Just Say Cheese!

cheese signFor two years I lived in Belgium, where supposedly there is a different cheese for every day of the year. Just a few blocks from my house on Avenue de Versailles was my favorite store, Fromagerie Saint-Michel, and during those two years, I was a frequent customer. The ladies behind the counter were so helpful and allowed me to taste many different kinds of cheese on each visit. They would offer me suggestions as to which cheeses to serve together and what other foods should be served with them. I just loved shopping there.

Cheese has always been my favorite food. I’m pretty sure I could live off of cheese alone, although a crusty piece of baguette, with a thin spread of salty French butter, really makes a nice piece of cheese a whole meal. I love grainy, white cheddar cheese from Ireland as much as I love creamy, runny Brie from France. I like Swiss cheese with its big holes that look as though a mouse has been nibbling his way through the center. I like manchego cheese that comes from Spain, which tastes great with salty, green olives and honey-glazed Spanish almonds.

racletteOf course, cooking with cheese is even better than eating it plain. Who doesn’t love rich and creamy mac ‘n cheese, which my mom baked in the oven until the macaroni pieces sticking up around the edges were crispy and golden brown. A grilled cheese sandwich on toasted rye bread, cooked on low heat in a skillet coated with butter, is a great Sunday night dinner while I grade papers and get ready for another week of school. All over Europe people gather together for dinner parties, happily dipping chunks of bread, slices of apples, and tiny roasted potatoes into a cheesy dip called fondue. A slight variation of this is raclette, which is a nutty, mild and creamy cheese that is melted in front of a fireplace, and then the oozing melted part is scraped onto plates and passed around. This is also served with really good bread and roasted potatoes.

raclette grillCheese isn’t just for lunch and dinner, though. In the Scandinavian countries, people eat sliced cheese and cold cuts for breakfast. All along the East Coast of the United States, people smear cream cheese on bagels, sometimes with crazy flavors and sometimes just plain. In Italy, people spread fresh ricotta cheese on slices of toast and drizzle them with honey for breakfast or as an after-school snfondueack for their kids. And of course, there is no pizza without mozzarella!

Hands down, cheese is my favorite dairy product. Even though cheese is a close relative of yogurt, I could never love yogurt the way I love cheese. Cheese simply is the perfect food, eaten alone or on a sandwich, manchegosliced or cut into chunks, made into a dip or melted and scraped onto bread, for me there is nothing like it.  In fact, when someone is ready to take a picture of me, and they tell me “say cheese”, I am not smiling for the camera. I am smiling for the cheese!

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Should I Put an Egg on It?

I am a very adventurous eater. I will taste just about anything, and my lemon curd tartlist of things I hate is very, very small. Lychee nuts and eggs. Yes, eggs. I don’t eat eggs unless they are beaten up in a cake batter or the whites have been whipped into a meringue sitting on top of egg yolks that have been beaten into a rich and creamy lemon curd, baked into a beautiful pastry shell.

lycheeMy first taste of a lychee nut was in 2002 in a restaurant Waterloo, Belgium, where we ordered chocolate fondue for a family dessert. The pot of gorgeous, glossy, dark chocolate sat atop a platter of just about anything you can imagine for dipping: cookies, pretzels, banana slices, pineapple chunks, marshmallows, strawberries, and then something I had never seen before. A quick word with the waiter confirmed it was a lychee. I tried it. I didn’t like it. It tasted like soap to me, perfumed soap.

scrambled eggsI’m told that I was fed scrambled eggs as a baby and spit them out immediately. My mother even tried arranging the scrambled eggs in a smiley face pattern on the plate to entice me into eating them, to no avail. Eventually she gave up and never offered me eggs any other way: boiled, fried, poached. I just opted out of eggs altogether with no further experimentation.

This was no big surprise because in truth, my mother didn’t eat eggs either. She worried that she had somehow influenced her first born into not liking them either. My first cousin, Penny, also doesn’t eat eggs. That makes three of us, so it seems to be genetic. Except that my father and my two brothers could have happily lived off of eggs. My dad liked them any kind of way, and for a while we had one of those old-fashioned egg poaching pots with a metal insert that held the little poaching cups suspended over the boiling water. He also loved a fried egg with his grits.

no eggAt all family get-togethers, my mother was in charge of the potato salad. She made really great potato salad and everyone in town knew it. She frequently made ten pounds of potato salad for receptions after funerals at our church. Of course, when she made the potato salad for our family, it was always divided into two bowls, one with hard-boiled eggs and one without, just for Penny, my mom, and me. Boy, do I miss her. My brother John Roy made potato salad for the reception after my dad’s funeral in May of 2015, and because of Penny and me, he left the eggs out. It was delicious, and with one bite I nearly started crying. Already melancholic over the loss of my dad, tasting my brother’s potato salad brought me right back to my mother. I have tried numerous times, but I don’t think I will ever get it just like hers, or in fact, just like his.

omeletMy husband loves eggs. When we go out for breakfast or brunch, he almost always orders an omelet. In theory, this sounds delicious to me. Cheese, onions, peppers, sausage, all sautéed together. But then add scrambled eggs to that and it is just not appealing to me. I feel the same way about frittata and quiche, although I do have a quiche recipe that I will eat. The secret is that the ratio of cheese to eggs is way out of proportion in my favor. I got the recipe from a co-worker’s wife decades ago. Let me know if you want me to share it with you.

magazine coverEggs are huge right now. Magazine covers, podcasts, Food Network cooking shows, eggs are everywhere. Bon Appétit’s April cover declares, “Put an Egg on It”. They followed up on April 12th with a podcast devoted solely to eggs. I listened intently. Poached eggs are still big apparently, but fried eggs are surprisingly huge, too. The podcast’s discussion on the fried egg centered on the use of olive oil as the fat, with “crispy edges”, and I must say that does sound appetizing. There was also a great deal of discussion about the “jammy egg” which apparently is a soft-boiled egg that can be peeled and sliced in half as opposed to eaten directly out of the shell. (That’s a six and a half-minute egg, in case you are wondering.) jammy eggJammy eggs are really popular right now plopped down in the center of a bowl of steaming ramen. I love ramen, but I’m not sure I want to mess that up with a runny yolk dripping all over my noodles.

So, the question is: Should I put an egg on it? Should I give eggspoached egg
another try? I mean, it’s been a really long time since I was a toddler spitting out scrambled eggs. Where would I start? I feel like Julia Roberts in that scene from The Runaway Bride. Oh, well, the jury is still out. In the meantime, I’ll have the potato salad and the ramen, hold the egg.