October 22, 2006

the choices we make

salad of late-season japanese tomato
goat cheese, olive oil, japanese red sea salt

pan-seared mahi mahi
slow-poached egg, eggplant, andouille, bacon, bell pepper, mushroom, balsamic drops

"To think about tomorrow is a luxury."
- Rt. Revd. David Zac Niringiye

I try to appreciate the amazing luxury of choices we have, even in our most basic daily routines (white or wheat? paper or plastic? soup or salad?). It's a real gift and a blessing, and we've done nothing in particular to deserve it. Yet I constantly take for granted the mere existence of a choice... of options... of the opportunity to make a decision... something a lot of people in this world don't have.

This weekend, I had beef tongue for the first time in a tasty taco de lengua. Beef tongue isn't exactly the most appetizing visual image, but its taste and texture are uniquely satisfying. The tongue is a very lean piece of meat that needs to be stewed for a bit in order to make it soft and velvety. The diced tongue in the taco had a lighter-than-beef flavor, with just a hint of textural resistance... maybe stewed at a slightly high temperature... but still a nice canvas for the salsa verde, onion and cilantro.

We saw this little block of Japanese sea salt -- it's roughly about 8 cubic inches, half a pound in weight -- and were intrigued. It's fascinating to learn about all the different types of salt out there, how they're produced, and what other elements they may contain. Apparently, the pinkish hue in this chunk comes from the presence of calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper and iron. It supposedly has a unique minerally flavor that goes well with tomatoes... we'll see about that. We also found some pristine looking mahi mahi... funny how similar in color the flesh of the mahi mahi is to the salt.

This morning, we had a chance to stop by La Farine to pick up some breakfast with Melissa and Dawn. I also wanted to get a seeded baguette (my favorite bread) for dinner tonight... it's generously topped with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and toasted fennel seeds. The nutty, lightly anise flavor is a great match for the toothsome texture of the rustic baguette. I could eat the whole baguette myself, with just a bit of sweet cream butter or st. andre cheese...

For dinner tonight, I wanted to keep things simple, but was also craving some rich flavors as the temperature dropped suddenly about 15 degrees with the arrival of a bit of an off-shore breeze. I found these lusciously red japanese tomatoes at Berkeley Bowl that smelled surprisingly ripe and full-flavored, with a pronounced citric aroma permeating its skin. I sliced that up and added some creamy goat cheese and olive oil to add roundness... the tomatoes were awesome! Fairly firm flesh, but which a mouth-filling concentration of vibrant flavor; definitely not sweet and mellow, these had real life and exhuberance, exploding with lycopene goodness. I microplaned some of the pink salt on top -- Lav declared its unique flavor to be "salty."

Ever since I read this blog entry, I've been wanting to try making a slow-poached egg with a uniformly custard-like consistency. I slow-poached the egg for one hour at 63 degrees celsius; the contents would serve as the base of the dish. In the meantime, I sauteed a dice of eggplant and andouille, crisped a bacon segment, and seared the mahi mahi. I was trying to go with two predominant flavor themes here: sweet and earthy. The sweet elements came from the custard-like yolk (which had a subtle intrinsic sweetness that paired perfectly with a bit of thick, aged, low acid balsamic drizzle... sort of the same idea as David Kinch's use of maple syrup, but purely savory), the eggplant, caramelized shallots and roasted yellow bell pepper flesh. The earthy theme was represented by the seared mahi flesh, roasted mushroom, the andouille and the bacon. Ultimately, although decadent and tasty, there were too many flavors obscuring the focus... I should have ditched the bacon and eggplant. The slow-poached egg was awesome though, and would be optimal with a steak or served simply with salt and a dab of sweet syrup.

And just like that, another weekend has flown by. As we finished up, I started thinking about the past two days... what exactly did I do this weekend? Well, I tried some new foods and flavor combinations and bought a chunk of pink salt... I spent time with my wife, my friends and my family, and I held a 15-day-old baby for the first time. Each moment was significant in its own way, some far more than others. I do have the luxury of thinking about tomorrow -- planning the week ahead, not worrying about where my next meal will come from or where I'll find shelter and safety -- but maybe I should stay in the present for a bit longer instead, making sure I appreciate the moments that have just taken place.

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