Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Any Occasion for a Party

The holidays aren't the only reasons I have for celebration these days. In addition to the usual days off on the calendar and the gatherings of friends and family that go with them, I have two anniversaries worthy of a little party.

First, just before Thanksgiving I celebrated a whole year without a car. Last year I gave my old Land Yacht to Goodwill out of the frustration borne of nagging repairs (nothing huge, just a gradual wearing-down of my savings account) and of growing awareness of the environmental impact of driving. Since then, I have discovered that relying on my own two feet and the kindness of friends has helped me live in a much more grounded, localized way and led to some very pleasant and surprising consequences. This has been a very good move for me, and I look forward to what comes next.

The other anniversary I wanted to celebrate is yet to come: on Saturday, December 3, this blog will reach the one-year mark. It started as a little journal to share my holiday baking preparations with friends who love hearing about what I cook, and it has developed into both a place where I can indulge my love of food and of writing about food as well as a forum for exploring some of the deeper issues about food and food production. I'll plan to write more about what I've learned over the year in a later post, but suffice it to say that this project also led to some very pleasant and surprising consequences.

So in order to celebrate two seemingly small but astonishingly life-changing events in my life, I asked my faithful sous chef, the lovely Phoenix, how we should celebrate? She replied immediately, "Awesomely."

Well, yes, of course. But where?

After a brief discussion of options and schedules, we decided to head to the local Bistro, one of my favorite restaurants given its emphasis on local foods and organic produce, for dinner last night. (This shows you the extent of our desire to celebrately "awesomely"... dinner is much more expensive there than lunch... but oh so worth it.)

We started our meals with small bowls of a rich and creamy heirloom pumpkin soup garnished with tiny croutons and fresh chopped parsley. The fresh pumpkin flavor warmed our stomachs, and its velvety texture slid down comfortingly. I had chosen a glass of Riesling to accompany my dinner, and though the wine was surprisingly light and fruity, it paired well with the richness of the soup.

For our entrees, Phoenix opted for a large salad of mixed greens with a slice of bread topped with goat cheese and pecans and baked until bubbly and brown. I decided to sample the pecorino polenta, floating in a housemade tomato sauce and topped with braised greens (fennel, broccoli, brussel sprouts), roasted garlic, and shaved pecorino... and, of course, shared some of this delicious dish with my dinner companion. Hearty and rich, but not too filling, the polenta offered an unusual but pleasing mix of flavors.

The special dessert had been announced when we first came in, and Phoenix chose to enjoy it: a molten chocolate cake served with caramel ice cream. It sounded very fine to me, but I wasn't really up for that much chocolate for once, so I perused the rest of the dessert menu. So many wonderful choices! And I might have opted for the small serving of the dark chocolate mousse (which is fabulous) except that my eye fell upon the listing for the cheese platter and latched onto that as a very European ending to the meal.

I was astonished to discover that accompanying the cheese (a goat Brie, a Manchego, and one of my all-time favorites, Gruyère) was a sizable salad of mixed greens tossed with a light but savory vinaigrette (instead of the assumed selection of seasonal fruits and nuts). Not that this was a bad thing... those greens are locally grown and very good, and the tang of the vinaigrette worked very nicely with the creamy Brie as well as with the other cheeses. Apparently the kitchen just puts together what they find from the day's ingredients, and you take what you get since the cheese platter is not one of their more frequently-requested desserts. But I found it surprisingly satisfying as a way to end the meal, leaving me quite content with my choices.

Upon returning home, I did indulge in a small "nightcap" of a cup of sweet dreams tea sweetened with just a tiny bit of lavender honey (which might have been quite lovely on the Brie, come to that). That was all the sweetness I needed to round off the evening and settle me down for bedtime.

I think that qualifies as an "awesome" celebration, shared with one of my favorite cooking companions. And as I return to my holiday baking later this week, look for more entries that hearken back to those early days here on the site. Thanks to all of you for joining me on this culinary journey this past year.

And here's to a fruitful new year!


At 12/01/2005 8:01 AM, Anonymous Karen said...

Congratulations on both your anniversaries!
You continue to be, as you have always been, an inspiration to me.

At 12/01/2005 10:48 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Thank you, fair friend! I appreciate your support, as always. If I can make a little difference, cast a positive influence, in a few other people's lives, I'm glad. I know both things have made a positive impact on my own life.


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