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Falling in and out of love

Falling in and out of love with foods..

Amy Sherman’s post about a fellow blogger Breaking up with Butternut made me chuckle. http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/blogs/editor/2008/02/breaking-up-wit.html?mbid=rss_epilog It’s nice to know that other cooks and foodies go through the same thing as me.. I too left the butternut for a short time when I met all his super exciting cousins, but I came back.

I fall in and out of love with vegetables all the time. I just have too many loves to pay due respect to all of them regularly. I have my annual affairs with seasonal veg like sea asparagus and corn, and during the growing season, I switch lovers every other day. Then there are the new discoveries regularly coming into the picture to vie for my attention, while the humble steady friends inevitably get brushed aside or even dumped.

In winter, I settle down and have a chance to revisit with old friends. Lately, I have rekindled ties with cultivated mushrooms after being so caught up with the wild varieties for close to a decade. This year I’m back to my old roots (celery root and parsnip), not bowing down to the Jerusalem artichoke whenever he enters the room, and now that I’ve met ‘the potato guy’, I will never ever forget about potatoes again. I recently picked up again with peanuts, pine nuts and cashews (in that order) after being so devoted to the almond for years. With my fresh coco, fava and edaname put up for the winter, I had almost forgotten about dried beans, which are perfect for a winter cassoulet, accompaniment or hearty soup. I’m still in a lBasmati phase, while Jasmine and an Indonesian long grain I once loved wait in line, the short, medium, black and sticky way at the back, almost forgotten. If I didn’t make the occasional risotto for clients, my carnaroli might be history.

I go through the same routine with vinegars and oils. I fell out of love with balsamic vinegar ages ago, favouring a good sherry vinegar or cider vinegar, until I was charmed by a certain one that I began using everywhere. I was then inspired to make my own simile version with wild grapes, and I’m back to using all of my favourite vinegars equally; they each have their specific role in my life. The same goes with finishing oils, sea salts, spices and herbs, meat and fish –all foodstuffs in fact, even wines and restaurants. I dabble here and there, changing favourites in cycles, adding new ones, ditching others. There is temptation everywhere, and a little promiscuity and experimentation with new kids on the block is a necessary part of a culinary life worth living. Some infatuations fade fast, others linger on to become a part of the family. I have less room in my pantry and on my menu than in my heart, so the less versatile, less than stellar ingredients must get the boot.

Industrial chicken and beef are long gone, never to be missed. Flavoured vinegar, caper berries, avocado, pine nut and hempseed oil, as well as most exotic fruit were all once bright, shiny and enticing, but didn’t last long in my kitchen. Asparagus is only beautiful for a month or two of the year, I easily forget about it the rest of the year. But I could never break up with the tomato (only move from variety to variety or from grower to grower). I can’t imagine ever leaving the Muscovy duck for another bird, or French shallots for any other allium. Wild ginger and crinkleroot (wild horseradish) will be with me forever, but so will regular ginger root and horseradish; they are so different, I need them all. Most edible flowers no longer hold much appeal except for nasturtium and elderberry. Sea spinach, chanterelles and porcini I will always hold dear. No matter how eco I try to be, I can't imagine ever letting go of my lemons, my roasted almonds or my favourite olive oil. 

No matter how good you have it, monogamy can get boring. Because my everyday is all about cooking with wild and local ingredients, I can occasionally be easily seduced by something common and bland like Boston lettuce, or some exotic imported treat (like a Roquefort or Comté..as opposed to a Quebec cheese) for a short fling.. It’s the greedy ‘grass is always greener’ phenomenon mixed with endless curiosity and appetite.

Of course, I can’t help but be intrigued by something new I read about or taste. Ruth Reichl was talking about this mini tangerine that Alice Waters brought her that made my mouth water. Heirloom varieties of bean, apple or tomato make me dreamy, as I imagine an even better bean, apple or tomato than the ones I know. As if I need more pig love, I’m dying to try true gianciale, an Italian cured pork charcuterie that is key to Pasta Allamatriciana which I’ve unwittingly always made with bacon or pancetta. Apparently in the Middle east , India and Greece , they eat a form of salted, dried yogurt – sounds yummy; how different from feta is it I wonder? VJ Vikram makes a braised goat dish with ajwain and kalongi curry, which I’ve never heard of – now there’s something to explore.. Then there are all the ‘molecular gastronomy’ powders and techniques that I’ve barely experimented with. You see how many thoughts of new tastes have me twitching?

There are new things on the market all the time, and more foodie talk circulating than ever about ‘new this’ and ‘must try’ that. So it’s only normal that so much breaking up is going on, that old favourites are being forgotten in favour of the latest flavour. Even if I’m still a bit of a ‘gidoune’, I think I’m on an opposite path, a slightly more loyal one. I’m obviously still into travelling and evolving taste-wise, but I’m less and less interested in food gossip and slower to jump on the new food trend bandwagon than before. I haven’t even tasted Kobe beef yet if you can believe it. Part of my slowing down has to do with more time in the country and my locavore leaning, part of it is just growing up. I’ve already had many adventurous eating and cooking years and too many flings. Sea urchin, tomatillo, Meyer lemon, smoked paprika, bison, goose liver, agar agar, tonka bean and molecular gastronomy are all examples of prior relationships that although fun, turned out to be fleeting. I might be happy to meet up with them again for a brief encounter, but I can live without them, mainly because I have enough right here to explore and keep me stimulated.

And so with time, and so much coming back to exes after break-ups, I have come to value my closest, dearest companion ingredients the most, and learned not to take them for granted. I have gotten to know myself, have grown more selective and am less likely to be wooed by what’s new, trendy, rare or expensive. I wouldn’t break up with home-grown boletus for truffle or morels just because the food snobs deem them superior. I wouldn’t substitute Nordic shrimp for any other more ‘noble’ crustacean, or snow crab in season for any other crab just because ‘they’ say it’s bigger and better. I am fiercely loyal to our Atlantic Malpeque style oysters, regardless of how many flashy Pacific and European stars are touted on menus about town. I don’t care to taste another kind of salt, I have my five favourites, more than enough for all purposes, and if I want to add a flavour, I will do it myself thank you. After flirting with every kind of basil or mint out there, I’m back to the classic peppermint. I don’t need another thyme besides the English one. I’ve realized that for every twenty things that come out, one might potentially have staying power.

You only find true love by really living, which means trying and tasting with an open mind. Luckily with food, many lovers are allowed, and they will always have you back after a tryst with some young hot thing. In any case, the really good things, whether old or new, stand the test of time and continue to charm for years. While some come and go, others become as essential to your well being as air, water, sleep and coffee in the morning.

Posted on Wednesday, February 6, 2008 at 12:33AM by Registered CommenterNancy Hinton in , , , | CommentsPost a Comment

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