Life came at us like a Roman chariot race this year, and what a year it was. Craig’s movie The Skeleton Twins premiered at Sundance in January, and since then it’s taken us all around the world–me as far as Edinburgh and Berlin, Craig as far as Hong Kong–and even now our lives still feel like they’re moving at warp speed. That said, I always enjoy these moments in December when I can look back on the year that was and soak it all in. Normally, I do a ranking of the Best Things That I Cooked and The Best Things That I Ate, but this year I’m just choosing ten of my favorite food moments (chronologically). Let’s get to it.
Actually, before we get to it, there are a few moments that didn’t make the main list but feel pretty significant. For example, my blog turned 10 in January, that was kind of a big deal. We had a Sauce Week with over a dozen sauce recipes/posts. After 8 years together, Craig finally ventured into the kitchen and made me dinner and it was a success. I joined a CSA. And these banana cupcakes with peanut butter frosting dazzled everyone who ate them.
But those things? They didn’t make the list. THESE THINGS DID….
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Craig and I both have birthdays in February and normally that’s an excuse for us to go out to two fancy meals we can’t afford. But this year I realized that Craig would probably enjoy a home-cooked meal just as much as a meal out, so I decided to make him a French feast with cheese for dessert instead of cake. And while he loved that aspect of the meal, the part that actually stole the show was what I put on the table first: this celeriac and caramelized pear soup from Alfred Portale’s underrated cookbook Simple Pleasures. It’s such a brilliant combination of flavors: the earthiness of the celeriac is complemented beautifully by the sweetness of the pears. And also, because of the balsamic vinegar, you get a pretty color contrast when you plate it at the end. I liked this so much, in fact, I made it again recently for another dinner party, and almost ate the whole thing in the kitchen before serving it up. It’s that good.
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Look, celebrities are just people like you and me (I learned that lesson a few times this year!), but there is one major difference: if you happen to go with a celebrity to a restaurant where they’re recognized? There’s a good chance you’ll eat like a king (or a queen, as the case may be). When The Skeleton Twins played at the San Francisco Film Festival this year, I was luckily enough to join Craig, along with Bill and Kristin, for dinner at the counter at SPQR, one of San Francisco’s most exciting Italian restaurants. The place is known for its handmade pastas–note: pasta is my favorite food–and the plates of fat-laced carbohydrates just kept coming and coming. My favorite was probably this Lasagnette with mushrooms:
But the manicotti with ramps and truffles didn’t disappoint either:
And neither did the truffle risotto with spring vegetables:
By the end of the night, I had to be SPQRolled out of the restaurant…and don’t even ask about our 2nd dinner at State Bird Provisions.
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June 9th: Hosting An Indoor Clambake
I’m not one for grand gestures, really, when I host a dinner party. Usually it’s a bowl of this, a plate of that. But for my friend John’s birthday, this year, I decided to go big: I hosted an indoor clambake with lots of clams, shrimp, and sausage purchased from McCalls Meat and Fish (so, the good stuff). The fun part was prepping the table: laying down a towel, a plastic tablecloth, and newspaper on top of that. Then, when everything was cooked, there was the grand presentation with everything poured out right in front of everybody.
There was a slight snafu with the sausage–it was slightly undercooked (I was supposed to have used pre-cooked sausage, oops!)–but that was an easy fix with the oven. And people, myself included, had a grand old time.
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Having a food hero is one thing, but getting to meet and cook with your food hero is another. For a long time, Suzanne Goin has been one of my cooking heroes. Her recipes are always the cream of the crop–her ability to maximize flavor with whatever she’s making is astounding–and her restaurants, too, are among my favorites in L.A. So when I was invited to cook alongside her at the L.A. Festival of Books as emcee, I couldn’t say “no.” And everything about the experience was wonderful: from watching her pick parsley leaves off a huge bunch of parsley because “the stem has a different flavor,” to seeing her effortlessly assemble a difficult dish like pea pancakes with fresh crab.
Soon after, I received a copy of her fantastic new AOC cookbook and I started reading it all the time. And soon enough, I made something from it and that thing–Lamb Merguez with Eggplant Jam and Green Olives–is probably my favorite thing that I made this year. I mean, take a look:
Like all of her recipes, this one’s labor-intensive but so worth the trouble. The woman is a goddess. Bow down!
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June 25th: An Indian feast at Tayabb’s in East London
Now we get to the Europe part of our program. I ate a lot of high-minded meals while I was in London (The River Cafe, Quo Vadis, etc.) but my favorite one, by far, was the one I hadn’t planned on eating at all and that’s the meal I had at Tayabbs in East London. If I remember correctly, it was a Sunday night, and nothing else was open and so I ventured over there kind of disappointed I wasn’t going to get to go to a Heston Blumenthal restaurant, when WAM POW the lamb ribs came out and blew me out of my chair:
Seriously, these were so brilliantly spiced–and so spicy–it’s impossible for me to imagine a more flavorful bite of food. Except, perhaps, the beef curry that came out later:
Honestly, eating this all by myself at the table felt a bit like I was hosting an Orgy for 1. But who cares? Nobody knows me in London, especially the people who sat down next to me in the middle of my Bacchanal who for some reason decided that I didn’t speak English, so they talked to one another about what I was eating. “What do you think those are?” this woman asked her husband about my ribs. No matter; the less I had to talk, the more I could eat. And I ate plenty.
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Because my friends Mark and Diana were going to be in Paris at the same time I was in Europe in between film festivals (Edinburgh and Munich), I justified a trip to see them there while Craig flew back to the states to attend the Nantucket Film Festival. Our 48 hours in Paris were pretty special–well documented here–and though my favorite meal was the dinner we had at Le 6 Paul Bert, featuring this dish called “Carottes nouvelles, abricot, miel et sureau”:
The most fun one was definitely the one we had with David Lebovitz at Little Breizh on the Rue Grégoire de Tours. I mean, look how much fun Diana’s having:
David, as we all know, is the ultimate Paris tour-guide, and his books on the subject (especially his new book, My Paris Kitchen) are without compare. At lunch, he guided us through the menu and we all enjoyed the famous buckwheat crepes with ham and cheese and an egg at the center:
Plus cider to wash it down.
Then David toured us around to chocolate shops and patisseries, even his favorite place for booze. He didn’t even charge us, though later he did ask me to wash all of his dishes and to do all of his laundry. But it was totally worth it.
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July 3rd: Dinner at Buerehiesel in Strasbourg
This year was a year that I got to live out a fantasy I’ve long harbored; the fantasy of eating my way through Europe like Ina Garten in the 70s. Even though Craig wasn’t there for the main thrust of it (London, Paris, and Strasbourg), the journey still felt highly romantic–especially because I made my way around by train (reading Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, which couldn’t have been more fitting). The highlight of this whole enterprise was the meal I ate by myself on my one night in Strasbourg, a dinner at the Michelin-starred Buerehiesel.
It wasn’t so much that the food was revelatory (though it was, indeed, excellent stuff), it was more the whole idea of me sitting down at a table in a beautiful park in Europe, on the border of France and Germany, on grounds that Napoleon had once bought for Josephine, and allowing myself to revel in the splendor of it all. The setting couldn’t have been more pristine:
And the service was so grand, I didn’t want it to end:
The bread and butter were actually my favorite part of the whole meal, which is not an insult at all; they were just that good:
And the rest was like that scene in European Vacation where Audrey just gets fatter and fatter and fatter, but I didn’t care:
If that isn’t the sophisticated European meal of your dreams, I don’t know what is. I’ll never forget it.
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July 21st: The Rainbow Cookie Cake Connection
Back in the States, I rolled up my sleeves in July and made a cake based on my favorite cookie of all time (the rainbow cookie, duh). That cake caused quite a stir online–especially Instagram–where one of my followers claiming to be TV’s Jim Parsons said something like, “Wow!” I thought to myself: “Who is this Jim Parsons imposter and why is he commenting on my Rainbow Cookie Cake?” Then, a few days later, this image popped up:
Turns out it really was Jim Parsons and not only had he commented on my Rainbow Cookie Cake, but he and his partner Todd went ahead and made it for another TV star–Jesse Tyler Ferguson–and Jesse’s partner Justin. Wow indeed! That, actually, led to a real life meet-up with Jim and Todd and now we’re all friends. Who knew a Rainbow Cookie Cake could be so powerful?
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October 10th: The Omelette at Petit Trois
Hyperbole is exhausting. “The best this,” and “the most amazing that.” Food bloggers are professional boys and girls who cry wolf… I get that the whole thing is annoying. So I’m going to muffle my superlatives and just say that this omelette at Petit Trois taught me more about the power of technique than any other bite of food I had this year. Shoot! That was a hyperbolic thing to say too! But it’s so true…I studied the man making this omelette, and then watched a video of Ludo making the omelette online, but to truly experience its wonder, you have to get yourself a seat at the bar (a pretty easy thing to do at lunchtime) and order up this lighter-than-a-cloud concoction of eggs and cheese. And while you’re there, don’t miss the Jacques Cousteau-worthy Escargot:
Or the epic Napoleon with house-made puff pastry (as good, in my opinion, as what I ate in Paris):
There’s nothing petit about what happens at Petit Trois. It’s definitely my favorite meal I had in L.A. this year (shoot, another superlative!!!)
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December 15th: Making 300 Latkes
Finally, we come to the latkes; my most Herculean effort, thus far, as a home cook. Over the course of several weekends, I shredded potatoes, onions, squeezed out the juices (crying muchly in the process!), mixing it all with eggs and matzoh meal and salt, and then frying everything up in oil. The results were stupendous, if a bit exhausting, and then because I froze everything, all I had to do at my holiday party was heat them up in the oven. Only, I couldn’t keep up with the demand! People went crazy for these latkes. Next year, I’ll have to make even more. Oy.
And that, my friends, concludes my favorite food moments of 2014. Hope yours were just as tasty; and here’s to even better eating in the year to come.