I don’t follow too many traditions when it comes to holidays. Without strong family ties or kids, I don’t celebrate Halloween or Thanksgiving; and since I lack a religious foundation, I don’t celebrate Easter or Christmas. However, I still make fried chicken and my three favorite cold salads on the Friday before Memorial weekend, ready to eat when anyone is hungry. Since the food is already made, there’s no cooking, and few dishes. Tomorrow I’ll pack some up in a cooler and take some of it with me on my explorations; the rest I’ll leave for my roommate, to nosh on while I give him some private time in the house.
I love to cook, but I’m not a fancy cook. I seldom use more than one or two spices in any dish, and rarely use any that are considered ‘hot’. I like the food to speak for itself, and my salads–potato, three bean, and antipasto–and chicken reflect this.
When I worked at Boeing in Seattle, I used to go with one of the groups I worked with to a Chinese restaurant not far from my house. I liked the place because the food was fresh and flavorful, and attractive; my workmates liked it because it served hot, hot Szechuan style of food. They’d sit eating the food and sweating from the spiciness as they good naturedly gave me a bad time for staying with the simple, lightly seasoned dishes.
I have no doubts, none, not one of them has a taste bud left, now.
No, I don’t like heavily spiced meals. A little salt, a little pepper, maybe a little garlic and onion, and you have about the perfect enhancement for almost any dish. Well, except cookies. But then you can use both salt and pepper in cookies. And garlic in ice cream.
Among the stacks of books on bookbinding and various other topics picked up recently from my local libraries, I also found a cookbook titled, “Salt & Pepper”. Among the intriguing recipes and beautiful photographs are stories about the history of both salt and pepper, in addition to a detailed discussion about the varieties in each.
I have used more esoteric salts and peppercorns in cooking, but this book introduced me to exotics such as fleur de sel, a French salt that forms as a thin layer on seaside ponds in France and prized for it’s flavor, appearance, and texture; or pink Hawaiian sea salt. And the recipes!
There was salted tangerines with a black pepper dipping sauce, classic red sandwich, or deep fried lima beans. Salt and Pepper Candied Pecans. It even featured chocolate cookies spiced with pink peppercorns; all recipes light on spice except for salt and pepper, depending more on the other ingredients and the unusual and balanced combinations of foods to generate the flavor.
Salt and pepper. You might look down you nose at them as plain and simple, but lose them, and you might as well loose your joy in food.
A vegetarian friend of mine from long ago was also a gourmet cook and would have us over for these fantasic meals. She would add a pinch of this a dash of that until you could barely taste the ingredients of the dishes. Of course, tofu figured heavily, so I didn’t mind.
She would laugh, though, about my stinginess when it came to using spices. After all, it was she who introduced me to cilantro and curries, and chilis and whatnot, only to have her lessons go for naught. One day on the way to work, I said that she’d be proud of me, I was finally starting to branch out in my use of spices. She asked what spice. I answered, “Pepper”, and she laughed until I thought she was going to wreck the car.
But that’s just it — I was exploring with pepper. Different kinds of pepper and using pepper in different ways. For instance, you might know about putting salt on watermelon, but how about pepper on a granita (slushy) made of the watermelon’s juice? The same people that will add 23 different types of spices to a dish will look blankly at you when you talk about putting pepper on watermelon.