Gluttony, many kinds

[links forthcoming]

I have been working toward Thanksgiving weekend for most of the fall. Busier than perhaps any other time in my life, I kept telling myself, "if you can just get to Thanksgiving, you can ..." sit down, do nothing, spend a whole day cooking, drink a lot and sleep in the next day, generally surrender to sloth and gluttony.

Not my beet salad, but something like it.

Thanksgiving finally arrived, and as it turned out, we took guests with us, and lots of produce from City Fresh, our CSA (radishes, beets, and cabbage. oh my!). My friend Jess and her family (including Z's old preschool gal pal, the divine Miss L) brought with them an astoundingly fine cheese plate, which even included fig jam and cornichons (you can see why I like this lady); a laudable apple pie, complete with impressive seasonal crust cut-outs; and a larger than average appreciation for the oddball, which I hoped would make them feel at home with my people.

Also joining us the day of the feast, was my mom's friend Pat, who furnished among other things, her family Thanksgiving specialty of chicken "pot pie" -- which is not a pie at all but a squishy comfort stew of shredded chicken and great, fat homemade noodles. She's from Alabama. A conversation with a barmaid at the Smiling Skull Saloon the next day reminded me that homemade noodles are an Appalachian/sometimes Southern thing for the holidays. (In the foothills of Southeastern Ohio, my grandmother reports, this has morphed into a festive dish of noodles OVER mashed potatoes.) If you have further information about the origins of this tradition, please post a comment.

My mother did the meat (turkey and ham, both!), dressing and gravy. My aunt provided pumpkin pies and cocktails. And I supplied the Beaujolais Nouveau and the veg. I set out wedges of red and white radishes with dishes of butter and sea salt for nibblies. They were good, but could not compete with the cheese plate. I was going to do a garlic braised squash dish, but it seemed too much, so I just mashed potatoes, improvised a creamy citrus cole slaw for counterpoint to all the rich and heavy, and made a salad of roasted beets tossed in balsamic vinegar on a bed of sauteed beet greens. There was a bit of goat cheese left on the cheese plate and some candied walnuts, so I tossed those in with the beets (did I mention how awesome the cheese plate was?). The beets were my triumph. 

When our guests left on Saturday, I had a little more than 24 hours to complete my next feat of consumption. I set out to read a complete issue of the New Yorker from cover to cover. A nearly unimaginable luxury! And not just any New Yorker, but the food issue. My hands were still stained red, when I read Alexander Hemon's ode to his family borscht.

No, I did not read all the listings, but I glanced through them. The high point there was the announcement for an improv cartooning event, exactly the kind of conceptual performance event I savor. Nor did I read all of the reviews … they don’t really apply to the food theme, so I figured they were negligible for this experience.

But the main contents of the issue, I … devoured. (Full disclosure: I didn’t get to finish the EL Doctorow short story, which is only culinary in the sense that it is set in a restaurant.) Chang Rae Lee’s memory piece about his Korean family’s assimilation and resistance through food was deft and lovely, its loose structure and tone of gentle self-recrimination both things that I would like to imitate. The article about the fermentation expert and the outlaw food movement was interesting, especially for its portrayal of a successful gay/faerie back-to-the-land commune (there are communes in my BiP, so I am always interested in non-cliche portrayals).

What really sticks with me, though, is the profile of April Bloomfield, the chef of the Spotted Pig. It was inspiring in its portrayal of someone so focused on her craft. It's a bit wonderful to contemplate the arc of someone’s life from Birmingham trade school to trendsetting New York restaurant. The aspect that makes me cringe with envy is the idea that such a person can afford to buy an apartment in Manhattan, something I fantasize about (pied a terre in the city, farm with goats and geese a train ride away ... sigh) and will likely never have. But putting my material jealousy to the side, I love that she has such a commitment to her own culinary aesthetic and yet maintains a humble curiosity about how other chefs run their kitchens and think about food. And I am instructed by the story of how she came to New York … all her talent still needed a businessman to decide to open a restaurant and hire her, backed by an armslength of tony investors to become a foodworld celebrity. Yes, it helped that she had established a respectable reputation among London kitchen workers, so that Jamie Oliver had her name at the ready when he had to turn down the job, but without her business partner and his celebrity friends’ money, she might still be sous chef on the Thames, with dreams of a pub of her own.

I've been thinking about this for several days now (and the description of Bloomfield's ricotta, butter, sage gnudi). What is the moral? That it’s important to have friends in high places? That success in the larger world is as much about luck as it is about talent? That I tend to be naive about how careers are built? Or more optimistically, that the truly important thing is to stay true to one's own passion and artistic vision? I have a feeling April Bloomfield would be content on the Thames, so long as she got to create her own dishes part of the time, but it didn't hurt that she had some charcuterie up her sleeve when Jamie Oliver called.

Last night, I was awake in the middle of the night, fretting about not having finished this post, and fretting about all the things I have yet to accomplish in my life, all the calls from Jamie Oliver I have not received, worrying that who I am now is who I will always be, feeling sorry for myself that I have no Spotted Pig of my own. There are many kinds gluttony. In the morning light, this one looks less appetizing.

Onward to the solstice, another feast ... with gingerbread cookies.

Comments

  1. i <3 u!!!

    my gram is from st. joe MO and that's southern enough for the accent and the food. she used to make chicken and noodles over mashed potatoes when i was little and when we used to go to good old bob evans, as a child i would order the chicken and noodles deluxe (i can't remember the exact name) which is somethng that she would tell me her mother made. it goes like this:

    large scoop of mashed potatoes
    place on top a biscuit that has been halved
    scoop chicken, noodle and gravy over the whole thing and then die.....or at least that's what will happen if you ate that everyday. she would make the same dish just with the biscuits on the side.

    i mean really can you ever have too many carbs!?! ;)

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  2. First, I feel so honored to have my cheese plate so honored.
    Next, you will have your spotted pig.
    More, you might consider being some kind of food critic/appreciator/reviewer, in the short term - you write so deliciously about food, and you palette is so sweetly tuned...im just sayin'.
    and finally, you are precious, dazzling and inspire awe - put that in your pig a d smoke it!

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  3. My first response is "Ick. Beets." But I am sure the salad was super fabu. Noodles over potatoes with gravy and a biscuit sounds like my idea of at least the waiting line to heaven if not heaven itself.

    I have never been a big plan maker, goal setter type. I have found that the universe manages to deliver what I need when I need it. I needed to go back to grad school, but for what I would say. Then one day a friend says he is getting into this program for College Student Personnel, and he will work at a college. I WANT TO DO THAT I say. OU had the program, AND I didn't have to take the GRE's to get in. AND they offered me a full tuition scholarship. Alrighty then, I will take what is behind door #2 thanks. I think a lot of life is less plan making and more listening and being open to the possibilities, and having the courage to go through the door when it opens. You have extraordinary talent, but there is no ONE right way to put it to use. Live your life, do what you need to do, and be open to those chances that will appear. NO REGRETS is also important. Do whatever you are doing to the best of your abilities, do it full out and even if you don't write the great American novel, or have that farm or whatever, you will have done whatever you did fully and without regret. I am never going to be Ella Fitzgerald, but by GOD I am going to sing whenever the opportunity presents itself. Scares the shit out of me every time but its worth it.

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