Wild Goose Chase
I am really good at sleeping. I can fall asleep just about anytime, anywhere. I have slept in the overhead luggage rack of an Italian train. I have slept through a friend's wedding rehearsal dinner. And I have slept through more than a few early morning meetings.
But this time of year, a recurring and disturbing nightmare interrupts my sleep. It goes like this: While driving in my car, I look into the rearview mirror and notice a little red car behind me. It's a Renault Le Car, circa 1980. Remember those? I change lanes, and notice the Renault changes lanes, too. Soon I realize: I am being followed.
The Renault gets close enough for me to see inside (remember, it's a dream) and I discover that I'm being chased by three French chefs. Each is dressed in traditional kitchen garb: crisp, starched white chef jackets, long white aprons, tall toques on their heads. Two are in the front seat, arguing cartoonishly in French, arms flailing, Gauloise cigarettes hanging from their mouths with inch-thick ash on the ends waiting to drop. At first, I don't understand what they're saying, but I eventually pick up that they're arguing about what type of wine to serve with something.
“But, no, I zink a classeek Sauternes weel go nah-sley, zat ees tradeeshon, you cannot break tradeeshon weeth zee foie gras,” the driver says. The chef in the passenger seat breaks in. “But, Jacques,” he says, “she ees an all-Ahmaireecahn girl. We must serve an all-Ahmaireecahn wine wees her.” In the back seat sits the third chef. He is silently sharpening a long carving knife. It's then that I realize with horror that, thanks to my overindulgences of the last four months Â— from November and Thanksgiving to December's holidays and New Year's Eve, January's Boston Cookbook DineAround and Anthony Spinazzola Gala, the continuing Boston Wine Festival, and this month's Boston Wine Expo, among other bashes Â— I have turned into human foie gras. And these chefs want my liver.
That's usually when I bolt upright in bed, fully awake, and declare that I need a food break. The food, the wine, have got to stop. It's time for detox.
I have a great job: I get paid to eat. I'm thankful for this, but if I had a speck of self-discipline, I wouldn't be having these nightmares. It really starts with Halloween candy. (“Let's buy a few bags of Snickers and Reese's peanut butter cups Â— we might get some trick-or-treaters this year.”) Then there's Thanksgiving, then Hanukkah latkes, followed by tree-trimming parties, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day brunch (when else do you get to indulge in Champagne, poached eggs, lamb chops, and chicken liver for breakfast?), and Christmas dinner.
Next comes the traditional post-gluttony day of reckoning: January 1. I make a long list of resolutions to save my body, mind, and finances. I keep a few appointments at the gym and try to balance my checkbook, but then the winter culinary festivals hit town like the circus in the summer, with events like the Boston Cookbook DineAround, for which our hometown chefs make multicourse dinners with the help of visiting cookbook authors and chefs. Decadent ingredients like white truffles from Umbria, Italy (it's been a particularly good year for them), triple crème cheeses from France, and, of course, foie gras in all its manifestations appear on just about every menu in the city. It's then that I begin to complain to anyone who will listen: “When exactly was it that the luxurious and rare fattened liver of a duck became as common an ingredient as black pepper?” I keep waiting for the day when I find myself in the McDonald's drive-through ordering a McFoie Gras value meal. If it weren't so damned delicious, I'd start the anti-foie gras protest myself.
My own fattened liver is reaching maximum capacity just when the annual Anthony Spinazzola Gala rolls around. How could anyone who claims to love food and dining miss a black-tie event with an all-you-can-eat buffet prepared by more than 120 Boston-area restaurants, with 90 wineries on hand to pour their vino? And there's always room for one of chef Daniel Bruce's spectacular wine dinners during the four-month Boston Wine Festival at the Boston Harbor Hotel, which kicks off come January. Bruce has prepared thousands of these four-, five-, and six-course dinners and, like the Spinazzola Gala, the festival attracts heavy-hitting winemakers from the Napa Valley, from Bordeaux, and from every wine district in between.
Julia Child is often quoted as saying, “Everything in moderation.” She's right. We should all take advantage of the talent and generosity of our local chefs and restaurateurs. They are good at what they do, and they are always cooking up something new and intriguing to try. But eating out ought to be an indulgence Â— perhaps a measured one.
As for the holidays and culinary festivals, I'm sure that at this time of year in Boston I'm not alone in deciding I should set some limits. I'm going to start with a bowl of hearty, healthy, soul-restoring chicken broth with ginger. It's supposed to restore and renew energy. I'm counting on it. I need my sleep.
Steamed Chicken Soup with Ginger
1 whole chicken, about 3 to 31/2 pounds
6 cups boiling water
1 3/4 cups rice wine, preferably Shaoxing wine (available at Asian markets)
10 whole scallions, ends trimmed and smashed lightly with the flat edge of a knife
10 slices fresh ginger, the size of a quarter, smashed with the flat edge of a knife
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Remove any excess fat from the chicken. Rinse lightly and drain. Using a heavy knife or a cleaver, cut the chicken, through the bones, into 10 to 12 pieces.
Place the chicken pieces with the remaining ingredients, except the salt, in a heatproof pot. Cover tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil and place on a steamer tray or small rack. Fill a wok with enough water to just reach the bottom of the steamer tray or rack and heat until boiling. Place the food on the steamer tray or rack over the boiling water, cover, and steam 2 hours over high heat, replacing the boiling water in the wok as necessary.
Skim the top of the broth to remove any impurities. Add the salt. Remove the ginger and scallions, ladle the soup and pieces of the chicken into serving bowls, and serve.
Adapted from A Spoonful of Ginger: Irresistible, Health-Giving Recipes from Asian Kitchens by Nina Simonds, Knopf.