Notched, Part 2: Cramming a Big Food World Into My Small Kitchen

Hey, what can I say? I love food. So I’m going to transition last week’s discussion about how my food foundation had been massively shaken by travel into how I’ve taken this big world of food and crammed it into my very own mouth…errr, kitchen. I cook *so much* more now, and I cook better.

Flashback to 2011: I’m on my first European vacation, an epic train-driven trip with stops in Munich, Zurich, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. After bickering through the lively, nighttime streets of Brussels, the husband & I have finally chosen a restaurant and have been seated for dinner. **SIDENOTE: It’s a weeknight at 930pm, but the restaurants are just now filling up with people, and we’re ALL trying to get those outdoor tables**  I scan the menu, and whether by recommendation or by free will, I choose a traditional Belgian stew called waterzooi.

It gets prepared while we marvel at the circumstances:  this long, rectangular plaza where our hotel is located, where just hours earlier we declared to be a deserted, economically forgotten section of town, has absolutely transformed into a nightlife hub bursting with energy  (Sainte Catherine Place, FTR). And then the dish is left in front of me, a simple and creamy, yet quite hearty, stew of mostly root vegetables and game bird sections. I loved and remember it for a simplicity that still turned out to be remarkably satisfying..

Flashback to ~one month later, 2011: We’re back home, and I REALLY want waterzooi. But you see, I’d had no prior history of being an adventurous cook, or really any kind of cook whatsoever, You go to work, you come home, you make or buy something to makes your stomach shut up: that was my method of “cooking.” Except that I wanted waterzooi; did I mention that? Waterzooi paired with a big a$$ Belgian beer. And I knew of no such restaurant in our city to cure this ailment, and so – backed into a corner – I *gasp* looked up the recipe. And at the top of my search results?  Julia Child’s waterzooi recipe!!! The famed chef apparently had a thing for this dish, too.

Off to the store I went, spending an abnormal amount of time staring at root veggies, and learning for the first time exactly what a leek looked like. I followed the recipe mostly to the letter (though went easy on the egg yolks), and it turned out wonderfully, as did the beer pairing. I haven’t looked back since; I prepare waterzooi each fall without fail, but the menu at our house has expanded far beyond that.  Each place we’ve visited has expanded my palate and, thus, my cooking curiosities. I at least try – though sometimes fail – to recreate the foods we’ve relished far from home (someone please send me Spanish jamon iberico…) whenever possible

There’s only one thing that I could never recreate at home: the indescribable feeling that burns an impression someplace deep within your brain. You know, that feeling you get when eating a new-to-you dish at 10 p.m. on the outskirts of a suddenly-awakened plaza in Brussels, a place where you hadn’t been before (and would you ever be back again?). Thankfully, that memory never, ever leaves you, and you can recreate it as many times as you can allow a new destination to leave its mark within you. But when you’re home and longing for such places, you create your own food holiday in the meantime…

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3 thoughts on “Notched, Part 2: Cramming a Big Food World Into My Small Kitchen

    1. It is! It’s such a tough adjustment, too, for someone who’d prefer to eat at 6 p.m. every night when there’s a choice in the matter. And then we found the exception when we went to London w/the late dinner mindset, and found everything to be preparing to close by 9-10 p.m. Too funny.

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