teen discomfort. One assignment required hosting a dinner party with other “couples,” and after planting my pink Converse Hi-Tops at mom’s stove to make Curried Mushroom Soup – a mature-sounding dish from her files – I served it in our dining room to twitchy, bickering pairs who’d rather be somewhere else. Dabbing soup off my ripped jeans, I considered that this might be how adults spent their days.
Stuffed Leg of Lamb In a combined young-bride and young-chef disaster, I once pounded, stuffed and rolled a boneless leg of lamb to entertain Greg’s law firm colleagues. The evening started with our crotch-sniffing Dalmatian and a clogged sink, continued with undercooked, untied lamb and finished with a wailing fire alarm. In truth, the mustard-garlic-whatever stuffing was delicious – but who among you would ask me to do it again?
Tortelloni with Gorgonzola Sauce In the post-college summer of 1990, Greg and I backpacked around Italy. One night in Bologna we splurged on a real restaurant, a place called The Black Cat, set on a square with flickering jar candles, wrought-iron tables and people in clean clothes. After slurping cheap red wine we ate carpaccio with parmigiana, lemon and capers, fat cheese-filled tortelloni in Gorgonzola sauce, and tiramisu. It may be the wine, the summer or the fact that an argument caused me to leave, walk away and come back, but it is still, many dinners later, the best I ever had.
Linzer Torte The classic Austrian dessert is just fruit jam under latticed almond crust, but the buttery dough is tricky, melting, fragile. Especially if you’re rolling dough in a small city bakery in July, and daft owner lady won’t pay for air conditioning, and still takes orders for Linzer Torte. You might get heat stroke and threaten to quit, right there over the breaking dough. Yes you might. But you’d never blame a torte this good.
Marjolaine When I ran a catering company, The Happy Ending, I supplied restaurants with Valentine’s Day desserts. One year I filled an order for 300 pieces of Marjolaine, a labor-intensive classic made with hazelnut meringue, genoise, and two buttercreams. At the time I worked out of my house, and with no catering staff and a sleeping toddler, it was just me and Marjolaine in the all-night kitchen. For hours I baked, whipped, stirred, threw spatulas and wept. All the while I Love Lucy played on my tiny kitchen TV, the Scotland episode where Lucy dreams it all. I know this because I saw it three times; I was at my table so long that Nick at Nite ran it three full times before sunrise. Three. If you vote for Marjolaine, rest assured it will be well-planned. One cake, no Lucy and Simmer off to bed.
Spaghetti Carbonara When I returned home on college breaks and my sister was in high school, we liked to whip up this spaghetti-bacon-egg bonanza late at night – and for a short obsessive time, every night. When I picture the bubbling cream and parmigiana and yolks it boggles my mind, a mystery how I made it through those snack years without total stomach collapse, or gaining 500 pounds. Because that would surely happen now if, at 42, I began lounging with midnight TV, two-liter Diet Cokes and pasta straight-from the-pot. Iris was my Carbonara ringleader, insisting the more cheese, more spaghetti, more talk shows the better. Our parents were asleep, we had metabolism on our side and to flop down and share one blue bowl again, even a few strands, my stomach would gladly say yes.
So. One of these memories gets cooked. If it’s Marjolaine or lamb, please give me plenty of notice so I can prepare, respectively, with extra sleep and string.
Update 1/28: WINNER! S’mores Tarts it is, announced here. Voting over, but if you wish to leave a request – like lamb, oh you people – feel free. And thanks for playing along.