NOTICE: Last week’s post was mysteriously deleted. I wrote and scheduled it for Saturday, but it has disappeared into the bowels of the Internet. Weird. I blame Trump. I’m really annoyed, reader. So, this is an amalgamation of this and last week. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Spices, reader, change everything. You can be the greatest chef in the world, but if you don’t give things a kick of flavor from herbs and spices, all you have is bland crap. I don’t remember when I started going, but there is a wonderful spice shop in the East Village of Des Moines. This used to be a place filled with homeless people and criminals and nobody in their right mind would go into downtown when I was a kid. Now it’s a hipster playground. Time’s weird and gentrification is bizarre. But whatever, now we have bakeries and kitchenware shops and weird printing presses and a spice shop. So I’m good. All Spice is the name of the shop, and they have absolutely everything. Every time I go in looking for something I think is a bit bizarre, they never let me down. They even had a Baharat blend last time for my koshari, which threw me for a complete loop. I went in with a list of the components so that I could make my own blend, but there was no need! In addition to being generally amazing and psychic with their availability, the quality of their product is tremendous. Black pepper is not the most exciting thing in the world, but I am absolutely obsessed with their finely ground black pepper. I put it on everything. It has changed me. I don’t know how much I can blather on about spices, but each time I visit the shop is a delight. You can sniff things, like fermented black garlic, to your heart’s content. You can sample all sorts of flavored oils and vinegars. And those vinegars, reader, I am legit in love with them. The apricot flavor is insane. This last time I picked up a peach and pear flavor that doesn’t make sense. It is ridiculous how good it is. I loved the apricot one in my martinis and this new one, reader, is a delight when you add a drizzle of it to a flute of champagne. I legit screamed the first time I tried this. It was almost too good. So, I guess my recommendation is to go to a spice shop near you and stock up on all the Middle Eastern blends that you come across. They will change your life for the better. My life is better.
Like I may have mentioned a dozen times recently, it has been freezing where I live lately. A few days ago, it was literally colder here than the surface of Mars. I can’t get over that. I need to write that down in my diary so that future biographers can get a grasp on why I regularly go insane. No human being is made to live in such conditions. We are meant for hospitable climates and walks along the coastline or mighty rivers. Iowa is the dumbest place in the world to live. Luckily, Des Moines has a botanical center that is filled with tropical plants and humidity, and I was determined to go and trick my brain into thinking it was spring. Did a fine good job of it, too.
I went with a friend Saturday afternoon, and after struggling prolifically to figure out how to get to the parking lot — a challenge neither of us expected to be quite so challenging. It was wonderful to see the palm trees stretching up to the heavens — well the ceiling of the glass dome — and the lemon trees and other beautiful plants. Very little was in bloom, but it was tremendous to be amongst living things after coming out of the frozen wasteland that lurked outside. We didn’t go just to see plants, we came for lunch. I have heard a few times that the café in the Botanical Center is delicious, so we decided to determine if the claims were true. Turns out, they were better than expected. The café was packed with people, but we were allowed to wander through the gardens whilst a table was prepared. I ordered a delightful combination of coconut curry and wild rice-mushroom soup. I thought that the soup sounded good, but reader, I didn’t expect it to be one of the finest things I have ever put in my mouth. (As ever, please make your own jokes at this reference.) My friend had the same soup and we screamed about it for the rest of the day. We are going to recreate it just as soon as possible. I dream of that soup. Everything about the Trellis Café was dreamy. My curry was delicious, and I had never before considered putting curry sauce on pasta. My horizons are forever expanded! We had champagne cocktails and I had a crème brûlée for dessert that was LIT. Oh, reader, it was wondrous through and through. Get there if you can.
I’m sure that you’ve seen one of those infomercials about miraculous copper cookware that nothing at all sticks to. And if not, I have little doubt that you’ve probably started a small avalanche in a store when you walk by an aisle filled to bursting with copper skillets. These things are absolutely everywhere. I was sick to death of seeing them. I couldn’t stand to watch that woman in the commercial slide another ugly omelette onto a hideous plate. I couldn’t stand the black and white footage of a distraught gentleman crying when trying to unstick some slab of meat from a stainless steel skillet. When I was out shopping for Christmas gifts, a friend and I saw about four thousand of these skillets in one store for fifty percent off. So, as a joke, I bought one for like five dollars. I assumed I’d hate it because I’m a pretentious snob. But reader…I made scrambled eggs in it for Christmas breakfast…and they came out beautifully. Like I have never had such a great scrambled egg in my life. In reality, I was actually mad. How dare some cheap infomercial product be better than the expensive crap I’ve been using for a decade? How could I, a classically trained French pastry chef, have ever stooped so low? I vowed that I would better that stupid copper skillet. I went out of my way to burn food. I tired my damndest to put the stickiest substances known to the culinary arts in the skillet. Each time I was sure that I had finally bettered the skillet, but every time, the pan bettered me. It’s perfect. I gave up. The skillet is perfection. Complete and total perfection. I am now actively looking into getting a complete set. Jessica got a ten-piece set for Christmas and I wasn’t jealous at the time, but now I am livid. Go out and get some of these pans, reader, because I am literally obsessed with them. They will change your life.
Ever since I lived in Paris as a student, I have had a taste for the best of everything. Paris taught me that life is completely about pleasure and enjoying the passage of time. This completed me totally, reader. At home in America I never quite felt like life was the way it should be. Paris sculpted my understanding of the world around me and the world I surround myself with. Now even though I want luxury and the loveliest accoutrements, that is hardly in my budget. So, I have learned how to do very well for myself on a limited budget. In the summer, now I send myself away to gorgeous cities where the living is easy and the currency exchange rate is favorable. Last year I lived like a prince in Mexico City, never wanting for a thing. The year before in Luxor I lived like an emperor. Living well feels grand. I must make a quick change of subject, but I assure you this will make sense in a few moments. When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I went through a series of profound psychological convulsions. I was quite depressed and burned through money. Then I accepted my disease and decided that I had better do whatever I can to make life worth living. I poured over scientific articles, metaphysics, Russian research, and many private accounts of other patients before calling it all hooey. I’m not a neurologist by any means, but my best understanding of multiple sclerosis is that it has tremendous amounts to do with diet. I studied many of them and decided that a modified version of the Mediterranean Diet was best for me. I have lived as a vegetarian for years now, so it wasn’t hard to adopt. I just added more olive oil and started drinking red wine. Never cared much for red wine until lately. When I was flying back home from Qatar a couple years back, they had unlimited wine from Manchester to Chicago in the weird not business but not economy section I was in. So I tried a few red wines and got to like them and I’ve never looked back. The Mediterranean Diet suggests a glass or two of red wine per day, and I have adopted this. I truly think this diet helps. But this is all to say that my favorite red wine is a cheap box from ALDI and that cheap wine tastes better when sipped from fine crystal. My fine crystal had a bad habit of shattering…usually with cats involved. I was ecstatic last month to find beautiful wine glasses at IKEA for three dollars. They are stunningly lovely and made of very thin glass. They feel and look much more expensive than they are, and for that, I award them the highest honor. And they’re affordable enough that you can throw them in a fit of rage. I have only done that once so far. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Mummies of the World Exhibition:
You should all know by now that nothing fills me with greater pleasure than absolutely anything to do with ancient Egypt. I would rather spend my days translating hieroglyphic texts than lounging on a beach. I would prefer to roam the subterranean basements of old museums than go on a date…unless Harry Styles is involved, then Harry wins.
Harry always wins. But aside from him, Egypt is everything to me. When Jessica and I were in Kansas City this summer to celebrate her birthday, I saw a huge billboard that advertised an exhibition about mummies from all over the world. I knew that I would eventually have to get there, but I never did manage it in the autumn like I thought I would. Kindly, Lady and Gary offered to drive me down to see it as one of my Christmas gifts. An excursion to IKEA and several trips to Waffle House were also in the cards, so I was thrilled. Now, I wasn’t over the moon or exceptionally ecstatic, I admit. I have been to a great number of exhibits around the world about ancient Egypt, and almost always, they fail to live up to the hype. They’re oftentimes full of beautiful objects, but the premise is never as grand as the advertising budget. I am happy to say that this exhibit was completely the opposite. It was wonderful. And as can be expected, there were mummies all over. It was wondrous to look at Egyptian coffins covered in beautiful hieroglyphs. I delighted in the preserved bodies of European nobles who looked like they were dozing as they aged. There were wonderful bog mummies and animal mummies and preserved matter of all kinds, but one thing in particular thrilled me most. I didn’t expect to see a particular mummy ever in my life, but Mumab was there! A million years ago, I watched a documentary about Dr. Bob Brier mummifying a cadaver that was donated to science. That was probably twenty years ago and I still think about it on a daily basis. I’d probably rather be mummified and put on display in a museum than I’d rather be buried in my beloved Père Lachaise in Paris. That would suit me quite down to the ground. And so it was fabulous to stand in front of the mummy that has fascinated me all my life, and it was a bizarre moment for me personally. 2017 had come full circle at that point. I began the year meeting Dr. Bob Brier in New York City, a tremendously meaningful moment for me, and I finished the year meeting the body that had introduced me to that wonderful, charismatic man.
Life can be such fun if you let it.