A Week Without Waste: Day Three

So, where were we?  The turnip salad was fantastic (big up Bren), I hope you thought so too, so let's have a look at our list now:

mustard greens
romaine leaves
acorn squash
red potatoes
yukon gold potatoes
pink lady apples
spring onions
ground buffalo

So, as you know (I think), I'm delightfully employed at the Smithsonian Institution.  Established for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.  Don't you love how broad that is?  Translation: I sit around and think up ways to educate the general public at the National Museum of the American Indian.  In a fun, fantastic and fabulous manner, of course.  Since working here, I have been obsessed with the culinary history of various indigenous nations and have learned more about salmon than I ever thought possible.  Including how to fillet it, dress it with juniper, and roast it on a spit in an open fire.  I'll share one of these days, I promise.  Buffalo is very prevalent in Indian Country and within, you'll find it on many a menu.  Our version is actually bison, and not a buffalo at all, but we all just call it buffalo, like the boring, grey, upstate New York city (no offense to you all up north, but it's true).  Bison was hunted by plains natives (notably the Blackfoot, Cheyenne, and Comanche) and provided a map of sorts for the nomadic tribes.  It went through a period where it was endangered; thankfully, that is no longer.  Buffalo meat is dramatically lower in fat than beef and is higher in protein making it a pretty good substitute. After this recipe, I might add that I do believe I prefer bison to beef.  Figuratively, it's sweeter.

That being said, I have to tell you that I love a good burger.  Who doesn't?  If you're American, chances are you dig on a good, classic burger once in a while, it's a staple.  It's like apple pie.  On the Food Network, they devote entire shows to this favourite.  So instead of making up something totally innovative (frankly, I'm lazy today), I just went with sliders.  Easy to dress up and guaranteed delicious (kind of like Gabriel Aubry, whoop whoop!!).

OK, so speaking of being lazy, this afternoon after work, I was so intent on picking up a copy of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, by the time I got home from the bookstore, I had forgotten all about my intended market trip for burger necessities.... you know, like buns?  But isn't the point of this whole series to use what I've got?  The Week Without Waste (and unnecessary trips to Whole Foods). So check it.  This is what I had to work with.  English muffins and random cheese from the leftover scrapbin called Herve Mons Tomme Des Bois Something (not only a cheese, apparently, but the name of an old beau to boot).  Staple extras filled in the rest; an onion and a few garlic cloves.  That's all I really needed.

This is one time that I'm going to willingly and knowingly veer off the skinny little bitch path because it's SO WORTH IT!  This burger is the bomb.

Finely chop half of a medium sized onion and a couple of garlic cloves.  Season (all I used was sea salt and white pepper) and sautee in olive oil until soft.  Let the onions cool a bit then add to a half pound of ground bison.   Gently fold it in evenly and form 3 patties.  

Slice the remaining half onion and sautee with a blend of olive oil and white truffle oil (see what I'm talking about?  score!  I had it in my pantry *dusting off my shoulder*) until golden brown.  

Grill the burgers wherever you prefer, whether inside or out (if I weren't so lazy that day, I would have grilled outside, but oh well... next time), slice the cheese and let it melt on top.  Herve turned out to have a very stinky rind with a very mild flavour.  He was perfect.

Serve on toasted English muffin with a few torn lettuce leaves and the delicious, delicious sweet truffle onions.


The Deal:
I won't even tell you... just drink many a glass of Shiraz to balance it out

A Week Without Waste: Day Two

Alright, so I successfully used up a few of the ingredients on my list and I am down to the following:

mustard greens
romaine leaves
acorn squash
red potatoes
yukon gold potatoes
pink lady apples
spring onions
ground buffalo

I'm thinking I'll go ahead and rock out the turnips and a few of the red potatoes for a lovely potato salad.  When I was a kid, I hated potato salad.  It was the stepchild of the barbecue.  It looked good enough, fooling me into thinking I'd actually enjoy the side dish, but just like the baked beans, they'd end up on my plate as filler and remain there once I was ready to throw out the Chinet.  In went the plate into the trashcan, facedown, so no one knew what a wasteful person I was.  Eventually, I just learned to bypass altogether and replace with an additional helping of coleslaw.

But as I grew up, my tastebuds changed, along with the recipes, and I grew to like potato salad.  Preferably the way my Aunt Sanny makes it.  When she makes a batch, you'd better have your plate in hand and get in line in front of my mother, because if you end up behind her, you won't stand a chance.  My mother can kill a bowl of potato salad like it's no one's business.  That and an icebox pie with vanilla wafers.  Back off and watch out.  You might get hurt. 

A while ago, I'd tried turnips for the first time in a long time.  Turnips are one of those vegetables that look so complicated on the produce shelf that you're a little intimidated.  They're purple and have those beet like stems, so immediately you don't know what to do.  At least that's the way I view them.  Since I hadn't really had a turnip in years and they looked like oversized beets or radishes, my conception of its flavour often eluded me, so most of the time they got a once over and that was all.  I'd move onto the next vegetable.  I'm not sure where or when I had them again, but when I did, I realized that tastewise, they are pretty similar to a potato.  I tried them out in a gratin dauphinois and the result was remarkable.  A little sweeter than a potato and totally delicious. 

So.  Since I've got turnips on my list and it's almost barbecue time (at least once the April showers let up), I'm going to have a go at my very own turnip salad.  Inspired by Aunt Sanny.  If my Mom pushes me out of the way, and starts throwing elbows at everyone near the picnic table, then I know it's a good thing.


It's an even better deal when your mother, the potato salad princess, agrees to make the salad for you....  Thanks, Brenda!!

A Week Without Waste: Day One

Who feels me? You go to the grocery store and buy a huge lot of groceries with all good intentions. Cilantro for those black beans you intend on making, swiss chard and sprouts for that healthy green drink that will start off your week, beef, chicken, and pork because, well... you're not sure what you'll want two days from now. A week later, you're hauling half of it to the garbage bin. Herbs are my specialty. I am really good at wasting the herbs. Cilantro is by far my favourite. I'll use 5 stems and the rest will turn into a yellow gooey mess on the bottom of my crisper.
Wasting food. Americans are the best at it. If I were homeless and starving, I'd camp out behind a Cheesecake Factory and get fat off all the leftovers. Have you seen the portions there? The trash at closing must look like a buffet.
For the last 6 months or so, I've been repenting for that lone shopping spree in Costco last summer. The beef, the turkey and ham slices, the bratwurst, oh Lord the bratwurst!!  I've been diligently "cleaning" out my freezer, trying to utilize every frozen chicken breast while trying not to think about the antibiotics I was most likely eating.  I made my bed, so....

Well, the last of the Costco spree is gone, so this weekend, I took my first REAL trip to the Farmers Market this year.  Real, I say, because none of the meals I would make would be supplemented by bulk anything.  I was also determined to make a little go a long way.  Everyone says how expensive Farmers Markets can be, so I decided to put myself on a budget.  $60 and no more.  Any leftovers could be used at Whole Foods for the stuff the market didn't have. 

So I took to the streets with a recycleable bag and three twenties.  Here's what ended up in my bag:

mustard greens
romaine leaves
acorn squash
red potatoes
yukon gold potatoes
pink lady apples
spring onions
ground buffalo

I only spent $40 at the market, so I used the rest at whole foods and The Wharf to pick up some duck, flounder and salmon.

So where to start?  Admittedly, I love duck for it's novelty and richness quality, so I started with that.  I prepared a teriyaki duck that I served over sticky rice with a side of mustard greens that was pretty good, but I'll have to revisit that recipe, as it didn't quite do it for me.  I mean, the duck was delicious, but the sticky rice added nothing so wasn't the best compliment.  I had some duck leftover, about 1oz, so decided to pair it with a lovely squash soup.  Because, well frankly, I don't know what else to do with acorn squash.

My friend Lily Valle (isn't that a fabulous name?) always tells me I need more pics on here.  I have to agree, but it's very difficult handling a wooden spoon AND a Nikon D60.  Let's not even discuss the steam that interrupts the photos.  Believe it or not, I am cooking these dishes to nourish my body as well as your interest.  So I grabbed my camera before I started cooking, all for y'all!  And, of course, for Lily.

So, I was kind of convinced that pureed squash, onions, and a dash of cream wouldn't cut it for my soup, so I did a little digging to see how others used acorn.  I settled on a recipe from Emeril and rearranged it a bit to satisfy my tastes.  I got out all the ingredients I would need and started to prep.  Of course, for the full effect, I needed a bit of Scarlatti and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.  If you're noticing the icecubes in my glass, don't judge me.  1. It's a Sauvignon and I had no intention of pairing it with the soup, it was for prep purposes only and 2. I didn't use the cooling bath at the store. 

I had boiled my acorn squash earlier that day to get the skin off, so that was done.  Emeril suggests roasting it, so I was a little peeved that I'd looked up this recipe after I'd boiled the squash, but whatever.  I chopped the carrots, shallots, and apple and tossed it all in a bit of olive oil over medium heat until soft.  I then added the squash, ginger and vegetable broth, seasoned with a little sea salt and allspice and let it simmer for about 15-20 minutes. 

While that was going, I reheated the duck until the skin was crispy and sliced it up in preparation for the soups garnish.  Don't you love how I am using meat as a garnish?  How totally Michael Pollan of me.  I took the squash off of the heat and into the blender it went.  Then back into the soup pot to keep warm.  I have to say, it came out pretty well.  I sprinkled a bit of spring onion over the top, but if I had to do it again, I'd sprinkle a bit of granny apple instead.  A little sweeter to compliment the duck.  Since this week is all about waste not, want not, I decided to put to use the half apple that wasn't used and the extra carrot I had.  I had chopped a bit too much ginger, so I would recycle that too. 

My leftover bonus?  A lovely carrot apple concoction for breakfast.



The Grand Balloon

OK, so last night I had a "boys night" and went to a whiskey tasting in downtown DC. Just me, a room full of men and Johnnie Walker. Sounds like a good time, right?
By the end of the night I was almost in stitches, I was laughing so hard.

When I was about 7 years old, I made my parents take me to this seminar way out in Virginia because they said they were giving away Grand Pianos. I played the guitar, but I wanted a piano so badly I could taste it and if someone was willing to give one to me, no questions asked, I was prepared to collect, by any means necessary. So off we went to claim my baby grand and bless my parents for not bursting my bubble right then and there. Even though it didn't occur to me to contemplate how we would get this massive piano back to DC in our Volvo. Details, details... I was already envisioning myself in the living room like a little black Mozartette with my eyes closed and my fingers running passionately over the ebony and ivory keys. A dramatic inhale with every momentous note.

So we get out to Whateversville, Wherever and I'm totally confused because I don't see a grand piano in sight. Not one. We are greeted by a staff member of whatever seminar we were attending and she explains that the lecture will begin in 10 minutes and we were welcome to take a seat until showtime. My parents gave each other knowing looks, while I was growing more and more alarmed. This was not part of the deal. All I wanted was to pick up my damn piano and roll out. So we took our seats and the video started.

Two and a half hours later, we sat there still as the lights came up, the presenters eager for our response. This was a chance of a lifetime, they said. Purchasing a trailer/camper was the way to go! Just think, family vacations riding across country with all the comforts of home. My little face was as red as it was going to get, I was so frustrated. What about my grand piano???

So I piped up. "Where's the piano you promised??"

"Oh you'll get that when you leave, darlin'"

So out we rode, on the way back to DC. When we exited the parking lot, we stopped at a little vestibule with a man inside. He handed my father a large box with a small synthesizer piano inside. The synthesizer was made by a company called "Grand". It was my first lesson in Bamboozle 101.
But here I was again. I'd worked my way up to Bamboozled 401, the senior course that required the completion of 101,201, and 301 before you could enroll. This time, the grand piano at the end of the night was a shot of Johnnie Walker Blue. I sat through the spiel and watched the romanticized videos long enough to make you book a ticket to Edinburgh and be done with it. All for what? A snifter of Blue Label and two rowdy boys on either side of me. I started to chuckle when I realized that I was back in Whateversville, Wherever and I was holding my baby grand in a glass.

Nothing for nothing, my pops would say.

Though I did find that I liked Green Label more than Black and I'd definitely pick up a bottle the next time I decided on steak frites for dinner (recipe and photos to follow). I'm sure it would pair wonderfully with haggis, but I'm just not there yet.


The Southern Staple

So, I am a grandorphan. Like many others my age, I do not have any living grandparents. My paternal grandfather died before I was born (I hear he was a prankster), my maternal grandmother died when I was 15, my maternal grandfather at 26 and my paternal grandmother when I was 30. Unfortunately for me, this was around the same time I caught the gastro bug. I was just starting to love the art of cooking when Freddie decided to say goodbye a few months after Hurricane Katrina. I remember getting the phone call from my parents, lighting a candle at 11pm and heating up a bowl of gumbo. The year before, we'd prepared gumbo together in her kitchen before Lake Pontchartrain took over her residence.

We prepared many of her signature Southern dishes that afternoon. My Dad was insistent that I get in the kitchen and learn what my grandmother was doing, regardless of the fact that I wanted chill with the boys. My grandmother Freddie was a no nonsense woman who said what she meant and didn't mince words. Her rules were law and good luck to you if you broke any. She had no problem snapping you up to teach you a lesson, regardless if you belonged to her or not. She had the same bravado in the kitchen. I was almost scared while I cooked with her. "Stir harder, Lesley!" she would tell me while I made the macaroni and cheese. Do you know how hard it is on your shoulder to mix non melted cheese into hot pasta for 20 people?

My other grandmother, Lyston, was the total opposite. My parents liken her to Dorothy from the Golden Girls and now I can kind of see that. She had a dry sense of humor and though she never put up with nonsense from my grandfather (I'm SO not going to look in that closet for some silly gadget you've forgotten you have), she seemed to rule like an iron fist in a velvet glove. It must have been the Libra in her. She was silky smooth with a southern style, so when she finally got you to do as she wanted, you didn't realize you'd been bamboozled and totally played from the very beginning. She is the only woman, to this day, that can make me drink prune juice and convince me that I like it.

Anyway, for the past few months, my mom has been organizing photographs from the past 35-40 years into a collection that makes some sort of sense and every now and again, she comes across a photo or a keepsake that makes her sigh and say, "Awwww, remember that?" or "Good Lord, what was I wearing?" or "Look at yoooooooooou!! Where is my little girl? I want my little girl back". Honestly, when I look at some of the photos, I want to be the little girl again too. That way, I could pay attention when my grandmother rolled out 12 cakes for Christmas like it was nothing. That way, I could peer over her shoulder when she made my favourite chicken dumplings.

My friend Tina wrote a blog post recently over at the Eclectic Eye that almost made me cry. She spoke of her grandmothers and took a pic of an old edition of The Joy of Cooking. It looked like it had been around the block and I could only imagine all of the faded pencil and pen markings decorating the borders. I suppose, since I was more interested in my Grandfather's coloured pencils and paints than my Grandmother's cookbooks, it would make sense that I don't have those keepsakes. Now I don't know where to start looking for them. My mom always wanted Freddie's cooking spoons. I don't know why, but she swears they were the best she's ever cooked with. The Lake has those.

So when my mom came across handwritten recipes for rolls from both grandmothers, I felt like I'd hit the jackpot. I may not have the whole book and all the recipe cards, but I have both grandmothers script teaching me how to make a Southern rolls. They make them a little differently, Lyston making potato rolls and Freddie making flour ones, but that's what I love. They were different in many ways, but in the end, they were the same. They were my Grandmommies.

Random Tip #1

Never, ever use a store bought beef broth to make a bourguignon. Ever. Your kitchen will smell like a cheap cafeteria. You know the ones with the marbled plastic trays that you slide along the metal racked counter as you pass up boxed mashed potatoes, stringy brisket and jello fruit salad? Yeah.


The $5 Egg

You think I'm kidding, don't you?

I yap all the time to my friends (usually unsolicited) about the horrors of the meat selection at any average supermarket and advise them (again, usually unrequested, but what can I say, they humor me) on searching for milk from farms that don't use that freaky bovine hormone in their cows or jack them up with antibiotics. I scream about finding chickens that are free to roam their pastures and beef that is grass fed, the way nature intended. It's a lot of work to find out what's what and even more work to talk yourself hoarse about it. It's amazing how sneaky the wording of certain products can be. Basically, you have to start from scratch and say, "if it's packaged, I'm not eating it" to be sure what you're getting is honest. Frankly, it's obnoxious.

OK, so as you probably know, I am all about this sustainable farming situation. I just finished up In Defense of Food and The Omnivore's Dilemma, both by Michael Pollan, and I'm pretty inspired. Basically, in Omnivore's, he profiles 3 major ways of sustenance and the methods used to feed oneself from the easiest possible method (drive-thru) to the most difficult (and the most honest: hunting and gathering). In the middle there, he gets a gig as an apprentice at Polyface Farms in Swoope, Virginia. A farm run by Mr. Joel Salatin who is kind of a big deal in the sustainable farming community. He was also featured in the documentary, Food Inc., which basically tells you the same thing Michael tells you, but lets you sit and listen with popcorn (though you will feel guilty, trust) instead of reading the book. Joel is basically the end all-be all to sustainable and honest farming. He doesn't ship anywhere, so if you happen to be 400 miles from him, you're SOL. If you're 400 miles from him, he suggests looking for your own local farmers and urges you to patron them. He's 150 miles from me, so basically, it's on.

He's got metropolitan clubs in VA, MD, and perhaps PA, but only sells to one retail store in my area. P&C market on Capitol Hill. A cute little market with the bare necessities. Eggs, Milk, Wine, Cheese. What else does one need?

So, in the book and the documentary, everyone kept talking about his eggs and chicken. They describe the eggs as having this body and girth about them that made them stand at attention while other egg whites spread lazy and limp in your bowl. The yolks being more orange than yellow due to the high beta carotene content in the chickens diet. The chicken tasting chickenier than any other chicken. All because that chicken was a happy chicken. Strolling along, enjoying the sunshine, clucking it up with his friends. Doesn't that sound like the most Disney'd version of farming you've ever heard? I'm convinced this Joel Salatin walks around singing Zippedy Doodah and has a bluebird on his shoulder singing right along with him and people like that scare me. They hang out with people who don't drink, whom I don't trust...

I was hoping P&C would carry both so I could finally taste what honest, fresh farm food was like. I wanted to taste the sunshine, taste the pasture breezes, taste the difference! I imagined myself in a gingham dress and pigtails with fresh eggs in my basket, one step closer to that homemade apple pie. Or maybe a red scarf, a bob, and a black beret basting a beautiful roast chicken on a Friday night with a lovely glass of Beaujolais. Such high hopes I had!

Well, I went in yesterday to have a looksee and to check out my options. I could maybe pull off the pigtails, but gone was the second glass of Beaujolais. I bought a dozen eggs for $5. I couldn't afford the $26 chicken.

OK, obviously something has to be done. I appreciate the fact that P&C is offering Polyface in a metropolitan area, but $26 for a crudely wrapped bird?? Who's on crack? Obviously we are because it all boils down to green. It's about the money, bottom line. We've heard it all before, the soy and corn industries are subsidized by the government making Fritos more affordable than carrots, but seriously? I thought Whole Foods were the ones raping us every week at the grocers. Farmers are supposed to be the nice ones, the crunchy ones, the ones all about the love! If this was the only place to get the luxurious Polyface eggs and the tastes chickenier than chicken chicken (say it three times fast), then I was obviously putting my tail between my legs and going back to the place where $2.50 for a dozen eggs seemed like a deal.

So I came up with a plan.

When I handed out food baskets to needy families at church right before Christmas, I noticed that the baskets were pretty well stocked. Sweet potatoes, green beans, greens, corn, macaroni and cheese, eggs, hot dogs, a turkey, cranberry sauce and corn muffins would be cooked in the ways of countless past generations for a huge Christmas spread. I imagined kids helping in the kitchen, grandmothers swatting little hands from the cake batter bowl, and sulky preteens being made to set the table. That's when it occured to me that people were still cooking, they just weren't cooking with the right ingredients. They were cooking with the antibiotic jacked hormoned out turkey and the canned vegetables (BPA anyone?).

I'm going somewhere with this post, I promise.

I toyed with the idea of joining a CSA. Played with the idea of particip
ating in my very own version of Chopped with self proposed challenges of cooking divine meals with whatever was in my weekly bag. All with the satisfaction of knowing that my food was at its finest. In season, chemical free, and in my own "backyard". There was no guessing here, no having to decipher the labels. No freaky chemicals that are misrepresented as "organic" (which we all know, doesn't mean much anyway). If I wanted, I could visit the farms myself and talk to the people who were growing my food. I found CSA's that asked me to commit before I'd gotten a chance to court and didn't offer in season love all year round, but I also found that in order to get back to my Whole Foods pricing, I was welcome to buy directly from the farm.

Little stars starting twinkling in my head and soon enough I was throwing my head back like Blair Warner declaring, "I've had another one of my brilliant ideas!"

So, as I said before, it's on. I'm starting my very own CSA with a philanthropic edge to boot. Stay tuned to see what we can do.

As for those $5 eggs. They were noticeably bouncier, I will say. They made a wonderful eggsalad, delicious salmon croquettes and served up a nice omelet. The best egg was the last egg. Baked eggs florentine with salmon. Perfect on a snowy day.

The Deal (per serving with bread): Calories: 251; Fat: 12g; Carbs: 17g; Protein: 18g

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Sautee shallots (1 per serving) in a tiny bit of olive oil or butter and add spinach until soft and green. Place shallots and spinach in the bottom of a lightly oiled ramekin and top with a small amount of salmon. *All portions are extremely small and together should only fill half the ramekin. Break an egg into the ramekin and season with salt and pepper. Place ramekin in a shallow baking dish, pour boiling water into dish around ramekin until the water reaches 3/4 of the way up. Bake until egg whites are set (about 10 minutes) and serve with hot french baguette.


The Farce

OK, it's official. I'm a fraud. I realized when my dad answered the phone after reading one of my blog posts and said, "hey, skinny bitch". Fresh off my annual doctor's appointment, I realized I was a liar. Maybe it was my fault for scheduling this appointment right after the holidays, but apparently I'm not so skinny anymore. Apparently, I need to go back to the beginning of this journey and remind myself why I started in the first place. I've been having so much fun pretending to be Jacques Pepin and quoting Larousse's Gastronomique that apparently the butter and cream seem to have snuck back into my kitchen.

So I'm back on the wagon. I have to admit, I've gone the past two days being pretty good and safe. I'm trying not to be boring and fall into the soup and salad routine, but sometimes you just like what you like, you know? It's cold here and I keep getting Delta airline offers to whisk me off to someplace sunny and warm. Cozumel, anyone? I'm not boarding a flight anytime soon, so tonight I'm turning the heat up to 85, changing from layered sweats to a tank top and shorts and bringing Mexico to me.

Before I moved to LA for that (very) short period of time, I was your typical Old El Paso, load on the cheese, toast the shell, bring on the Corona kind of girl. But my behind can't take it and neither can my jeans, so I'm going to have to rely on that West Side knowledge of a good fish taco and modify modify modify. So think Playa Palencar, a Los Lonely Boys CD, a not so lonely Papi Rico, and a light, breezy cucumber margarita.

Head over to your local fishmonger and pick up a few tilapia fillets. One fillet will fill one taco, so buy what you need. Also pick up tomatoes, cotija cheese, cilantro, plain greek yogurt (use this like sour cream... less fat more protein), red onion, and lettuce. I find that romaine works best for its stability and crunch factors, but I might try butter lettuce next go round. We'll see. Pick up whatever else you might like, black beans, corn, whatever strikes you.

Before you grill your fish, get yo' meez in place! I'm trying to be funny here, not ignorant. Anyway, ahem, prep your space...

Crumble your cheese, chop your cilantro, dice your onion, cube your tomatoes and line them all up in a nice neat little row so that all ingredients are accessible.

Work with tilapia at room temperature. I find that you'll get a better result if meats and fish are allowed to ease into a new temperature instead of being shocked into it. That's just a little tip from me to you. Make a rub from salt, pepper, cumin, and chili powder and generously cover both sides of your fillet. Spray your hot grill pan with olive oil and grill it up. Let the fish grill until it's easy to flip to the alternate side. If the fish is giving you trouble and doesn't want to move, let it sit until it does. About 4-5 minutes each side.

Rinse off romaine leaves and slice about a 1/4" off the white end. We want them pretty. Fill with whatever's in your nice neat little row of ingredients and top off with the grilled fish. Done and DONE.

The Deal
(2 tacos)
Calories: 270; Fat: 12g; Protein: 38g; Carbs: 8

Legendary Lunches

Meet my new best friend. I am thrilled to even type the words.

Let me start you off with a story. When I was younger, New Orleans gumbo was a big deal in my house. I grew up in Washington, D.C. and was the only one in my family that wasn't reared in the deep South. With the exception of those Detroit and Chicago cousins, but whatever. So I grew up on Maryland crabcakes and a continental way of looking at food. When I took an Eastern Airlines flight down to NOLA with my parents, they'd routinely ask me, "Chicken or Beef?". Never will you hear that question on an American airline carrier ever again. Sad really, no matter that the food was borderline indigestible. Anyway, on the flights to New Orleans, I'd proudly opt for "neither, thanks!", knowing that in a few short hours, I'd be seated at my grandmothers kitchen on the East Bank of the francophile city that is Nouvelle Orleans. There was no way I was spoiling my appetite with rank airline food. No way.
Back in D.C., my Dad would make this big show of the prep involved with a true seafood gumbo. The process took all day, it seemed, and at the end, I got a little piece of Freddie's kitchen. A little bit of the Big Easy in a bowl. Now, I was never one to cook and by the time I graduated college, there seemed to be no need. I was moving to NYC. It was like taking my car with me. For what? Who drives in NYC? No one. Who cooks in NYC with all those fab restaurants that deliver? No one. Homecooking was something that I got at (shocker) HOME. I had no interest until that fateful Thanksgiving that I was forced into the kitchen on First Street. I mean, I had gotten into cooking, you know, the basics and a few family recipes. Well, Paul (my pops) thought it necessary for me to learn EXACTLY how my grandmother makes her gumbo and her recipe for macaroni and cheese. I sweated in the kitchen under Freddie's commands for a few hours until she let me loose. Learning all the secrets and traditions of a New Orleans Louisiana Gumbo.

Secrets. That's what's led me to this post. My dad is a big fan of secrets. He likes to keep them until the reveal gets the reaction he's looking for. It drives my mother totally crazy. I've come to learn that's the way he is and the little chuckle he gets from the reaction is pure entertainment. When I realized that his charade of an all day gumbo prep was just for show, the secrets just came spilling out. Every now and again, I'd tell him the latest recipe I'd invented, or the newest trick I'd discovered in the kitchen. My Mom still couldn't get over the fact that I was actually using a stove and oven to feed myself (and not for winter boot storage), while my Dad just gave me his usual, "mmhmm, that sounds wonderful!" routine and went about his day. Until that fateful day he unloaded The Big Secret.
"You should get together with my friend, since you're so into cooking now.... I'll set up a lunch." Who knew his "friend" was legendary chef Jose Andres!! The master behind Zaytinya, Mini Bar, Cafe Atlantico, Oyamel and Jaleo here in D.C. I couldn't believe my ears and his nonchalant tone. As if Jose was just my Uncle Tony, the dude I hadn't seen since I was 12.

So there I was, at Zaytinya in DC (coincidentally, the restaurant is housed in a building designed by my Dad) awaiting lunch with its chef. I purchased two of his cookbooks at the bar while I waited and took great pleasure in telling the bartender after she whispered to me, "the chef of those books just walked in," that he walked in to have lunch with me.
"Do you eat everything?"

So he ordered... what, I can barely recall, but it was divine. We had a lively conversation about the eating habits of Americans, the fate of the American dinner table, the seasonality of meats amongst other things.

"Next time, we have dinner, at my home" he said.
Done and DONE! I wonder what other secrets Paul has hidden...