This week I am away "doing research" on the best rum cocktails and jerk marinades in Jamaica, so I am reprinting a favourite column from years gone by. I promise to try and find something from every letter while I'm here! Watch my blog for updates from our trip.
I have been reading the latest work by one of my favourite authors, and it inspired me to think of this week’s column. I love being a foodie these days, as it has become a cool thing to be, but not in a snobbish way. People are enamoured with Julia Child and her love of food and cooking; blogs abound about all things food and drink; millions are “twitter-pated” and follow celebrity chefs around to see what they are doing. I loved Tom Robbin’s book, “B is for Beer”, advertised as a kid’s book for grown ups and a grown-up book for kids. It seems food and drink always have those two sides of whimsy and responsibility – you can get caught up in the sheer enjoyment of them, but you must always remember the consequences of decadent consumption.
In honour of all this preoccupation with something so everyday as food, I present my Foodie’s Alphabet. It might not make good soup, but I hope it makes for an interesting read… food should be fun, possibly funky and never boring.
A is for apricots, a fruit that has the delightful combination of perfume and flavour. It was known as “the golden egg of the Sun” by the Ancient Greeks. Did you know your apricot jam will taste better if you include a few of the edible kernels contained inside the stone?
B is for bananas – as in, banana boats over the campfire (rolled in tinfoil with pieces of chocolate and marshmallow). And have you seen that e-mail about how many ways they are good for you?!
C could be for cinnamon, chocolate or coffee – this is the toughest letter to choose. (The interesting thing is that all three of these ingredients could be put together and they would be dazzling!) Cinnamon has that exotic flair, chocolate has the silky decadence that every foodie adores and coffee has the intense aroma that awakens the other senses.
D is for duck, if you are Martin (or would it be donut? That is a tough call…) It is also for double cream (one of Julia’s favourite ingredients) and for dim sum, that fantastic experience of Chinese brunch with so many dumplings and pastries and fried goodies you don’t know where to start… or finish.
E is for eggplant. Even if you are not interested in tasting it, how can you not be impressed with a purple food?
F is for “frites” – not French fries, because we have turned those into another animal altogether. But those wonderful crisp-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside morsels are a real treat. (And yes, I do eat mine with mayonnaise.)
G is for gougères, one of my first food adventures in Europe years ago. To call them a cheese cream puff is to not nearly do them justice. These little pillows of taste are a much better thing than sliced bread at a wine tasting!
H is for hollandaise sauce, the thing that takes asparagus to the level of Cinderella at the Ball, and for halibut and haddock, two of the nicest fish in the sea. It is also for honey, which the Greeks wisely decided was delicious drizzled over yogurt with nuts.
I is for ice cream, but it’s also for “ile flottante” (floating island) that mesmerizing dessert of meringue islands floating in a sea of caramel that I saw in Foquets’ window on the Champs Elysees on my first trip as a foodie…
J is for jelly-roll, one of the first things l learned to make, and succeeding without having the filling squirt out the ends gave me the confidence to continue in the kitchen after the age of 10! (it’s good with any kind of filling, but I do like lemon the best.)
K is for kumquats, kiwis and one of my favourite breakfast treats, kugelhopf – an Alsatian sort of yeast bread that is a cross between a bundt cake and an angel food cake, with raisins or currants in the dough.
L is for lobster, possibly the symbol of decadence in the savoury world. Also the symbol for sexy food, if you ever saw the movie, “Flashdance”. Now there is an experience in grown up food!
M is for mussels, mushrooms (especially the wild ones), mustard, morbier cheese with that lovely stripe of ash through the middle, Mirabelle plums, meringue, mango, maple syrup, Macadamia nuts… M is a good letter.
N is for nougat, that sticky meringue/ toffee-like substance that is a specialty in Montélimar. (Doesn’t that just sound cool, to be from there? It’s in the southeast part of France.) It reminds me of some fancy dessert all rolled into a bar – portable decadence.
O is for olives, something I learned to love early (although when I was a kid they only came in a jar, with a piece of pimento in the middle.) It was my Gramps who got me to try them, along with many other food wonders (see the entry for W, below).
P is for pancakes, which can be as simple as those piled high on a Sunday morning with syrup and butter, or as fancy as the crepes that my parents used to fill with curried shrimp (when they discovered such exotic dishes way back in the 80’s).
Q is for quince, another fuzzy and unique fruit. It has a very hard flesh, which is bitter when raw but delicious when cooked. In France, quinces often sit atop the kitchen cupboards in the fall where they perfume the room as they ripen. Some people say the quince may be the oldest tree, old enough to possibly be in the Garden of Eden…
R is for rice Krispie squares. Not so much the cereal by itself, but the mixture of marshmallows and those little puffed kernels and then maybe a secret ingredient or two (Mars Bars, or chocolate chips…) – that is really a unique kind of treat. It’s also fun to mould – we have done sculptures for dinner parties that were a lot of fun!
S could certainly be for “sauce” in general, for every food experience moves to a new level when adorned with another set of flavours. But if I had to pick one thing, I can safely say “spätzle”, a delightful specialty to Alsace which consists of tiny dumplings served in a bit of cream sauce or butter.
T is for tuna casserole, because you just can’t go through life without comfort food. And if you wanted to jazz it up, then T could be for tarragon, a very cool herb that sits under most people’s radar.
U is for unsalted butter (who knew it tasted so different than salted butter on a slice of bread?) It is also for ugli fruit (no really, it does exist – it is a hybrid from a tangerine, grapefruit and an orange. At least they didn’t call it “homely fruit”…)
V could be for veal or venison, but I think better suited is vanilla, that ubiquitous flavour without which so much of our baking would lie flat (see the reference above mentioning food not being boring) Although many see vanilla as a boring flavour compared to others, it is one that we would certainly miss if it had not been discovered.
W is for watermelon, one of the first treats I remember as a kid. My grandfather told me when he was little, living in Manitoba, he never saw a watermelon. They didn’t have them because they only grew way down south. That was the first time I understood the concept of the 100 Mile Diet.
X is for Xavier (you thought this one would stump me, didn’t you? Good old Larousse…) Xavier is a cream soup, but no ordinary soup this: “ …garnished with diced chicken Royale. It may also be flavoured with Madeira, garnished with small savoury pancakes or serves with threads of egg white cooked in the soup”. It sounds like pretty good food for a rainy day!
Y is for Yorkshire pudding, that British specialty without which roast beef cannot (or at least should not) be served. I remember once having to call long distance to my aunt to get the recipe when my Mom’s cookbook could not be found!
Z is for zabaglione, a fitting end to the alphabet with its razz-a-ma-tazz name. It is one of those “a-la-minute” dishes, made by whisking egg yolks , wine and sugar over gentle heat. It is one of those delicacies that disappears inside your mouth, transporting you with it to another world all in the act of a mere swallow.
Here’s to enjoying every bite, of all the food you eat and life in general!