Kitchens have always been a special place for me, a magic carpet ride to exotic lands I have and have not visited. If you can Imagine yourself in my kitchen for a minute.. steam rising from a pot here, vegetables being charred there, maybe a protein bubbling away in a sous vide circulator… it’s hard not to get lost in the sensory journey.
My kitchen is my sacred space. Spices that are unique to me, with flavors collected from my endless travels. Notes and tastes that take me to forests I’ve explored, mountains I’ve hiked, villages where a stranger’s family treated me like I was their own. I love to cook and transform raw materials into a palimpsest of my experiences. It’s how I meditate. It’s how I love.
The food that I eat, and the dishes I prepare for my friends, are like a diary of my travels. Logan might ground its planes (thanks, northeast climate), but smells bring memory. I can go back to Asia in a trice, with umami and sweetness, bolts of sunlight lighting narrow streets.
There’s nothing quite so transformative or transportative like a good meal. Over the years, chefs and chemists have broken down what it is about food that touches us right in the hippocampus—perhaps the greatest example of art and science working hand in hand. But no flavor wheel can share the experience of absorbing a lifetime and a universe that a meal can.
I love to travel, and I love to cook, and I love most of all to share those experiences with people I care for. Recently I prepared a meal in a bit of kitchen witchery, just a repurposing and reassembling of leftovers and things laying about; something I whipped up with little notice–not a planned feast. But I was surprised to find out how many places I revisited in my memory in putting together this improvised meal. Like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “I journey on by park and spire,/Beneath centennial trees,/Through fields with poppies all on fire,/And gleams of distant seas.” It’s beautiful to be able to share such an array of experiences with someone you’re snowed in with in Boston.
This meal was a gift for such a friend, packed in a woven cloth that bears a small piece of every place, remote and near, that these ingredients originated in. The ramps I foraged in upstate New York, pickled to preserve summer’s open-mouthed smooch. I used more sugar than you need to give lushness to the tang. Crunchy, prickly, but with a sweetness that made way for the pate.
Prepared from the liver of a rabbit I recently butchered, this pate was gamey and so rich in iron that Alanis Morrissette is writing a song about it. Liver this rich needs a counterpoint, and that came from the Kampot peppers that I got from a trip to Kampot, Cambodia, with one of my favorite foodie friends I ate through the country with. Heads up—it’s sustainable and pepper crops are returning to their pre-drought output levels! It was brightened with a drizzle of pomegranate molasses grabbed from the bustle of Kadıköy bazaar on a long layover in the ancient yet vibrant Istanbul.
I try not to do gluten, so I made socca with chickpea flour. Wikipedia will tell you it’s an unleavened flatbread that predates written history. I’ll tell you to reheat it in the microwave or, even better, sauté it the next day with olive or sesame oil. It’s a Mediterranean dish, but it complements Asian flavors too.
The risotto was born out of leftovers—chicken, mushrooms, cauliflowers, coconut milk to replace the usual cream. As it was heating up in the pan, the rain stopped and the smell of petrichor came in through the window and high-fived those earthy notes.
It was hard for me to understand how many places I was taken back to, just by throwing a few leftovers together… all the places the ingredients had come from that I had, and had not, been to.
In addition to all of this, kitchens are forges of another experience that brings me delight… sharing. I love packing meals for clients I know well. It’s a way our shared joy can linger into the next day, kind of like how you might hum the chorus of a song when you’re by yourself.
So… with a wave or three of the hands, all of this was brought together in a tupperware container, wrapped up in a cloth bag that was used to wrap a gift given to me in Sweden (and would return with me, as this lunch was packed for a total ATF who always returns my tupperware). Et voilà!
I think, as many do, that both connection and cooking are all about giving of yourself and creating something new. Familiar clients know that, to me, they are intertwined. That’s why I try to leave them with a food gift to remind them of our escapades while the new day unfolds. It’s a gift from this wide and varied world to us both, for me to be able to share mementos from my journey during the mile or two we walk together.