Monday, February 28, 2011

This Spud's for You

Behold--the humble potato. In spite of her cross-eyes, blemishes, dirty skin, and thick waistline, she is loved by--dare I say?--everyone from one end of the globe and back around again. As Americans, in a single year, we EACH consume 140 pounds of potatoes, and as a nation, 4,000 million pounds of french fries. Some historians credit the potato with the expansion of Industrialism across Europe; it was the cause of a war, aptly named, The Potato War, where opposing forces, due to crop failures, literally raided their enemies and took their potatoes, and due to a blight that caused the potatoes to rot from disease, it was the root (pardon the pun) of a decrease of over two million people from Ireland during the Great Potato Famine (1845-52),  gone to either starvation, or to America in search of work and food.

Personally, I adore potatoes, probably given to the fact that my mother cooked a lot of potatoes. In fact, to this day, I have never met anyone, myself included, who could work a potato over in quite the way that my mother can. Among her repertoire: crispy hash browns, wonderful potato pancakes, fried homestyle potatoes with thick rings of smothered onions, mashed potatoes, potato casseroles, baked potatoes, scored potatoes, and roasted potatoes. We ate, thinking back upon those days, a significant number of potatoes. I believe, although my grandmother, by coincidence, worked at the National Potato Board (how cool is that? A marketing agency for the potato!) that the real reason we consumed more than our fair share of the tubers was due to being poor, but I'm also certain that my mother cooked them so often simply because they were good and satisfying.

My real affair with the potato actually began when I was in my early thirties and living in San Francisco. Ken decided to take me to a wonderful little (and I do mean little) restaurant on the edge of North Beach (the Italian sector) called, Cafe Macaroni. After folding ourselves into one of the few tiny tables in a dining room made even smaller by the ginormous refrigerated display case brandishing a good fifty antipasto treats, Ken ordered the wine while I scanned the menu. "Don't even bother," he said. "I am going to order you the most perfect thing ever." And with that, we raised our wine glasses in a toast passing time, until the beautiful, young, I-can't-speak-much-English-but-I'm-Italian waiter arrived.

The dish that was placed before me was gnocchi. And even I, who had lived between the pages of cookbooks and had a subscription to not one, but two, highbrow food magazines, and who--seriously--had traveled in Italy, had never even heard of gnocchi. I was sheltered and naive and my soon-to-be husband was introducing me to a ball of boiled dough--no, a drug--that would plunge me squarely into the depths of addiction, for once that first little dumpling crossed my lips and my brain lit up with euphoria and my heart raced through my chest, I was hooked.

But this post is not about my battles with the dumplings, which is a sad and heartbreaking tale on its own, but rather, a moment where I give pause in my day to commiserate with my fellow human beings south of the equator in Argentina, who so love gnocchi, that on the 29th day of every month, they celebrate Dias de los noquis--Day of the Gnocchi--but February, a most uncooperative month, only gives us 28 days. I've never been to Argentina, so I'm not sure what that means, but from what I've read, the only time one can find gnocchi is on the 29th day of the month. Does that mean that these poor people will have to go without gnocchi since their last feast of January 29th until their next one on March 29th? There's no telling; but I will be frank by saying here, out loud and for everyone (well at least the half-dozen or so people reading this) that I would revolt--I would--in fact, I WILL eat gnocchi today, even though it is only the 28th, and I hope that you, too, will lift up your fork in solidarity.

But, where, you ask, can you buy gnocchi? My friends, making gnocchi is not as hard as you think, especially when one's addiction rarely allows time to go off in search of the 'stuff' available on the street.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Nice Buns!

Here's a secret that I found out about Ken right before I married him--his first love was the Cafeteria Lady at his elementary school. He loved her even before the Danish babysitter (whom I am fairly sure was more fair in memory than in reality) whom he swears was the sweetest, kindest and prettiest woman ever. But--she couldn't make rolls like the Cafeteria Lady who was much older and a lot less sweet, but had such a place in Ken's heart that we even have--no joking--a letter that he wrote to his mother during a first grade penmanship lesson. To quote, the letter says, "Dear Mom. School is fine. Lunch is good."

He wasn't talking about the spaghetti, or the meatloaf, or event the fried chicken; instead, was writing about the rolls. These rolls would take on such a significant memory for him, that they would become one of the many topics of conversation in our lives and on many occasions, although he never came right out and said it, he inferred that his life would be perfect if only I could duplicate those rolls.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Up From the Deep Blue Sea

So, I woke up feeling like I had been swallowed into the deep blue sea. You know, one of those brief periods where you are on full-throtle, running swiftly through life, time seemingly passing too quickly, and then--BAM! you're back in with the living. Anyhow, that metaphor made me think about this really delicious--no--incredibly awesome--fish dish that I concocted a few weeks back.

In case you don't remember me mentioning, we celebrate "Fish Fridays" in our house, which means that every Friday brings fresh fish and the opportunity to try something new. I have my favorites, simply prepared, such as delicate Sand Dabs broiled with lemon, caper, parsley, white vermouth and a drizzle of olive oil, or a vibrant piece of wild salmon flashed under the broiled and served with nothing more elaborate than a sprinkle of sea salt and a drizzle of lemon infused olive oil. Truth be told, all of the fish dishes that grace my table are simple, because the point is to pick up the faint taste of the ocean with each savory bite. While the picture of my halibut, decked with tomatoes and bread crumbs might look complicated, nothing could be further from the truth. The real secret--the tomatoes--are actually leftover from a previous meal (roast chicken) but were the most marvelous of all compliments for the meatiness of the halibut.