As New Year’s Eve approaches and the year comes to a close, many readers and writers scurry around to find the perfect New Year’s resolution. Meanwhile, I spent those last few days reflecting (and, okay, I’ll admit it, looking for a resolution – the true overachiever in me coming to life). Both happen to be gifts to you – my readers. Looking backward, a nostalgic recap of my culinary adventures and discoveries in 2013. Looking forward, a promise to post more frequently in 2014. Happy New Year, and happy reading!
The highlight of my culinary year: I actually got graded for writing about food…while in France! I truly experience a month in heaven – complete with croissants, crepes and calissons – thanks to some old friends that let me crash in their loft (Michelle and Kelly, you are the best)! I adopt a daily routine of stuttering broken French at the market and exploring gourmet food shops before noon, writing in the afternoon, picking up a baguette (or better yet, banon) on my way home and sitting down to a several-course meal with my hosts and their friends in the evening. Though that description simplifies the meatier part of the trip into a simple reduced sauce, plenty more details are available in my articles.
I crave crepes, but at least my pants begin to loosen. Valentine’s Day is celebrated with a batch of homemade raspberry soup – one of my absolute favorite foods, which I traditionally was only allowed to eat once a year, for our all-red-and-pink Valentine’s Day celebration. Friends finally forgive me for gushing about it for the past three years. In fact, all I hear from them is silence, as they lift their spoons for another bite.
The Wilson and Johnson families venture to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for spring break, where I discover that guacamole isn’t so bad. In fact, it’s delectable, and becomes my obsession for the remainder of 2013. Meanwhile, Maya gets a virgin margarita when she orders a regular, and Papa tries steak tartare, which is actually quite good considering it is raw meat.
A culinary drought appears for the duration of the month, though I do rekindle my obsession with lemon bars.
It is graduation time, and I enjoy all of my Northfield favorites a few times before leaving: a hoagie from Hogan Brothers Acoustic Café (fondly known as Ho Bros), a bagel from Goodbye Blue Monday and barbecue chicken pizza bagel from The Cage. Four years later, I finally win the battle against my mom: there is no cake at my graduation celebration (though, to be fair, there is no party this time).
This month, it’s water – or ice, rather – that is monumental. Dry ice, to be precise. My friends and I smirk at trucks selling ice for an overinflated $6 each under the smoldering heat at Bonnaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. Luckily, Nadia was obsessed with researching Bonnaroo and read about the dry ice survival tip. It keeps your food, drinks and coolers cold for the entirety of the festival. Once you take perishables out of the cooler, however, you’re on your own – it’s just you, your warm beer and the Tennessee sun.
My friend Noelle and I start living full-time in a dumpy, un-air conditioned place with spotty internet on Grand Avenue in St. Paul. Life is blissful; the August heat has not yet arrived and we have not yet discovered the mouse. Eager to explore our neighborhood, we make it only a few blocks before finding our three St. Paul favorites: Ciao Bella (gelato), Grand Central (internet, coffee, crepes and lemon curd) and Shish (breakfast, lunch, dinner). One day in Grand Central, a barista tells us our witty banter reminds him of Lorelei and Rory Gilmore. It’s the best compliment one could imagine.
Noelle and I venture to the state fair and try chocolate cheese curds. They sound better than they taste. We shamelessly see Hanson – boy band from the 90s – perform. No regrets, except for maybe hearing their new album.
A few days later, my new boss forwards me an email. This time, it’s not an article to edit or a project to complete. It’s a foodie newsletter, ripe with opportunity. I am introduced to Kitchen Window, an enormous kitchen store in downtown Uptown, Minneapolis, and sign up online for my first cooking seminar.
Nadia and I attend the croissant seminar, delighted that there are samples, slightly disappointed that is a demonstration instead of a class. We receive a $10 gift card for going. I use mine for a whisk to recreate the magic that is lemon curd (read: July). A week later, I return to Grand Central; theirs was my first love and remains my only. Mine just wasn’t the same.
The great croissant crusade begins. My friend Rachel comes to town from Colorado, and I seize the opportunity to have a tea and croissants gathering. My roommates return from a movie on Friday night to find me frustrated, holding a not-so-perfect ball of croissant dough. They cheer me up by using it to play catch in the kitchen, sculpting a dough ball and glove. The next day, I start again, using a different recipe. The dough works; unfortunately, I forget to adjust my butter block from the other recipe accordingly, and end up with croissants in a butter flood. My friends eat them anyway. They truly are great friends.
I spend the first half of November convincing my dad that this year, we should have homemade stuffing. The second half, I spend convincing him that my hands are capable of making it. He grudgingly approves the recipe I send him, and appears to be lost on Thanksgiving morning. One daughter took over the stuffing, another the potatoes. All that was left for him was the turkey. I am disappointed by the stuffing; he likes it. Karma?
Exactly a month after my birthday, on December 26, my family ventures to downtown Madison for dinner for a belated celebration. Upon realizing the restaurant stole the spot of an old favorite, The Continental, which shut down a few years back, I become slightly bitter. Upon tasting the appetizer, my bitterness disappears. We order plates, small and large, at 43 North, and everyone in the family leaves satisfied. It may be the first time all of us have agreed we’d go again.
Here’s to another year of culinary adventure!