I knew I was in trouble when I saw a recipe last week for a soup that involved a jar of salsa and chicken broth and I gave it serious thought. It’s soup made from jarred salsa – how good could it be?
That’s the problem with spending too much time in pursuit of recipes. You can hit recipe overload. Every new cookbook looks a little familiar, every new trend reminds you of one that came before.
How do you recharge when you need food inspiration? I started a list in my head: Of all the food adventures I’ve had, what would I eat again if I had the chance?
▪ One of my dad’s steaks. The man lived for cooking on a Saturday night. He’d put steaks out on the kitchen counter an hour in advance, sprinkled with salt, crushed garlic and lemon juice, while he got ready to cook them on the charcoal grill he made from a 50-gallon drum. The aroma of raw beef, garlic and lemon juice still smells like Saturday night to me.
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▪ The first Scotch egg I ever had. My mom and I were on a trip to England to celebrate her college graduation at the age of 62. One morning, we ducked into the food halls at Harrod’s in London and roamed around, wide-eyed, looking for a simple lunch we could take to Hyde Park. Hard-boiled eggs wrapped in sausage, rolled in crumbs and deep-fried? We had never heard of them, but we became fans for life.
▪ The first time I made really fresh asparagus, when I discovered it wasn’t anything like that slimy, khaki-green canned asparagus I had despised as a child. When I told a friend with a farm that I was absolutely sure I hated asparagus, she brought me a fistful of the fresh stuff, picked the night before. She told me to wrap it in a damp paper towel and zap it in a microwave for less than a minute. The first bite was like getting new glasses: The world got a little brighter.
▪ The night in college when a well-traveled friend stood at a skillet for a few minutes, whisking a little white wine vinegar, egg yolk and melted butter into bearnaise sauce. I had barely left home, but the edges of the world got wider.
▪ The biscuit dough one of my aunts used to pull off and sneak to us if we stayed out of her way while she finished getting midday dinner ready on my uncle’s farm. It was only a bite, but it was enough to keep us going when we were sure we would never be able to live until it was time to eat. Is there any hunger like a kid’s hunger?
▪ Blue crabs, their red shells dusty with spices, dumped out on newspaper. The restaurant was the now-defunct Crab Pot in Riviera Beach, Fla., and the newspaper they used to line their tables was the one I worked for at the time. I loved those crabs intensely, but what I really loved was smearing crab guts on my own byline. That’s a formative experience blog writers will never have.
▪ Hotel eggs, served on fine china at the Greenbrier in West Virginia. I eventually learned that “hotel eggs” meant they had been cooked very slowly in a metal bowl over simmering water, with little cubes of butter whisked in. It’s still a trick I pull out when I have the time and calories for a breakfast splurge.
The things I would eat again aren’t the recipes. They’re the experiences. They’re tied completely to time, not food.
Recipes? You don’t always need them. You just need a good memory.