As we have entered in 2021, we pause to take a look at our top food memories and discoveries of the year.
1. Course Meals
In 2020, I realized that while I may not be able to afford three courses of fine dining, I can create my own buffet of great eats by visiting several places for one course each. San Francisco was the perfect backdrop for this style of eating, and I found myself slurping oysters not once, but twice in the ten-day stay. The key, by the way, is to be upfront with servers from the beginning. And to tip a little extra before heading out for the next snack.
2. Fancying Fruit.
I started 2020 by reading The Fruit Hunters, and a thus my fascination began. Throw in my April trip to Nicaragua and Costa Rica (interspersed with daily hiking or yoga) and I felt like the year was on the right start. It all plummeted once I landed on U.S. soil. Apples just aren’t as sexy as my Costa Rican fare. And yoga is much easier to do with the salty smell of the Pacific nearby. I’m hoping to get hit with the fruit bug again. Perhaps my banana cream pie tonight will steer me in the right direction for 2021.
3. Model Bakery’s English Muffin.
The one culinary life-changer from my west coast foray was a surprise. When my nearly vegan friend Cara told me to head to Model Bakery and order an English muffin, I was curious. Of all the fare available in the valley she chose a baked good? I trust my skinny foodie friend, though, and for good reason. My life will never be the same. I went back two days later and bought six. And don’t think that I didn’t ask whether they ship to Ohio. (They do.)
4. Eating at Home.
While I still fail at every day cooking, I’ve found a happy medium between my multi-course dinner parties for 18 people and microwaving freezer burnt hot dogs. In 2020, I did what I could to put my (growing!) Le Creuset collection to use with fairly simple one-pot dishes that required little work, but yielded great quantities. (I ate these Korean-style beef short ribs while watching playoff baseball.)
5. A New Columbus Favorite: Till Dynamic Fare.
In the Covid lockdown period I embraced my inner shut-in and stayed close to home. I rediscovered the functionality of such exciting pantry items as dried grains and pasta, abused the takeout menus, and did a whole lot of baking. The following are the things I craved—and made—to break up the monotony.
1. Lowbrow Bite.
I’ve yet to share the details on most of the amazing food I had in Copenhagen (New Year’s Resolution #1: Finish CPH report before one-year anniversary of trip), but those few days provided some of my best eating memories of the past twelve months. One of my favorites was also the most accessible: a hot dog from a kiosk on the touristy NY haven canal. What I expected to be the equivalent of a dirty-water dog from Times Square turned out to be a bacon-wrapped, fried-garlic-drizzled, dill-pickle-draped dream. The perfect combination of salty, sour, sweet, crunchy, soft, and chewy, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.
2. Upscale Element.
At the other end of the spectrum was our splurge meal at Formel B, on our last night in Denmark. I didn’t even order the dish above, but the lovely, inky green sauce pictured above was the best single thing I tasted this year—so good that I can’t remember much about the rest of the plate. That’s fish of some sort, I’m sure, fried and topped with various Danish vegetables and damson blossoms, but the only thing that really sticks is that vivid, robust dill flavor. I snuck it off my mother’s plate by the spoonful and later tried to replicate it in my own kitchen, with somewhat mixed results.
3. Domestic Favorite.
Runner-up for year’s most crave worthy bite goes to the salt-and-pepper tofu at So Ba, in Atlanta. Of all of the things I ate this year, this is the dish I most wish I could have anytime I wanted here at home. (Even better if it were accompanied by those stellar grilled-pork-filled summer rolls.) Please, Vietnamese restaurants of New York, get on this.
4. Best Takeout.
My options for delivery don’t include a lot of winners. I have a really solid source for pizza, a passable go-to for predictably bad Chinese, a pretty good Thai spot, and stack of other restaurants that I’ve never felt the urge to order from but feel the need to keep on file, just in case that urge one day strikes. Buried in the middle of the mediocrity is one gem, though it’s an inconsistent one at best. La Estrella del Castillo is always loud when you call—the place has a steam table in front and dancing in the back—and it’s hit or miss whether or not they’ll have the peril, but that’s what you want to ask for anyway. For $18, combo #15 gives you enough roast pork, rice and beans, salad, and plantains for two days, if you can manage to stop eating and make it last that long.
5. Homestyle Cooking.
In 2020, I found comfort in homestyle cooking. I braised six pounds of brisket for a Hanukkah meal, then made a chicken stew with the leftover pan juices; I revisited this tried-and-true garlicky, buttery roast chicken and made stock from the carcass…or at least I would’ve if I hadn’t let it sit in the fridge until it went bad. I baked cobblers during the summer, and cheesy onion bread in the fall; I canned tomatoes and slow-cooked beans. I’m even taking this whole thing a step further in 2021 and reinstating a regular Sunday-night dinner—I like the idea of having a pot on the stove (or in the oven, or on the grill) every week, with friends around to share the spoils.
We told you ours, now tell us yours: What were your favorite food moments of 2020? Anything exciting on the horizon for 2021?