I’ve found that I enjoy combinations of things far more than I suspect is normal. My first conscious observation of this was when a friend of mine insisted that I try steak and draft beer in the same sitting, which is fine, I suppose. It wasn’t that far off from steak and red wine, and after I discovered that, boy howdy, we were off. Food combinations are great, mixed drinks are a source of endless fascination, and I can also be slightly obsessive about the music that I’m listening to when I’m driving through a specific area – most of the good road trips in Colorado seem to be missing something vital if they’re done without the music of John Denver, the Appalachians go well with either bluegrass or Bach, and, most of Texas (and a good part of the rest of the West) go well with Michael Martin Murphy, Asleep at the Wheel, or Chris Ledoux. The desert on the drive from central California to Yosemite seems to go particularly well with, of all things, Creedence Clearwater Revival.
So many of the stories that I heard in my childhood ended with a feast. Some of this had to do with listening to Sunday School stories about the Jewish people, whose holidays can be mostly summed up as: they tried to kill us, they didn’t, let’s eat. Even leaving out Bible stories, traditional fairy tales and the books that are set in worlds that would be familiar to them – I’m thinking of settings like Narnia, for example – food, and the excess of food, is seen as a luxury item and a cause for celebration. What is a “traditional” Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner, other than plentiful food and an excess of courses?
Processing this on the level of a kid, though, really only lead me to conclude that a big fairy tale sort of feast was the best possible way that one could celebrate – after all, that’s what all heroes, kings, and princesses did – and so I was anxious to imitate them any time it was possible. I really didn’t think through the ramifications of why, exactly, this was a cause for celebration, but as long as I can remember, I loved big family dinners, multiple courses, and eating too much.
It didn’t really dawn on me until later in life that a celebration of food – or celebrating by using excess food – really only makes sense if having enough food is something that is otherwise rare. Celebrating by eating too much doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when over half of American adults are considered to be overweight.
It’s time for the yearly tradition of trying to get this blog post out before the end of January. That hasn’t worked so well this year, but at least it’s out now. Contain your joy, if at all possible.
I have no idea what your New Year’s Resolutions are, but if your house is like most houses that I’ve been in, I can offer some suggestions. In most of the houses in which I am a guest, I look around and think “Yes, yes, this is very nice house, but what they really need around here is some more books.” I do not say this out loud, because most of the time I wish to return to the house, but this is probably my most common thought, typically followed by “Stop apologizing that your house isn’t clean. It is, and I wouldn’t care even if it wasn’t.”
Nearly everyone that I know that considers themselves to be any sort of foodie has various ticks, for lack of a better word, that they’ll use to judge a restaurant or food that’s in an area. If you walk into a place that has your entree out in less than 5 minutes, for example, it’s a pretty good bet that no one in the kitchen had to do anything to it other than throw it in the microwave. Additionally, I’ve always thought that the quality of the restaurants in a town can be judged by how busy the local Olive Garden is: if it’s busy, this is generally a bad sign. If the staff has to run out of the establishment and physically drag people into it, this is generally a good sign that there are better restaurants elsewhere.1 Of course, it’s possible to have fantastic restaurants with a clientèle that’s not willing to go to them, but – to borrow a point from Tyler Cowin’s excellent book, here – this sort of thing is less sustainable than you might think. Counterintuitively, It’s probably more important for a restaurant to have quality diners than a quality chef, at least at the beginning.