One of the great things about food is how it marks the milestones of our lives. There are those dishes that will trigger a sensory recall whenever we’re around them to that specific time in our lives, or are solely meant for that one time a year to be shared with loved ones. There are those foods given as gifts annually around the holidays and those you think about so much that you scour for it far and wide. Some have an evolution of their place in our hearts, from disgust to adoration, and some might even go in the opposite direction. As we enter this new year, and even new decade, I wanna take a look back on some of the foods that shaped my 2019, and maybe even some culinary growth of my own throughout this decade.
The biggest change in my food world on a decade level is hands down my vegetable consumption. For, I now consume vegetables! Like, daily! Multiple kinds, in multiple ways! Twelve-year-old Scout in 2010 would never have believed that 2019 Scout would happily use an entire meal of the day to consume a kale salad, or eat some arugula out of the bag as a snack. There was even a span of a few months this fall where I utterlycraved celery, (which hasn’t wholly passed really. Give me a celery stick and some hummus and that’s my favorite go-to lunch). There’s been parsnips roasted, spinach sautéed, radishes sliced thin, and edamame coaxed out of its pod. And won’t ya know, they’ve tasted pretty darn good along with making the body feel stoked to do all the movin’ and groovin’ it loves! Thanks not only to vegetables for doing all that, and to those who continually pushed vegetable consumption on me. Ya’ll did the Good Work.
- Oatmeal Scotchies
Especially as the holiday season has recently left us, it is impossible to leave out one of the most formative cookies of not only my year and my decade, but my life. The recipe for this cookie of oats, chocolate chips, and butterscotch chips was handed down from my mother’s Aunt Rachel to her, and now from my Mom to my sister and me. While nothing in particular makes them a holiday cookie, we always make at least one large batch after Thanksgiving hits, and usually two before Christmas is over. This was probably the first cookie I ever made, the cookie that served as the subject for my first forays into intensive baking as an adolescent, and the cookie that all others like it are held against in my mind. It was with utter pride that I baked a batch upon my homecoming this year and heard my father proclaim that they were some of the best scotchies produced in a number of years (Chill your dough! Chill! Your! Dough!). The texture given by the oatmeal, the classic chocolate chips, the buttery butterscotch, all together in a cookie that’s crisp on the outside giving way to a bit of chew. Perfect for milk (or more preferably, eggnog) dipping. If I could have one cookie for the rest of my life, it would be this one.
- Bread Baking
There are a multitude of foods that people, especially Alton Brown, will insist “really should be made yourself”, despite being incredibly time consuming and labor intensive. And while I still have yet to try making my own tortillas, one thing I will concede: homemade bread is better and worth it. While we dabbled with regular ol’ white bread by using a bread machine in the middle of the decade, 2019 saw a variety of yeasted breads made using only a KitchenAid mixerand my own two hands. White sandwich bread, Irish soda, pumpernickel, challah, brioche, and ciabatta all came fresh out of my oven this year. Not only does a loaf of bread make the house smell incredible and provide a wonderful opportunity to work out your emotions through kneading, but a slice of freshly baked bread is truly unlike anything you’re getting at your everyday supermarket. The insides are pillow-y. The crusts are…crusty..Okay, honestly, what makes this bread better than even bread brought home fresh from your local bakery I don’t know, but it’s fresh bread and soup that gets me through a NH winter and you just gotta try it.
This summer was the summer of my love of beans. Before 2019 I had never thought much of the legume, but this summer I went bean crazy. It began with my Mom’s five bean salad in all its bright, vinegary goodness. And as the summer continued with quesadillas, tacos, and nachos almost daily, it seemed like it wasn’t a day unless there were beans involved in a meal. Mix them up with some potatoes, tomatoes, and a fried egg for breakfast or puree them into a dip for a late-night bar snack, they add that wonderful plant-based protein to any time of day. I’ll take ‘em in black, red, garbanzo, white, maybe even green if prepared right. And while I love the flavor, it’s the texture that has really endeared them to me. The little burst of the skin when consuming a whole bean giving way to a creamy middle is so simply satisfying in a way nothing else is for me this year. With an entire season of my life essentially dedicated to them, they are certainly a food staple of my 2019.
Yes, I have always loved cake. It’s one of the most famously loved foods! So loved that it’s universally consumed as the dish to celebrate a life! But 2019 brought me closer to cake than ever before. Many slices were had at many bakeries and baked in my own oven. And while some were disappointingly dry, others, like the one at Veniero’s, Little Cupcake Bakeshop, andButter and Scotch, were the quintessence of what a slice of cake should be. I came to understand how deep a place cake has in my heart. Not only a sweet treat reserved for birthday celebrations (though I did bake a few special ones, including a makeshift one for a very special 21stbirthday in Poughkeepsie, as well as one for my boss two short months later) but one that can just as legitimately be had whenever a craving comes upon me in a Friday night hanging alone in my room. A couple layers of sponge and frosting are a simple confection that brings a childlike joy when done right. It is my ultimate favorite food to celebrate joy and comfort me after a hard day. Thank you to all the good cakes of 2019 that did just that.
Oh, how many bagels I ate this year. Summertime alone saw at least one bagel a week during my time in Poughkeepsie due to weekly Sunday bagel brunches. And as the weeks went on, one usually became two. And bagels were saved for future meals for the week as well. Combine the resulting bagel consumption of those two months with living in NYC and bagels have to be one of my most consumed meals of the year. Even after 21 years of bagel eating, I still found new ways to love them. I had my first tofu cream cheese which was surprisingly tasty, with a little bit of an interesting textural difference from regular cream cheese. And while an egg everything is the ultimate for me, I’ll take a whole wheat everything over a regular when given the choice. No, there’s not really gonna be anysignificant impact on the healthiness of the meal, but the flavor and texture are just a little more interesting and savory. And as one who hardly ever ventures into the sweet bagel realm, it hits just the right bagel spot for me.
- The Banana
I eat a lot of fruit, but nary a weekday passes when I don’t have a banana. My introduction to Trader Joe’sthis year (another significant addition to my food life because, Wow affordable things of good quality are great!) also gave me access to bunches of five bananas for $1. $1!!! For a mid-morning snack that’s tasty and filling and comes with its own container! And while I have found that keeping them in the fridge and eating them cold is my preferred method, I’m just as happy to have a regular room temp one. And while I’ll occasionally slice it up and put it on some toast with a smear of peanut butter, throw it in a smoothie, or heat it with some nuts and brown sugar for a waffle/pancake/French toast topping, I’ll usually be having it straight at around 10:30am. While an apple a day keeps the doctor away, bananas are much neater. I predict many more daily bananas in 2020 and beyond (so long as those bunches stay $1).
- Homemade Pasta
I love doing unnecessarily challenging and exhaustive things. This is why I love making homemade pasta. As my desire to explore different cooking techniques and areas this past decade, I got it into my head at one point that I must perfect making homemade pasta. Do I have a pasta roller or a pasta extruder? No! Did I get either? No! Because if I can’t do it well with my own two hands, a rolling pin, and a knife then I wasn’t really doing it anyway. I would slowly mix the flour, salt, egg, and oil (by hand for a few years until I tried a food processor which saved a lot of trouble), knead, let it rest, roll it out, cut fettuccini strips, and cook briefly all in addition to making some multi-hour long sauce or stuffed and wrapped chicken to make the meal as labor intensive and from-scratch as possible. Homemade pasta is unnecessary pageantry for a meal that I will eat up any day of the week. And while I will happily make much more pasta from scratch this way forever, I do hope to get some tools to help sometime this decade. Because frankly, fettuccini gets old.
Those are just a few of the culinary areas that shaped my year/decade. I look forward to many food adventures in this new year, as well as savoring old favorites. I hope to learn to skills in the kitchen, broaden my horizons, and scout out many a new bakery and restaurant, and I hope the same for you!