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March 02, 2009

See, here's the thing...

I'd planned to finish writing my post about Pear, eucalyptus, olive oil, black pepper today.  I spent the weekend with family and friends celebrating babies, engagements, and other lovely things.  First thing on my to-do list for this morning, this Monday morning, was to wake up early, finish that post, and push it out to the blog so it could greet you as you checked your feed or your bookmarks before diving into your busy day.

And then, this happened:

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When I went to bed last night, after having had my neighbors over for dinner followed by dessert and a glass of scotch by the fire at their house, there was maybe a half-inch of snow on the ground.  Because we'd been told ALL DAY SUNDAY we were under a HOLY CRAP YOU'D BETTER GO BUY DIAPERS AND MILK AND BREAD AND TOILET PAPER WINTER STORM WARNING  BECAUSE YOU MIGHT STARVE TO DEATH OR HAVE A CALCIUM DEFICIENCY OR NOT BE ABLE TO WIPE YOUR ARSE BECAUSE THERE IS 6" OF SNOW ON THE GROUND, PEOPLE, AND DON'T FORGET TO DRIVE LIKE A MANIAC AND ACT LIKE A HUGE JERK THE WHOLE TIME YOU'RE AT THE STORE BUYING THOSE ITEMS BECAUSE YOU ARE CLEARLY THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE ENTIRE PLACE, I was totally bummed that, once again, the big old winter storm warning turned out to be nothing but a misting of rain and a light dusting of snow.

Before heading off to bed, grumbling about stupid-idiot-meteorologists-we-never-get-snow-here-anymore-blah-blah-blah-bittercakes, I checked my calendar and to-do lists for the morning, certain I'd have to work and that it would be business as usual.  It was going to be a killer of a week with meetings, events, deadlines, and media interviews with clients.

I woke up just before 6 o'clock this morning (which I never do on my own) because it was quiet.  Too quiet.  The kind of quiet only a blanket of snow can bring.  I quietly edged out of bed, peeked through the blinds, and was face-to-face with a tree limb covered in snow.  I shoved my feet into my slippers, threw on a robe, ran downstairs, flung open the front door, and just took in everything around me.

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I've written before about how much I love snow, and that magical things happen when it snows.  But today's snowfall was the most significant one we've had all winter and granted us something we rarely ever get here in these parts: a snow day.

I don't know what it's like where you live, but here in Washington, DC, snow days are special.  School closings aside, they're a tacit agreement that work can be suspended for a day.  That while you'll still probably check your voicemail and email every few hours, you don't have to respond.  That it's okay to go back to sleep for another hour or two, then wake up to make a big breakfast, and abandon whatever plans you might've had for a day in which you get to press the pause button and just stop and take it all in.


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I've lived in and around this city for nearly 23 years, and snow days don't come around all that often.  Here in the nation's capital, like other cities, we work hard.  But, the one thing we don't do well is play hard.  We like to think we do or tell people we do, but we don't. 

Living in Washington, and working in politics especially, means you work 24/7.  Not that you're always in the office or on the phone wheeling and dealing, but I feel like in this city, the lines are blurred or nonexistent between politics, work, the news, family, and friends, which can be really great, but can also lead to feeling like you never really have a day off.  Don't get me wrong: some of the best and deepest personal relationships I have came out of a professional setting at first, but it's hard to live here and not talk shop when you're technically supposed to be off the clock.  It's common for a dinner party or night at the movies to end in a quick round-up of something you read in the Post or the Times, or who's going to call whom on behalf of someone else to make sure someone votes a certain way on a piece of legislation or hires the right lobbyist or gets involved in one coalition or another.  It's neither good nor bad.  It just is.

That's where snow days come in.

They allow those of us who take ourselves way too seriously a day to hole up at home, not answer the phone if we don't want to, not go into work, and not feel guilty about ignoring our to-do lists for 24 hours. It's a chance to stare out the window at the birdfeeder, watch crap TV, and not make the bed because you may crawl back into it a few hours later for an afternoon nap.

Snow days bring out the best and worst in people.  In my case, today's snow brought out the best in one of my neighbors who, with his son, not only shoveled my front sidewalk, but also shoveled a path around my car and to their front door so we can easily get to one another's houses until the snow melts.

So, to thank them, I decided to make Cream of Walnut Soup from The French Laundry Cookbook.

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But wait, Carol, I hear you saying.  Isn't this blog supposed to be all about cooking your way through the Alinea cookbook?

Absolutely.

But I realized something today that I hadn't really thought about, and I credit the snow and the gift of a day off it brought for making this connection.

Two years ago (almost to the day, in fact), I made Cream of Walnut Soup for the very first time.  I was only six weeks into French Laundry at Home and was still holding the book at arm's length.  I was intimidated by that book and felt like it was almost too pristine for me to touch, let alone cook from.  I was still figuring out the hows and whys, and was nervous as hell every time I opened the page to a new recipe.  But this one dish, the Cream of Walnut Soup, I'd made on a day it unexpectedly snowed and it was the first dish in that book, now in hindsight, that I feel I really nailed and got right.  I will forever associate this taste with feeling like I'd stepped over a giant threshold into some kind of acceptance and warmth, and I'll always associate it with a snowy day when I got to have some welcomed, needed down time.

It's never felt right to make it since then.  It just doesn't taste the same without snow on the ground and grey clouds straddling the sky.  It only feels right to make this on a day like today.

So, when I saw the snow on the ground this morning and had the ingredients on hand, I knew I wasn't going to finish my other post, and instead reached for The French Laundry Cookbook, which has a permanent home on my kitchen counter propped up alongside the refrigerator.  Opening that book again reminded me, almost startlingly, of what it felt like two years ago to be cooking my way through it.  And, as I pulled ingredients from the pantry and fridge, it made me think about what it's been like to cook from the Alinea cookbook so far.

Am I still a little nervous when starting a new recipe?  Sometimes.

Do I keep the book at arm's length?  Yes. But not in the same way as I did The French Laundry Cookbook.

Cooking my way through the Alinea cookbook has felt different because it is different. Not only are they different restaurants and books, I'm cooking my way through them from different perspectives.  I never ate at The French Laundry before cooking my way through that book, but I did eat at Alinea  before starting this blog.  I never met Chef Keller until I was nearly done with that blog, but I met Grant Achatz before starting this one.  The French Laundry Cookbook had been around for nearly ten years before I started cooking from it and writing about it, whereas the Alinea cookbook had been out for ten minutes before this blog went live.  I was bored and restless and needed something challenging to engage with when I started French Laundry at Home, but started Alinea at Home at a time when my personal and professional lives were and still are the busiest they'd ever been.

I guess what's interesting to me in all this is I, like many others, I think, am a creature of habit and really, really, really don't like being outside my comfort zone.  The funny thing is, I'm great at counseling my clients to reach out in new and more creative and risky directions, but when it comes to me, I like my routines, and the things and people I'm comfortable with.  I've been this way my whole life.  Seriously, ask my parents; they could write a freakin' encyclopedia on how to raise a daughter who is stubborn and likes things the way they are so don't alter anything or she might have a conniption.  And while I'm sure experts would say it stems from some deep-rooted psychological something or other from when I was probably a minute old, it's just who I am and I make no apologies for it. And even though my being this way actually works in my favor more often than not, I do get frustrated with myself from time to time because it has the potential to translate to missed opportunities and laziness... two things that I hate more than I hate the notion of change.

Truth be told, I'm envious of people who are really creative and innovative risk-takers, and whose brains work in ways mine doesn't.  I admire people who can sit down with a guitar and an empty page of sheet music and pull together a song, or who can paint and draw, or do an architectural rendering. And when it comes to food, I am mesmerized by and a little jealous of someone like Grant Achatz, who can do what he does in the way he does it, because my brain is just not wired like that at all.

And that's why I think I was drawn to the Alinea cookbook above anything else.  Because it's so not me, but represents traits and skills I admire in others, but had not yet been willing to take the risk to figure out how to adapt or embed in myself.  I don't know if it's possible for me to change in that way or explore the possibility of rewiring (or even just tinkering with) my brain in this manner, but I knew I needed to get better about breaking out of my comfort zone, and doing it with food seemed to me to be a path that would make me the most willing to learn.

While The French Laundry Cookbook seemed daunting at the time I first took it on, as I now look back on it now, it was full of ingredients I recognized, measurements I was familiar with, and techniques that I mostly knew but needed to perfect.  The Alinea cookbook has far more ingredients I've never heard of, techniques I've never tried, and measurements I was resistant to (using a scale) but now can't believe I haven't adopted sooner.

Cooking my way through The French Laundry Cookbook enabled me to walk into the grocery store without a list and still be able to figure out what I could cook based on what looked fresh and good.  It strengthened the techniques and thought processes that eventually got me away from cooking from recipes and, instead, relying on my intuition and experience.

I have no idea what the Alinea cookbook is going to have taught me when I push that last post to this site, and that's weird, yet oddly comforting, because while both books are very different, I'm still the same person cooking from them.  Today, as I was peeling a pear and toasting some walnuts, I thought about what my Cream of Walnut soup will be with the Alinea cookbook.  What will be the dishes I most associate with certain times, places, moods, and events?  What techniques or flavor profiles will I learn that two years from now will be commonplace in my own kitchen?  Instead of stepping out of my comfort zone, I wonder how far my comfort zone will expand.  What will I excel at?  What will be dismal failures?  What will frustrate me?  What will create, cement, or remind me of certain moments and memories?

Two years ago, when I celebrated a surprise snow day with Cream of Walnut Soup, I never could have guessed that that would be a significant taste memory today.  Even bigger than a taste memory, I suppose.  A state of mind memory.  And, I'm grateful for it because it's so unexpected -- I mean, I already loved snow and snow days more than anyone I know.  How awesome to have something so delicious to layer on with that.  And the layering takes on a whole new perspective when I think about pears and walnuts in their raw form, and what taste memories I have of them individually over the years.  To then have this extra association of Cream of Walnut Soup on top of all that is pretty cool.

So, I guess today's snow day has made me even more curious as to what, in the future, I'll be able to look back on from the Alinea cookbook and think (and sorry for the convoluted math-like equation I'm about to drop on you), "Man, I already loved W, X, and Y on their own because of reason A, but when paired with Z and then made together as B during this certain time of my life, it's created this whole new association, which is even cooler than the original ingredients were to begin with."

Do you have any really, truly significant food/taste/situational memories?  Wanna tell us about 'em?  Comment away, my friends.  Comment away.


Up Next (I promise): Pear, eucalyptus, olive oil, black pepper  (and the winners of the dried hibiscus!)

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Scones. Whenever I am truly homesick, I make my mother's scones. She never made them very often when I was younger and it isn't something that I ever craved, but now, whenever I really miss my family, I made my mother's scone recipe. I couldn't even tell you why. It just reminds me of home. The way they look, the way they, smell, and the way they taste all remind me of being in my mother's kitchen after school.

I miss snow. I lived in Moscow and Geneva before moving to Southern California and I never thought that I would miss snow quite so much.

I know you're supposed to say something really charming, like a madeleine. Or natural, like a fresh tomato eaten right there in the garden like a big juicy apple. But honestly? I'm from St. Louis, and we have this fantastic gooey cheese product there called provel. A St. Louis style thin-crust pizza with sticky provel is something I miss once in awhile, mostly because you can't really find that cheese anywhere else. I've even gone so far as to have it shipped to California. As far as a food that brings back memories, again it's very prosaic: onions being sauteed. The smell always makes me think of my mom cooking Thanksgiving dinner.

Here in Philly we would get one good snow day a year. Snow days usually remind me of making a big ol' pot of chili and old fashioned corn bread. We would go play outside and when we came back in we got to hang out in Mom's room and watch tv with our chili. Trust me, a huge treat. Then we would usually fall asleep from being soo tired and full. Ahhh... to be a kid for a day.....

I lived on a farm when I was a kid. In the late summer, I used to climb up the gigantic apple tree and sit on the roof our ramshackle Victorian house. The yellow apples weren't that great, but I loved the fallen ones. I'd sit up on the roof and eat the good parts of the slightly rotten apples that were nestled in the leaves. Those stolen bites were wonderfully sweet and intensely fragrant. When I was done, I'd pelt my non-tree-climbing sisters with the rotten cores.

I'd forgotten all about that until about 20 years later when I had my first sip of Calvados. I can't drink it now without thinking of those sweet, warm, ever so vaguely fermented apples.

Well there was the time about twelve years ago that Montreal had its' famous Ice Storm and we were the only street, in our neighborhood, that had its' lights and electricity for the entire two weeks that shut the city down. Our home was open for refuge of which three families of friends, with three kids each and a dog in tow, took part and bedded down on the floors,the couches and even the beds (which we took apart: mattress and box spring)

All offices and workplaces were closed including the entire area of Old Montreal where hubby had his offices and so for two weeks it was party, party, party.

The women and children spent each night at the shelter which was a block away at the local highschool gymnasium, yes, a block away and they had NO heat or electricity or as we locals say "Hydro". We aided easily several hundred a night including the elderly.

Then after ten days, some of the lights came back on and two families left, by the time the third left - two hours later our power went out. We packed up and spent two days at a hotel downtown and then spent the next three days cashing in on our insurance which covered all losses 100% for the freezers of food that perished, the refrigerators that broke down, including Businesses who claimed losses including that of income. revenues and rent for which all Quebec Insurance companies paid out 'no questions asked'. That is how bad the Ice Storm of 1998 was - and I am old enough to remember snow storms where the snow came half way up the windows and police would patrol by snowmobile all while the radio would ask people to leave their porch lights on so that stranded people would know where to go and men would wind up sleeping at the office because there was no bus service....Nothing surpassed the horrors of the Ice Storm

oh, but u meant food....LOL...sorry i just skimmed this post....it was fun sitting in a circle all of us and singing while eating sandwiches and sink-cola...and kicking the kids outside to play so the adults could get drunk and laugh their sorrows away...

Snow? What's that? It was 90 today here in Phoenix.

I used to work at this restaurant and we had these delicious spicy egg noodles I used to love. I had taken some to go one day after my shift, and was so excited to get home, kick off my shoes and eat some yummy food. For whatever reason, when I took the lid off of the container, I got a little queasy. Ignoring it, I took my first bite, and almost hurled. I sat up, and my immediate thought was "Dude, I'm so pregnant." 34 weeks later...

And now for something completely different; When I lived in DC and we got a snow day, radio and tv announced in most urgent tones that only critcal federal employees need report to work, by which of course they meant the janitors.

BLW

When I was a kid my Mom made spaghetti with a very Americanized sauce made from Lawrey's spaghetti sauce seasoning in the foil packets, hamburger, onions, canned tomatoes and tomato sauce. But the best thing was the next morning my Dad would break out the big cast iron skillet and fry up some over easy eggs and then reheat the spaghetti in the skillet. He'd dish up plates for he and I and top each pile of spaghetti with a couple of eggs. Oh. My. Gawd. The runny yolk, the tomato, the onion, the beef and the pasta were just amazing together. Mom wouldn't touch the stuff so it was just between my Dad and me. A very special memory, indeed. (Also plain, steamed short-grain rice with butter for dinner when Mom was out.)

Guilty secret: I still make this same exact dish even though I know how "wrong" it is to Italian tradition just so I can have the leftovers with eggs.

The smell of meatloaf in the oven and a fire in the fireplace always brings me back to my childhood. Even more than food, I associate certain memories with music. The first time I heard a song or a new type of music or new musician is always cemented in my mind with a memory of what was going on at that time in my life. I love to listen to music and remember where I was when I first heard it or think about some happy / sad memory associated with the song.

Growing up in Florida I yearned for snow. Snow was everything that Florida wasn't. Snow meant tradition, snow meant sophistication, snow meant old buildings and cobbled streets and tiny shops; snow was the amazingly glamorous sport of snow skiing, for God's sake, not on water behind a loud and smelly outboard engine, but on wild mountains full of people silently and elegantly slicing through the amazing fluff that is snow. Who would then sit around crackling fires (FIRES! Inside!) wearing stretch pants and holding glasses of something transparent and pure, like old Scotch. Yeah, I know, I read too much. But unlike mostly everything else I read about, snow delivered. I'm sure it snows in stupid boring places with nasty people living in ugly houses. It must, it stands to reason...but I have never seen it. I have seen snow in Cananda and the US, all over Europe, in cities and the smallest hamlets, because in Europe they actually have hamlets, and it was just like I thought it would be. Even in the mean strip-mined hills of Appalachia where I had my meager year of college, where there was no old Scotch, it was magical and transporting. Snow comes through. Every time it snows, I snap to. Things are baked, and stewed. Soups burble and my house smells like mama's in the kitchen and the hands will be in soon from whatever it is they do out there. For the days that the snow is really there, fresh and white, I am extra alive and ready to eat.

Potatoes roasted with olive oil, salt, black pepper, and rosemary. A frittata with rosemary, potatoes, and onions. My roommate on a dig in Rome taught me how to make these and whenever I make them, I think of her and how much fun we had - we used rosemary from the bush on our apartment's terrace, we would come home covered in dirt from the dig site every day, shower, and cook dressed in towels because it was too hot to think about clothes. I'd never had a frittata before and even more than the food, I loved that she shared her dishes with me. That was when I started learning how to cook, and to enjoy it.

We never get snow here in Sydney - I'm jealous of your snow day on many levels. My favourite taste memories are from a trip to France fifteen years ago: an appetizer of a perfect tomato sliced and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic, and foie gras served with a local aperitif called Montbazjac. Mmmmmmmmmm.

It was a beautiful day in New York - a day that was almost, but not quite, spring. Nevertheless, spring was in the air. A man I thought was going to become a "special" someone was invited to my apartment for the first time, and I was cooking dinner.

Early in the morning I walked to Whole Foods at Columbus Circle with my little New York shopping cart and bought the ingredients for one of my favorite meals - Crabmeat Mandeville, Shrimp Creole with white rice, a tart green salad, and Banana Splits with Orange Sauce. I had a lovely bottle of wine and an armload of flowers. I cooked while listening to Jim Dale read a Harry Potter book and had a wonderful day.

Dinner was delicious - and appreciated - and the evening was going along beautifully, and then it wasn't. At all.

I never - I don't mean sometimes, I mean NEVER - go to bed without cleaning up the kitchen. I actually love doing the dishes, especially after a wonderful meal. But this night I climbed into bed and fell sound asleep.

I woke up early in the morning, got out of bed, made a big cup of tea, and then went to tackle the mess in the kitchen. Slowly and deliciously I cleaned up.

Of course, even if I hadn't washed the dishes, I had put the food away, and there was leftover Shrimp Creole in the refrigerator, all spicy and tomatoe-y. I heated it up and had it without rice for breakfast. It was better than darn good. It was heaven.

I sat there alone in my apartment with the birds chirping and tight buds on the trees and a small bowl of one of my favorite foods and knew all was right with the world!

I love the way you link "taste" memories with "state of mind" memories. People often talk about the power of smell (i.e. an ex-boyfriend's old shirt) to awaken long-lost moments in the present, but it seems to me that taste fixes things more firmly in my mind, so that I can call up those moments just at the thought of that taste, the way it felt in my mouth, the mood of the room. Maybe that's just it; maybe taste memories are so strong because they involve so many senses at once, and speak to each of them on such a primal level, while at the same time carrying all of the meaning of the meal and who prepared it and where it was eaten.

I looked back at your old entry, and the cream of walnut soup sounds amazing. I guess I'm finally going to have to give in and get the book. I've gotten it from the library before, but have resisted bringing it home to stay so far.

My Mom was a reluctant cook. Spaghetti sauce came from a can (bottled sauce represented an improvement in our lives), sometimes populated by small tasteless meatballs.

My father was Italian. I wanted very much to like our home version of spaghetti but it always disappointed. When I was about 9 or 10 years old, I began to demand that my pasta be served dressed with melted butter, some pepper (that came out of a can too) and parmesan (yes, out of the green container).

Even with those pedestrian ingredients, I was amazed at the interplay of flavors in that simple dish, and realized that meals did not have to be boring.

I began to understand it was not always difficult to prepare delicious food. I discovered for myself that the thoughtful combination of various flavors and textures into dishes to share with family and friends was something fun and exciting to explore, not a chore to rush through.

To this day, pasta dressed with good butter, freshly ground black pepper and a healthy dose of shaved Parmaggiano Reggiano takes me back to what I now recognize as the "birth of a palate".

Mine is anything densely packed with poppyseeds. On a whim, I made a scaled down version of Deborah Madison's poppyseed cake recipe for a small dinner party last week, baking it as little cupcakes, and serving with strawberries and whipped cream. All very froufrou, right? But as soon as those buggers started to brown in the oven, the house smelled just like my Hungarian great grandmother's poppyseed kuchen, and just like poppyseed hamantaschen filling, and I was overwhelmed with a complicated mix of family memories long ago and the knowledge that Purim (and Spring!) is right around the corner. I'm sure there's a neuropsychological reason for poppies to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but it doesn't feel chemical. Feels like love, and yet I am taken by surprise by it every time.

Once again you have captured a moment in time with insight, humor and honesty. I happen to be in a phase of profound change, and being one of the I-love-my routines-and-comforts tribe, your comments on reaching beyond those boundaries and finding your life enriched resonates right down to my fingertips that cling to my NYC Metrocard and scruffy boots that stomped through our luscious snow as I plead, "But I don't waaaannnna leave."

However, leaving is what I'm doing and returning to Texas on April 1st. I am chosing to seriously ignore that it is April Fool's Day and secretly wonder if that's why I got such a cheap one-way ticket. Do people not fly on April 1?!? Any way I digress. Thank you for reminding me that I am about to create new memories.

On the food front: the grown-up me rushes to the kitchen to make my Uncle Miles' Chili; the child me used to stand at the counter while my mother made snow ice cream. We lived in west Texas, Sweetwater, serious desert/rattlesnake yada yada. So the snow came maybe one day every year or so and melted as quickly. Mother used to rush out and find a clean patch and work some magic with it - sugar, milk ?? - I don't even remember what, but it was a wonder.

Snow and me, sittin' in a tree, ....

Coming out of lurking to say: cloves and rye bread.
My college theater group played a kissing game with cloves stuck in fruit. Whenever I open a container of cloves I think of dancing, laughing, and kissing a lot of my friends (not to mention complete strangers).
I'm now in a medieval recreation group, and my household's official drink is (no I'm not making this up) Aquavit. Now whenever I smell caraway I think of summer, campfires, and people saying, "Wow...that's actually...not that bad."

Here in Michigan it's 10 months of winter and 2 months of poor sledding.

On to more important things....Carol....what label of scotch? :)

Emerging from the shadows of lurkerville to thank you for this post -- it was the literary equivalent of an unexpected and lovely snow day. A pure pleasure.

Snow...I do remember February, 1976 when it snowed in San Francisco; not enough for a snow day, but enough for my 6th grade class to have a snowball fight, and enough for some of us to fly down our little hillside in an innertube (wheeeeeeeee!!!). Aside from that, we had to take the 4 hour drive to Tahoe for serious snow; always did the innertube thing.

As for food, it took an old PBS series, Great Chefs of New York, to give me my culinary epiphany; seeing one of the chefs works with gelatin sheets, I said to myself that one day I, too, would make something with gelatin sheets; it took 12 years, but, boy, did that marscapone panna cotta make up for the length of time.

Hot, crusty bread...
We too had an awesome snowday in New York! It was a day to stay home, watch the snow fall, watch bad TV and basically do nothing HOWEVER it was the perfect day to bake bread. The house was immediately filled with a warm, comforting fragrance. Once out of the oven, we broke it into chunks, drizzled it with fresh olive oil made from olives picked from a friend's olive grove in Pisa that been given to me a few months ago when I was there, added some freshly ground pepper and salt and devoured it making for an absolutely perfect late afternoon snack combined with charcuterie and wine. Simple yet delicious.

yeah, so one of the few downsides to living in CA is that we don't get snow days. ever.

for me, i actually think my memories associated with various songs are much stronger than my taste memories. odd, but true. the only one i can really think of is my mom's strawberry nut bread. she only makes it during the holidays and because her oven in wonky (and like a bazillion years old) she always burns it, but a slice of that with some melted butter and coffee will always remind me of my mom and the christmas season.

I just want to say how captivating your writing is. :)

I've made that walnut soup and it is exactly as you describe. It's just impressive how you can describe a flavor in words that have nothing to do with taste, but they are still right on! :)

Glad you got a day off :) how lovely and unexpected!

You are so right about the wonder of snow days - the beauty, the quiet. I've lived in the DC area for 56 years and love how a snow day makes everyone slow down - AFTER they've run to the store in the usual pre-storm frenzy which is so annoying. We played with the dog, shoveled, fed the birds, watch Lord of the Rings (for about the 10th time) and made 115 tiny meatballs for soup. It was a perfect day.

The tomatoes from my great-grandfather's farm outside of Cape Girardeau. Every tomato anyone in my family eats is judged against the absolute perfection of Papaw's tomatoes.

My grandmother's chex mix, one of the two things she cooked every year.

My mother's pasta sauce, before it had finished cooking all the way, poured over a slice of bread.

Food/taste memories. What an interesting concept.

Well, last summer my mom went out of town for a week, and I decided to step up to the plate and cook for my dad, sister and I. I'd only just found my love of cooking, and thus actually making meals without my knowing mother around was a bit frightening.

Anyway, one night that week I made this sausage and lentil stew. I had grossly misread how long it would take to make, which did not go over well with my hungry family. So, while it simmered for what felt like forever, we bounced around the kitchen, singing along to my dad's weird folk music. It was honestly one of the best times of my life, and I think I finally realized that yes, cooking was fun.

Now, whenever I make that stew, I can hear The Roches' 'The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane' playing, and I get that warm and fuzzy, 'I love cooking!' feeling.

I second what The Other Tiger said above. I recently came across a recipe for cauliflower salad on some food blog, and I remembered the taste (cauliflower with carrots and a yoghurty-sauce with dill) and the circumstances I ate it as a kid. Made by my grandmother as a stand-alone dish in mid-summer (when you would like something light to eat), when I came home from school (maybe given leave by the headmaster to go home early, because it was so hot).

Hi Carol,

I enjoyed your philosophy about working out your comfort zone to expand your comfort zone. With your and Grant's help I just made a dinner for 5 family members of the following dishes.
1)Cheese In Crackers--very good and as I suggested to you previously, I made a bunch with the olive oil pudding and they were good. All must be made within an hour or so or they get soggy.
2)Hot Potatoe, cold potatoe, truffle soup--superb but extraordinarily rich and my portions were a little large.
3)Bacon and Apple and Thyme--very good, but not great-be careful to use very little thyme.
4)Transparency of Manchego--excellent, one of the favorites.
5) Salad--the one real dud. No one really liked that vinegary, icy earthy taste.
6) Dry Caramel--very good, I thought, but people found they couldn't eat much of it due to the intense sweetness.

Overall, an enormous amount of work (2 days) but really great fun and everyone was dutifully impressed and really enjoyed it. Thanks again for you help.

John

Don't worry about your creative make up or any of the rest of it. You're just fine, Carol. In fact, you're great. I love your writing. It makes me feel good. Thanks.

I am feeling similarly about Achatz's book. I honestly don't think there will be a "walnut soup" moment for me in it, because his view on what a meal should look like and how it should progress is alien to me. The more I read his recipes, the less I want to cook like Alinea.

As you said, it is SO not me, where the French Laundry is much moreso. But (and you knew there had to be a "but"), I am finding myself filling a legal pad with note upon note of excellent techniques and flavor combinations I am finding in the pieces of Achatz's creations.

I loathe his over-intricate, sometimes disturbing compositions: A meal should not be disturbing, to my mind. But the elements of those compositions are often genius: Even something so simple as leaving the tails on the baby beets when you sous vide them, then serving them upside-down so the tails stick up in the air like a Dr. Seuss drawing. Brilliant.

I think that at least for me, this is where the value of Alinea lies.

I'm a New Mexico expatriate; others out there will relate to the overwhelming nostalgia for red and green New Mexican chiles and the simple dishes they create. New Mexican huevos rancheros is a little different from what we get up here in Washington state: flour tortillas, usually two; eggs, usually over-easy; maybe some fried potatoes; topped with a lake of red or green chile sauce, and maybe some cheese.

Every winter I crave posole -- a stew of hominy and pork, dressed with red chile sauce. Enchiladas and burritos just arent quite right without their accompanying lake of red or green -- or both, a choice called Christmas.

Coming from the state where the official state question (no joke) is, "Red or green?" nothing quite replaces it.

I wish that much snow meant a snow day for us here in Cleveland :(

The only time we get off work excusably is when the city shuts the streets down, which is usually about 2 ft of snow, like last year.

Cream of walnut soup sounds like a dessert you read about in children's fantasy books, ones involving woodland creatures and feasts.

What a beautiful post. And I know the feeling. When I lived in NYC my favorite days were the days when it was quiet. Snowing. When absolutely perfect snowflakes dropped on my scarf... because I was outside. Just me and a delivery guy making bike tracks in the still pristine whiteness.

I'm so jealous of your snow day! They were the best days when I was a kid, but sadly, snow days are very very rare here in NYC. In fact, the city closing down for anything is very very rare, and having experienced that one occasion when things did honestly close down for more than one day on end, I'm quite happy with keeping it that way. I'm so glad you got a quiet day for your soup and your memories and your snow! I know you've been pining after a snow day for months now, so glad you got it :-)

Yeah Im in Westminster and couldn't believe how much snow came down. I'm from California originally and still cant believe that businesses close when there's a little snow! Oh well, looking forward to reading future posts. I made the Persimmon Cake recipe and proceeded to flip out.

This is going to sound awful, but this was my favorite meal growing up:

- Deluxe Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (the one with the package of cheez whiz like goop in it, not the one made with powdered cheese, butter, and milk - that was welfare mac and cheese to me.)
- Canned spinach (pref Del Monte) heated up in microwave
- Broiled SPAM (don't you dare serve the low sodium version, my effete tastebuds can tell the difference)

These days I cook stuff like garlic and lemon roast chicken and zucchini and mushroom risotto, but god I swear the above still tastes good. I haven't inflicted this uniquely tortuous assemblage of white trash cooking on my wife in a while, but I may just have to bust it out on a bachelor's night one of these days.

BTW, I live in the DC area and the snow day was carte blanche for people in our little townhome circle to goof off. After a busy early morn of shoveling and salt distribution, we braved the roads in a Jeep to get Starbucks at a leisurely 10:30 a.m. Later, my neighbor and I decided that Manhattans at five o'clock sounded about right. It was marvelous.

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