Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Best Meal I Ever Ate

Hi Friends:

I know I have been neglectful of my little blog of late. I could shower you with excuses, but I won't. I'm sure you all understand. I'll be back in action soon, with new recipies, like Snickers cake (!), delicious things with blueberries, and stuffed zucchini. Yes, I have been eating well during my hiatus, even though I am supposed to be on a diet of sorts (my first one ever).

What I wanted to talk about today is some of the most memorable meals I have ever had. Possibly it's the diet, but lately I am rather nostalgic for meals long past. I could mention home-cooked meals of my childhood, some favorite food memories being a cold, dreary night repaired by my mother's porcupine meathballs and and a creamy mashed potato dish with Ritz crackers on top, followed by some brownies; or a warm summer's day, with steaks on the grill, fresh corn on the cob, and glasses of ice-cold coke. I'm sure there were vegetables served, but as you can see, I have no recollection of them. This memories are special not simply because of gustatory pleasures, but because they are ideal representations of my childhood. But some memorable meals are special because they really can't ever be reproduced in the kitchen, hard as we might try.

One such occassion was during study abroad in college. We were visiting Rome during fall break, and a friend of a friend of a friend of my friend was kind enough to treat us to a lavish, exquistite meal in his restaurant, free of charge (I know!). If I can find the name and location of the restaurant, I will certainly let you all know, because the town (just outside of Rome) is worth a visit by itself.

One reason why this particular meal was so memorable is that it gave me a first opportunity to try some foods that I never had before. It was a tasting menu, served family style, with lots of bread and wine. I believe the meal consisted of this:

First Course:
Melon and Prosciutto with Parmesan
Mussels (in a garlic sauce)
Hardboiled Quails Eggs with Sundried Tomatoes
Green Tomatoes with Fresh Bufala Mozzarella
Raw, Marinated Salmon with Lemon Wedges and Cracked Black Pepper
Risotto with Eel

Penne with Sausage and Black Truffle
Pasta Carbonara

Pastry Trio (one chocolate, one lemon and one vanilla), served with a candy trellis and a dollop of whipped cream.

Espresso and Biscotti

I'm not writing all of this to show off. Reading down the menu, I am shocked that I remember all of this, as I ate this meal nearly six years ago. The other thing I noticed is that I am much more familiar with many of these items today; for instance, I was not even aware that I was eating a risotto at the time, but I make them frequently, now. This was also the first time I had ever eaten mussels. Since then, I order them in restaurants all the time. And I would love to have the chance to make something with truffles. With the exception of the candy trellis, this meal has really shaped how I eat and cook.

I imagine that other people attempt to mimic memorable dining experiences, too. For instance, my fiance, Sean, says that his favorite dinner took place at the beach, when he was in middle school. His parents bought a bushel of whole, fresh crabs and cooked them at the beach house they were staying at. Sitting in the dining room, listening to the waves and cracking the fresh crab over newspaper, the family was utterly content. Now, when I suggest that we go out to dinner to celebrate something, Sean frequently requests going somewhere for crab.

Such memories and stories really get me motivated to start cooking and recreating. What are some of your best food memories?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Blessed by the Elephant Man

Mr. Ed’s is an interesting place. It’s part store, part museum and part pure experience. Mr. Ed himself is apparently a little “different.” They say he’s a very flamboyant and outgoing older guy. I don’t really know though. I saw him only once. He was standing near the store one day watering marigolds. He never looked up as I passed. He was wearing earrings. Any other time I’ve visited the place, Mr. Ed is out. The place is called something like Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum and Candy Store. Ed loves elephants. He sells huge sacks of peanuts. They’re priced at only 15 cents a pound, if you want a 50 pound sack. A peanut now and then is good, but 50 pounds? I don’t have an actual elephant. But then neither does Ed. There are no real elephants in the place, but loads of elephant statues, pins, pens, pictures, walking sticks, fly swatters. I’m sure he has elephant earrings in there somewhere. Ed will buy and display anything even remotely related to elephants.

The store is kind of a rambling place. Ed has a unique style in all he does. He has an addition on his building that consists of a truck body bolted to a hole in the wall. The cab is still attached to the truck. Today an employee was furiously shoveling gravel under the truck cab trying to keep it level. I guess Orrtanna, PA doesn’t have a building inspector.

You enter Mr. Ed’s via an enclosed porch. The porch is stocked with out-of-date items or simply candy that nobody wants. It’s sort of an “aisle of misfit candy.” This is my favorite part of the store. The museum part I don’t get at all, but the misfit candy buys can be incredible. I once bought an entire case of Fisherman’s Friend Throat Lozenges for $3.00. Sure they were expired, but they still worked. They were even more expired when I used the last one four years later, but how much can you really expect from a throat lozenge anyway?

Today they had something really different. They were selling 1 kg bags of Drogistendrops for only $1! I never heard of Drogistendrops either, but they were one dollar! They had a very European look to them. I’m proud to say that I limited my purchase to only one bag. I figured I would try some in the car and then go back in for 5 more bags. But I think one bag of this should do it for me. The taste is very distinct. It’s kind of shocking in fact. Describing any flavor is tricky, but I’d say there is a definite licorice aspect. The first thing that strikes the tongue is a sort of menthol/pepper sensation. Then the licorice kicks in. Then there’s a taste reminiscent of the odor of a spray marketed in the 1960’s by the Fuller Brush Company. The spray was very effective at killing houseflies, but had to be pulled from the market when it came to the attention of the Food and Drug Administration. In the end, after consuming Drogistendrops, you have the feeling that you’ve just taken some sort of medicine that will do absolutely nothing for you.

Curious about what I had ingested, I tried to look Drogistendrops up on the internet. I couldn’t find them directly, but I did learn that “Drogist” essentially means “Druggist.” It seems that this flavor is marketed in various European products that are intended to ease throat pain. One site referred to the flavor as “A blessing for your throat.” This was very timely since one of my daughters is currently complaining of a sore throat. Drogistendrop “tablets’ come in both black and white. Daughter debated for some time as to which color to try. After being assured that it made no real difference, she popped a white Drogistendrop into her mouth. A brief but clearly recognizable look of shock crossed her face before she spit the tablet out into her hand. Her description of the flavor included words like “awful,” “horrible” and “crap.” I don’t know. I’ve eaten several now and they’re kind of growing on me. And I don’t even have a sore throat---yet. I’ve still got about .97 kg of these on hand, so give me a call the next time your throat’s feeling a bit off.