2014 was a hard year for my in-laws in some ways, because of losses of beloved members of the family. However, there were also ways in which the year was incredibly sweet, because in loss they bonded around each other fiercely, becoming closer than ever through creating memories and sharing evenings together on back porches. One especially perfect September day stands out – J had been getting Husband and I to look for fondue pots all over town and we’d gotten enough of them to have a blow-out fondue night for the family – look at this spread! The dessert fondue was double dipped – you could spear a marshmallow, dip it in caramel, and roll it in graham cracker crumbs… to die for! What was more wonderful, though, was the way we lounged outdoors all evening listening to music and periodically dancing to the 80s jams, and the way the chimenea was stocked with wood to keep a fire going all evening. It was the way this family rallies around each other to create joy; in no small part, this joy convinced me that joining this family would be a wonderful choice (Husband himself had something to do with it too 🙂 ).
Most people don’t love sitting on the curb to eat their meal out of a paper-board box, but when it’s part of a food truck rally, it becomes a much more exotic notion. While travelling, Husband and I visited a food truck rally that allowed us to see a huge variety of trucks, and what I liked best was that they tended to specialize: instead of trying to serve 50 different meals, they had 3 meals with a couple customizable parts. What food trucks lose in gas efficiency (brick and mortar don’t have to pay gas to move around!) they gain in inventory efficiency – they can pretty regularly stock up and sell down all their supplies. It also makes me feel like I’m getting their most delicious fare, because I don’t wonder if the other 49 menu items are better. Having a big squad of food trucks allows a group to buy multiple items and sample a wide variety of dishes, creating a down-home version of the high-fallutin’ “tasting menus” of fancy dining. If you want variety, these rallies are where its at!
One of my college roommates, E, got married 2.5 years ago, and this picture of bags of marching cupcakes down the hall in her home reminds me of how much food plays an integral part in social rituals. While flowers and lights, dresses and invites, all play a huge role in the way a wedding happens, the dinner or snacks, drinks and dessert that are served are almost always planned down to a tiny margin for error. E chose cupcakes for portability (they didn’t need to be cut!) and, in this case, because they tasted amazing. It was fun to be a part of the backstage for her wedding; at the time, I was probably far more blissfully ignorant of how hard she’d been working than I should have been, but I got my comeuppance 1.5 years later, when I found myself biting into my own cake samples and choosing what would be served at my wedding.
It isn’t always better because it’s deep-fried, but the state fair in a Southern state is always going to try to deep-fry whatever you throw at them. I don’t actually enjoy these foods objectively (that day, we ate the fried nutella, which was just a warm version of a chocolate croissant in the end), not more than other foods or the foods themselves minus the puffy brown batter, but I feel like there is something unique to Southern families, a kind of anticipation. This anticipation has us buy lumps of indiscriminate dough and look at each other, forks poised. We think that someone will back out, will say “this is going to kill our arteries.” But this game of chicken ends and we try the food, and our mouths are full of richness so thorough that you should never eat it, but if you are going to eat it, you should definitely share it with someone else whose eyes are just as full of glee and rebellion as yours are.
My sister doesn’t indulge in eating out often, so the week I joined her in Georgia and we each did homework all day was punctuated by trying most of the exotic restaurants she hadn’t tried herself. This sampler had baba ganoush, hummus, phillo pockets, and falafel with sauce. While each individual item wasn’t filling, eating a bunch of tiny things was so fun because it was something to talk about with my sister that wasn’t the long essays we were each writing, her for college and me for graduate school. The past few years have been really great for our friendship, and memories like this one have helped.
J, funnily enough, was my boss for a summer, but she also went to grad school near mine and when I went to visit her, our most treasured tradition was a visit to a wonderful brunch restaurant. I’d eat my sour-cream-topped latkes and my poached eggs on black-bean-cakes and feel the spice burning my tongue while we washed down our many chats with milky coffee. She made me feel a part of her world at a time when I was in between close connections, and ever since I’ve associated sweetness and wisdom with any food we’ve shared.
My friend M and I wanted to try making something special for dinner while I visited her in her adorable duplex with her cat and N, her boyfriend. We played board games and talked and watched a silly movie and somewhere in there, we created this strange, cheese-and-cauliflower pizza crust. It was tasty but had no real binder; I think I’d have gone heavier on the egg if I did it again. Still, it made for a happy memory to punctuate the night.
This past weekend, two friends came to visit me, K and K. They both have had rough months – family tragedies and romantic trouble, not to mention that they both have demanding jobs that keep them almost constantly working. They made time to come see me, which I was thrilled about, but I could tell that what we all wanted and needed was a little bit of going back in time, to when we all spent a summer living in a house in our college town, working jobs with far less responsibility than we have now, having dance parties most nights in our living room, and never quite knowing where we were going to end up as “adults.”
We didn’t end up cooking together – too much, I think, like regular life – but we did end up at a sushi restaurant, because K mentioned how ravenous for sushi she was. We sat in a booth on a rooftop patio, and ordered food with nice presentation made from high-quality ingredients (I think? I guess it just tasted fresh and good). K, however, cracked us all up by stealing a toothpick and everyone’s wasabi cubes and making a little creation out of it. I was a little embarassed, but in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t hurting anyone, and our server was already a bit amused with our silliness… Grown women shouldn’t act this way all the time, but… sometimes we need it.
It got me thinking about how much adults benefit from being around kids – we claim, usually, that we ‘play’ in order to benefit the child, but often adults get severely burnt out from lack of play. The night before sushi, we all wanted to go out dancing in the city near where I live, but when we all ended up in our pajamas, playing a crazy game of charades, I think we had a better time. K is a doctor, for goodness sake, and saves lives every day, but she can act goofy for pictures and play hang-man on the chalkboard when we’re waiting for dinner. I think it’s part of a balanced life, both playing in general and maybe also playing with our food.
I wanted to bake up some tri-colored rotini with broccoli this week, but after so many weeks of coming up with savory sauces, I was about to cave and use a roasted garlic alfredo sauce out of a jar. There’s no shame, after all, in jarred pasta sauce and I love me a good, consistent alfredo – my cream sauces too often end up just outside the consistency ranges I expect, despite still tasting good.
When I thought of how I could mix it up a little, I saw half of a bowl of tomato basil soup leftover from Sunday, and was transported back to college, when so many of my meals involved a pasta with cheesy sauce and some kind of added veggies. We had a dining hall station where you could get all manner of veggies sauteed with garlic and oil, poured onto a plate of pasta and covered in alfredo. Once, my friend LJ came over to our house our senior year, after we were no longer eating on campus as much, and she brought with her fun, winter-themed shaped pasta, and more importantly, a jar of pink sauce! It was called vodka sauce, and I don’t know if there was vodka in it, but she said it was like mixing marinara and alfredo together, a little bit (refined palates, we were not, clearly). Still, the sauce was wonderful and since so many of my favorite memories of college involved me eating pasta with friends, I decided that I would combine my jarred alfredo and tomato soup into a pasta sauce runny enough that it would help my baked pasta get nice and roasted.
With a layer of mozzerella on top, I put the dish in the oven for a while; when everything was melted and bubbly, I turned on the broiler for 2 minutes, at which point the cheese got very brown and I had to hastily remove it from the oven. The result was delightful: the sauce was less one-sided because of the tomato tinge, and the crisp cheese counterbalanced the broccoli, which was limp but soaked in sauce so I didn’t care. I recommend pink sauces whenever you just cannot decide between marinara and alfredo, or when you just want something a little different that day. 🙂
As I usually say, I receive no payment for my thoughts about recipe boxes I review, and I don’t get approval from the companies before I publish. However, I do receive the recipe box free of charge – just want you to know the situation. Still, I don’t review products I don’t like!
Recipe boxes tend to be serious, in my experience, but what I like about this one from C.R. Gibson is that it recognizes another serious aspect of cooking: it’s all about chemistry. The bright green metal box has a typeface and style that makes it look a bit like the periodic table of the elements, and comes with a cute carrying strap on the top.
Because I’m sort of advocating that more people (and more kinds of people!) keep recipe boxes, not just newlywed ladies like myself, I like that this one has all the functionality of a regular recipe box – even tall dividers and recipe cards to use specifically with this box! – but doesn’t necessarily scream “girly girl.” It’d be a good gift for the dude or lady in your life who wears science goggles for work and also for mysterious pressure cooker experiments.
The box is one in a series called “Periodic Table of Yum,” so you can also check out other items that are connected to the series. I think it works great as a stand alone piece because it isn’t the typical wooden box or paperboard paisley box. I love the little details like the border of “elements” on the cards themselves!
The box is available here if you want to see it; C.R. Gibson helpfully lists recipe boxes under “kitchen organization,” but I think that a box like this could make a really personalized and helpful gift for anyone whose getting started living on their own!