Here we go, world, into 2015! A lot of stuff happened in 2014, across the globe, here in Cleveland and in my corner of the world. Against my better judgement, I began calling myself a “freelance writer” and found it to be remarkably liberating. Mr. Mandible and I spent two weeks across the Atlantic, exploring Ireland and Britain, on an unforgettable honeymoon. At the end of May, I was reunited with my college friends for a long, lazy weekend in Miami, another destination I’d never visited. For our first wedding anniversary in June, I talked Matt into driving up to Grand Rapids, Michigan for a whirlwind tour of the city’s breweries for my first freelance gig at a national publication. We got to know our Ohio neighbors to the south a bit better (at least their dining and drinking scenes) with short visits to Columbus and Cincinnati. We even made it back to New York, the city that changed my life a few years back. Over the past year, I also measured and mixed, kneaded and rolled, chopped and stirred. I did more cooking and baking than any other year, most of which was successful. Only my husband knows of the few complete disasters that, I think, seriously made him question my authority as a food blogger. What is that saying I’m always trying to paraphrase? The journey is greater than the reward?
I considered doing a “best things I ate in 2014” list, but after jotting down some notes on what would actually be on this list, I decided against it. First, when you have two or three meals a day, whether they’re homemade or at a restaurant, they are not all noteworthy. In fact, the majority are far from it; I have cereal and fruit for breakfast 90% of mornings. There were some standout meals, for sure, but most of them have already been written about under the categories over on the right. I didn’t want to re-hash stuff I’ve already said, and while I’m sure there were amazing meals I haven’t blogged about, I thought it’d be more interesting to pinpoint certain themes that emerged over the last 365 days of eating.
Donuts & Desserts
Mandible’s two most popular posts from 2014 were from my “Donut Tour of Cleveland.” If you missed them, you can check them out here and here. You guys love your donuts! And so do I. Brewnuts has practically become a household name here in the CLE, and were among my favorite sweet treats to indulge in this year. We sought out donuts when traveling too, and came across some very ambitious and unique confections at Destination Donuts in Columbus, Ohio and Dun-Well Doughnuts in Brooklyn, NYC.
I believe I had the best desserts of my life in 2014. The crema catalana at Cava Bodega in Galway, Ireland comes to mind immediately. It was visually stunning, lusciously creamy and utterly heartbreaking to finish. The raspberry meringue bites strewn about the plate might have been an afterthought, but I swear I will never forget them. I was also exposed to the sweet genius behind Momofuku Milk Bar, Christina Tosi. For my birthday, Matt endured one failed cake and probably a few sore fingers (opening pistachios) to create Milk Bar’s Pistachio Layer Cake with Lemon Curd. In October when we went to NYC for my sister’s birthday, we couldn’t resist surprising her with their classic confetti birthday cake. These things pack in a ton of flavor and remind us of the wonder of childhood. That’s a lot to ask for in a cake. My final dessert shout-out of 2014 has to go to to Mitchell’s Ice Cream, a hometown favorite that just seems to keep getting better. I adore all of their flavors, but this past season I stumbled upon a very special limited-time scoop: olive oil, orange and juniper. The combination of savory, bright and herbal notes was inspired by the Spanish chef Ferran Adria, who visited Cleveland in November to discuss the exhibit Notes on Creativity, which features his drawings.
Any writer — any good writer — will tell you that reading is just as important to their craft as putting words down on paper. I took that to heart, and read as much as I could about food, travel, and the writing process. I raced through two of Ruth Reichl’s memoirs, which were full of amazingly vivid descriptions of foods that were probably much more unfamiliar and exotic-sounding when first published. I read about Jeffrey Steingarten’s absurd escapades in The Man Who Ate Everything and about Dianne Jacob’s tricks of the trade in Will Write for Food. The most memorable non-cookbook food book I read in 2014 was undoubtedly Adam Gopnik’s The Table Comes First. This one won’t be an easy read for a lot of people; Gopnik’s tone can be a bit urbane, and his references and language choices esoteric, to say the least. But his message is one that will absolutely stick with me: to think about and understand what and why we eat — in the context of our history and culture — is the only way to move forward with food. In harsh, often unpredictable times, “Nothing works out the way you think it will; you might as well eat.”
In 2014, I learned how to bake my own bread. And make my own pasta and cheese! I even dabbled with some booze infusing, and was an eager spectator (read: taste tester) in Matt’s first barrel-aging experiment. Here’s what I found out: some of these things are remarkably easy and require more patience than any thing else (infusing alcohol). Some of these things take a few tries to perfect, but are not overly complicated (pasta). And some of these things were and still are a work in progress, a mystery I have yet to fully unravel (bread).
For Christmas, my lovely husband got me my very own sourdough starter (and a beautiful ceramic home for it), so the bread-making adventures will continue into 2015. It has already become my surrogate cat; I feed it, I talk to it, I fuss over it, I act like it might be mad at me. I’ve become fascinated with bread’s many forms and flavors, and all of the factors that make each loaf unique. Officially, that is the nerdiest sentence I have ever typed, but it is true. For something so fundamental to our diets, bread is an incredibly complex thing. I never knew it before this year, before I succumbed to the emotional roller coaster that is bread-making. Watching the yeast activate, or not activate. Feeling the dough get too loose, or too sticky when kneading. Peaking under the towel while it proofs to see how much it has risen, or not risen. Hopefully smelling that heavenly yeasty smell when it comes out of the oven, and hearing the light crackling of the crust as it cools. It’s a delicate process, and one that can be frustrating, but indescribably satisfying. Homemade stuff doesn’t always taste better, objectively speaking, but making it has deepened my appreciation for and understanding of good food. Doing things yourself, you begin to develop an intuition about when things are truly done, and done well. You enjoy the reward, and grow from the journey.
What’s coming up in 2015? More food, that is all I can say for sure! What new foods or recipes are you going to try this year?