Buttery goodness. There, I got that out of the way. As I watched Michael Lillegard of Duluth’s Best Bread roll out dough for his pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant), I joked that when I wrote this column, it would be difficult to resist using that expression in every other sentence. He smiled and handed me a piece of chocolate, “You’ve got to try this, it’s the best chocolate I’ve ever had.” As I bit into the dark, rich chocolate, the nuanced flavor spread through my mouth, and I thought, “Now I’ve got to resist writing ‘chocolatey goodness,’ as well.”
In my mind, mussels will be forever linked with President Bill Clinton. It was a warm June in the late ’90s and I was on my way to spend a summer working in Glacier Bay, Alaska. I had taken the train from Wisconsin to Seattle and was spending the night at the Green Tortoise Hostel near Pike Place Market (otherwise known as “the place where they throw the fish”).
There's nothing like a cold, snowy night to make you appreciate a cup of hot chocolate. A moonlit, mid-December night, 23 years ago, fit that description perfectly. I was with friends, lounging about and wondering how to spend our evening. We were in our early 20s without much ambition and even less money, so our options were limited. One of my friends suggested that we go outside. I didn’t want to go out unless there was a good reason.
Hoppin’ John is a traditional New Year’s dish in the South for more reasons than to cure a hangover. It is eaten at the beginning of the year to bring good fortune and prosperity. The peas represent coins and the collard greens are symbolic of currency. Basically, if you want to be prosperous in the upcoming year, start with a heaping helping of cold hard cash. Hoppin’ John and other bean and rice dishes found their way to the U.S. from West Africa through the Caribbean. The dish, as we know it now, got its start in South Carolina and Georgia and spread to the rest of the southern U.S.
Cheese, melted cheese especially, speaks of civility, kindness and the comforts of home. One of my favorite scenes in literature is in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.” When Jim Hawkins comes ashore with the murderous mutineers to look for treasure, he meets the man of the island, Ben Gunn, who had been marooned and left for dead three years earlier.
The first big snowstorm of the year always comes as a bit of a surprise. It shouldn’t, I know. We live in Duluth. The Christmas City of the North. Shoveling snow is deeply entrenched in our muscle memory. We should know better but somehow that first snowfall always seems to sneak up on us. I was driving home the morning after this year’s first major blanketing last week. As I turned onto the street that leads up the hill that brings me home, I saw a car in front of me stuck halfway in a ditch.
Giving thanks for side dishes Everywhere I turn, I see turkeys. And turkey recipes. “21 Best Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes,” “6 Steps To The Perfect Turkey,” “Quick And Healthy Turkey Recipes”…. I could go on but I might not know when to stop. It seems like everyone wants to tell you how to cook your bird. I’m not going to do that. I’m sure you already have a perfectly good technique for getting your turkey done just right. Moist and tender inside with a crispy golden skin and succulent flavor throughout.
Halloween is fall’s exclamation point. Fall has always been the most nostalgic season, full of faded memories of hayrides, piles of leaves and marching bands. Halloween, with its candy-colored costumes and dusty pumpkins, intensifies and sharpens those memories. I can still feel the tugging across my belly from an outgrown raincoat, the heft of the garden hose coiled over my shoulder and the slight pinch on my forehead from the plastic fireman’s helmet as, at age 8, I donned my all-time favorite costume. Sometimes, the memories come from a single fleeting moment.
An apple’s sweet, crisp crunch is the exact expression of a perfect fall day. For some, that could be a drive in the country to “ooh” and “aah” at the blazing orange, red and yellow leaves adorning the trees. For others, it could mean feeling a cool wind on your face and the rustling of those leaves underfoot as you hike through the woods. Maybe it’s that first home football game, the anticipation of hunting season, or Halloween parties where you intentionally dunk your head into a tub of ice cold water to try to fish out an elusive Macintosh or Honey Crisp.
It seems like just last week that I was headed off to college for the first time. Not really knowing what to expect, I let my naivete and trust in my fellow humans guide me through one of the biggest changes in my life. I was free, unfettered by the norms of life in a nuclear family. I stayed up til all hours of the morning. I had conversations about “cognitive dissonance” and the “military-industrial complex.” I discovered social psychology, free jazz and Jack Kerouac.