Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Windy City Cooking: Week 27

(Ed.'s Note- Every Monday--and occasionally on Tuesday--Chicago's Jason Hissong writes Windy City Cooking, a column whose title says it all. Enjoy! -Max)

the thin meal

The Thin Place
by Jason Hissong
22 February 2010

I asked my friend Larissa what she means when she uses the term "thin places." She gave me a quote. I didn't ask her where this quote is from, but this is what she wrote me, "These are places along one's spiritual path where God's spirit feels especially near." There's more to the quote, but for my purposes today that portion is enough. If forced to paraphrase, I would say that thin places, or moments, are when the tangible and the spiritual intersect, and are inseparable.

Saturday. Freedom from the cubicle. Much needed after a long Friday that ended a long week.

There's still snow on the ground, and patches of ice, and slush. It's still cold. But that's not a deterrent. My friend Jonathan and I put on our running shoes and head out. The cold air still stings, the wind still chills. One never gets used to these things. One simply endures. And so we run our 5K, together, as friends. He could blow me out of the water. Literally. I have no doubts that he could finish a 5K in half as much time as myself, but he sticks with me the entire way.

There's nothing that feels as good as the hottest shower I can stand after a difficult run in the winter. We spend the next hour recording me reciting Phillip Larkin's poem Aubade. This is me experimenting with the spoken word form. It's something I've been interested in for a bit, and Jonathan has a home recording studio for his music. We record and listen. And, after a while, recitation upon recitation, the poem got to me. It's a meditation on death, really, and being afraid to die. And it's six thirty and we're both starving.

Jonathan has planned an incredible menu. He spent his Friday night shopping various markets for the ingredients, being conscious of sustainability, green-ness, being environmental friendly, etc. And he does a spectacular job.

The menu: seared, then roasted, grass-fed, pound and a half ribeye, after a 24 hour marinade of soy and rosemary, with a home-made dill horseradish sauce. Garlic mashed potatoes. Blanched, then roasted, asparagus wrapped in prosciutto and Bourson's Gournay cheese. One bottle of Ex Umbris, a Syrah.

And there are moments that he needs me to help cook. Usually, I'd be the driver in the kitchen; setting everything to my own machinations, not being able to articulate the idea in my head to my helpers. I'm happy to take a back seat, here, in his home, and let him drive. In the interim, I get to steal slices of prosciutto and they are good. The salt addicts me. The thin translucence of each piece tells me a story of taste, and life.

The ribeyes are huge, and they barely fit in the pan. The asparagus is vivid green after its ice water bath, and I see Jonathan learn as he goes: the last bundle he wraps with prosciutto is much tighter than the first. He asks me to be in charge of the potatoes, and I am happy to do so. I mash them, and add garlic and butter, and leave the skins. And it's okay if they're lumpy, we both prefer them that way.

We check the steaks. It's a two person job because they're so heavy, and when we bring the cast iron pan out of the oven it's clear that they need another ten minutes. "Wait," I say. I take the bag of marinade and pour the rest in the base of the ban. Cast iron soaks liquid, and I'd hate for the steaks to be damaged by not having enough. "I would have never thought of that," he says.

The meal is cooked. And everything mesmerizes me. It might be the slowest meal I've eaten in a long time. I'm sure to not leave any piece of the ribeye on my plate. The bites are slow, and I savor each of them. The dill horseradish is a great sauce, but the steak needs none. Instead I use a couple of spoonfuls on my mashed potatoes, just to try it. The Ex Umbris is a perfect pairing with the food.

The conversation is good, and sometimes silent. There is no music, a rarity for the two of us.

This meal itself is, for me, a thin place. There is the recognition that at least two animals gave their life for this meal, for me to enjoy. There's an appreciation of those lives in savoring each bite. There's gratitude.

But this meal is a thin place, too, because of the company. Jonathan and I have a long history of friendship. We're approaching eight years as friends. I am so grateful for him. I think of how many meals we've shared over those eight years. I am sure I can not name them all. I know they are many, and I know we will have many more together. And the meal is even better because we both helped prepare it.

The meal is a thin place because during it, it was all I could think about. Or, rather, I didn't care to think about anything else other than what was right in front of me.

Thank God.

What Others Cooked for Me, What I Cooked, and Where I Ate

It's been a strange couple of weeks here at Windy City Cooking. The story I present above happened nine days ago, and what I describe below is no more than seven days old. So next week we'll be back on real time, as it were, with both the column's central theme and this section describing the same days.

No one else cooked anything for me over the last couple weeks, and that's perfectly okay.

I cooked some things. I made grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch on President's Day. There is nothing more comforting on a cold winter day. I then used the leftover tomato soup, and added some butter and lime, to make a sauce for my three cheese ravioli. I also made an onion soup in my crock pot.

This weekend I ate like a king, at the expense of my wallet. Friday night I dined at Glenn's Diner with my friend Mike. He had the sturgeon and I had the scallops. Saturday I dined with Kara, Mandi, and E at Ed Debevic's. It's a typical diner and the food was typical diner food. I will say no more about that experience save that I am grateful they served beer. Sunday Kara, yes the same Kara, and I went to El Mariachi for lunch. I had two tacos, chorizo, and she had a burrito. Sunday night Andy and I went to Five Guys. It was my first ever Five Guys experience and it was a great one. He had a cheeseburger and I had a bacon cheeseburger with everything plus jalapenos. All feasts. All with great company.

Stay tuned! Next week I research my bank statements from 2009 and become transparent about how I spent money on food for twelve months. The week after that, it's mailbag time! I'll answer your questions about food, cooking, dining out, etc. So feel free to post a comment, or email me at jason dot hissong at gmail dot com with any and all questions!

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