Best Meals of Oh Ten

December 26, 2010

How many bloggers are writing something like this? My guess would be dozens, at least. Dragging out the year’s “best of” is a pretty hackneyed trope for anyone who had to write something (anything) for a deadline anytime in the past thirty days. The creation of the blogosphere only multiplies the cliché rate exponentially. Yet I must confess that I’m addicted to reading every “top X’s of the year” I come upon. I’ve certainly wasted hours reading up on the top athletes, the top new music releases and the top fiction releases of 2010 despite the cold fact that I couldn’t care less about any of them. I might actually put some of the top 10 films in my Netflix queue, but in truth I could probably do without most of the other exercises in remembering the year.

In comparison to these relatively public “best of” lists, a best meals list has to be pretty narcissistic. Still, one of my themes is temporality, the way that growing, preparing and eating involves the lived-experience of time passing. The real sense in which “you are what you eat” has less to do with the substances that your body is made of than with the way that the time of one’s life consists in seasonally reproduced cycles of food. So in that spirit I press ahead with my original thought.

In truth, I had memorable meals in abundance. There was a Bulgarian feast in Sofia, and shopping at a grocery store for bread, wine, cheese and sausages in Madrid. That meal came back to the apartment that Diane and I had booked with four friends from college days, where we stayed up until 2:00 am eating and laughing. That’s what makes a meal worth talking about–the conviviality as much as the food.

The Thornapple blog has celebrated a lot of specific foods, but only a few specific meals. One of them was the MSU Student Organic Farm’s big gala fundraiser back in September, and another was the chili I cooked for a Thornapple fundraiser last January. The chili was especially significant for me because it marked the first time in many years that I got back to an art to which I had dedicated quite a bit of myself in younger days. My particular chili involves both pork roast and ground beef, and it takes three kinds of beans: pinto, kidney and lima. The last bean will surprise many chili aficionados but don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it. In January, it also involved canned tomatoes and copious amounts of frozen peppers that Diane had frozen from the previous year’s cache. The peppers (many kinds) were accumulated from our participation in both the Thornapple and the Giving Tree CSA. Oddly, we did not freeze any peppers this year so I don’t know what will happen when the chili fever seizes me some cold winter’s day in 2011.

But of course the real culinary highlights of the year revolve not around canned tomatoes, but fresh heirlooms, which provide the primary gustatory rationale for Thornapple CSA, in the first place. One can find repeated references to them in the Thornapple blog, and I would expect this trend to continue. It’s always that first dish of tomatoes and cottage cheese that’s the best one. Yet I confess that I can’t necessarily recall the specific episode during which this memorable meal occurred. Oh, feeble and fervid neurons! Peaches are right behind tomatoes, and I can recall that giant box of organic white peaches Diane brought in last August. Not one of them was lacking for a bruise or a blemish, so  it was advisable to stand over the sink or in the yard with a knife in one hand and the oozing peach in the other. (Does that count as a meal?) One could get a backache bending over to keep peach juice from staining one’s shirt, but it would be worth it.

As an inveterate but accidental tourist, I also eat lots of meals out. One particularly memorable one was squid in its own ink at the Metro Moya Restaurante. That’s a Basque specialty I had to try while I was in Bilbao. It was exquisitely prepared and very tasty. Very black, I must say. Yet’ I’m not sure this is one I’d do again. A more repeatable meal would be tapas (called pinxtos in Bilbao). I would head to Casa Victor Montes on Plaza Nueva. I guess it just reflects my bias for the ordinary day-to-day over the exquisite and cosmopolitan.  There was a nice Chicago dog on the floor of the McCormick Place Convention Center, and there was exotic take-out (lobster roll) from Faneuil Hall in Boston. On the chic side I also had a very nice bouillabaisse, but not in the Basque country. This one was in the restaurant of the Hotel Dupont back in Washington, DC. Our group was eating with Walter Willett, and the obvious pick is “Whatever he’s having.”

Back in Lansing there are always visits to SanSu, and the occasional take-out, but my most memorable meals are probably two visits to Golden Harvest. They buy heirlooms from Thornapple at the Allen St. market, by the way. I’d go there frequently but for the fact that one can easily have a wait of thirty minutes to an hour to get one of the tables in this absolutely fantastic and hard to describe eatery. I haven’t written about it because its against the rules. It’s become one of those places that’s gotten too popular. As Yogi once said, “No one goes there. It’s too crowded.”

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

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