Flavor of the Month: January 2017

Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Food is such an everyday thing, it can sometimes fade into the background. Many is the night when you come home after a long day at work, and just have the same boring dinner you had last Tuesday. So I thought it would be a worthy project to make note of the exceptions; the food and drink that really stood out over the course of a month. That doesn't necessarily mean the fanciest or the most expensive things. As you'll see below, the meals that stand out are far more about meaningful situations than meaningful ingredients. Something as simple as a takeout sandwich can still represent something special.

So, what stood out in January? 2017 is shaping up to be a...challenging year, to put it mildly. That, combined with the fact that it's winter, means that comfort food featured heavily this month. But really, even if the food wasn't specifically designed to bring comfort, the company was. Even though I'm just kicking this series off now, I can already tell that what makes these foods and drinks stand out was the presence of the people I shared them with. There's a lesson for all of us in that.

  • Gnat's curried deviled eggs on New Year's Eve

  • I'm going to cheat a bit, and include something from 2016 on this list. As the year was drawing to a close, it was plainly evident how terrible the year had been on all levels, from personal to societal. I wanted to blow off a bit of steam, and going to see La La Land with my friend Gnat seemed like just the thing. Leave it to Gnat to put the perfect capper on the day by having some pre-movie deviled eggs at her house, half of which were curried. Gnat has a magical quality in the kitchen; she has an instinct for what ingredients are needed to perfectly balance something out, and my deviled eggs are never half as good as hers. They immediately lifted my spirits, and sent me into 2017 in a more optimistic mood.

  • In and out of the hospital with James

  • After the movie on New Year's Eve, I snuck some champagne into James' hospital room to watch the ball drop at midnight. The hospital food at Barnes is apparently not half bad, but it gets old after a while, so it was certainly special to bust James out of there in mid-January to take him out for a late Christmas present to Eleven Eleven Mississippi, one of his favorite restaurants. I certainly benefited too, indulging in things like an outstanding butternut squash soup and one of my favorite desserts in town, their Crème Custard Napoleon. James and I always enjoy talking food together, and it was nice to finally get a chance to do so over something other than hospital pudding.

  • My first successful lasagna

  • I don't know why, but it seems more difficult these days to figure out what to get people for the holidays. They either don't want more "stuff" (I fall into this category as well), or there isn't a particular item they want that they haven't already gotten for themselves. So for my friends Eric and Taylor, who are always busy fellows, I decided that their present was going to be to sit down to a nice home-cooked meal in January. I asked what they liked, and got a somewhat vague response about chicken and pasta. I like a challenge, and sat down to think about what I could do, when the idea of chicken lasagna struck me. Thing is, I'd never made a lasagna of any kind before, so I went on a recipe hunt. I found a promising one, though I made a few tweaks, mostly in the form of heavier seasoning. First-time recipes are often fraught with disaster, which would usually be fine, but I didn't want to screw up their present. Happily, I must have scored some beginner's luck on this one, because it came out perfectly, and when paired with roasted Brussels sprouts, garlic bread, and a blueberry buckle for dessert, it wound up being a meal even my toughest critic enjoyed.

  • A surprise French feast

  • One evening, I wandered out with my friends Jack and Corey for a final hurrah at a casual Mexican restaurant before they closed for good. The restaurant turned out to be too crowded, so we started looking for a new destination, eventually winding up at the diametric opposite of "casual Mexican". We landed at Brasserie, an upscale French restaurant that we were all a little concerned that we were under-dressed for. No matter, we dived right into some incredible food, like the most interesting pumpkin soup I've ever tasted (see below), and some nicely-seasoned Trout Grenobloise. I also noticed a sloe gin fizz on their cocktail menu, and remembered that Kyle and I had talked about them on an episode of Four Courses about spring drinks. Tardy as it was, I completed one of the drinking challenges by sipping one down, and by the end of the evening, I was feeling quite fat and happy.

  • Inventing the Camp Tigerclaw with Kyle and Erika

  • Speaking of Kyle, I don't get to see my friend and old co-host as often as I'd like these days. We did have a great night of catching up over patty melts at Picadilly, which was great, but the real notable drink event of the month happened when he threw a just-because party, to which his friend Erika brought some blueberry liqueur. The wheels began to turn in all of our brains - how could this be used to full effect? After some spirited collaboration, we settled on mixing it with ginger syrup, vodka, and lemon juice, with some Sprite on top for a little added sugar and fizz. A wonderful new drink was born, and since blueberries make us think of summer, we named it after the evil rival camp from Wet Hot American Summer.