Journal Entry: Breaking Bread

Journal Entry: Breaking Bread

One of the things that bonds Brian and I, is our joy for cooking together. We share recipes and ideas on how to tweak, evolve and reconstruct them regularly. This is why the kitchen renovation was priority number one when we bought the house. We take great care in the entire process of planning, preparing and sharing a meal.

In addition to cooking at home we thoroughly enjoy dining out so we were on a mission to find the most exceptional restaurants in the area. Everyone we asked said, hands down, Bolete (pronounced Bō-Leet) in Bethlehem, PA. And they were so right. Beyond the wildly good food, the hospitality was truly exceptional. Genuine care for every detail of the experience from the moment we walked in the door to the reverence with which each dish was described, won our hearts. We knew we would be going back, regularly.

In doing so, we’ve become friendly with owners Erin and Lee Chizmar and so we decided to get together to break bread. I suggested a restaurant near us… and then I had a wild, daring, crazy and possibly very, very bad idea: I offered to host dinner and cook at the house. 

When they responded saying they loved the idea, I kind of panicked.

What was I thinking?? I am no ‘chef’! I couldn’t possibly pull off something that would be good enough for them. I will likely make a total fool of myself. I was full of doubt, and at the same time pretty excited. I created a backup plan and bought a fancy A5 Wagyu to have on hand in case my meal was a total fail. I knew we could not ruin that.

All week I considered at least 15 dishes, but kept coming back to one of my favorites. I don’t know if the recipe already exists in a book somewhere. I remember messing around by myself in the kitchen when I cooked at Cafe Elsie in Hell’s Kitchen back in the 1990’s. I’ve been making it ever since. It doesn’t have a name, yet.

Bone-in Chicken Breast with tons of caramelized shallots in a white wine, dijon mustard and herb de provence reduction. It has only 4 ingredients but the flavor is outstanding. 

We began prep and I took my time. Brian sliced all the shallots before being pulled away for a work emergency. I was mostly on my own. I took a deep breath and reminded myself to BE PRESENT. I’ve always done my best cooking when I’m quiet and listening – with my nose. When the heat, ingredients and time have done their chemistry, you can smell it. It lets you know. But you have to be paying attention to catch it.

And when the moment came, I was there. I caught it in the air. I pulled it off the heat and tasted it. OH? I think I really did it. This is really good. 

Just then, the doorbell rang. Lee and Erin arrived.

The first thing I did was have them taste it. First Erin, then Lee. 

For my birthdays, growing up, my father would take our family to a very nice restaurant for dinner to celebrate. On my 18th he took us to an historic Victorian Inn and restaurant. The place was full of vintage lace curtains, creaky floorboards and antiques and tall-standing waiters with white napkins folded over their forearms. I remember my father feeling fancy, proud to be able to treat his family. And I have a vivid memory of watching him take the first bite of his dinner: Duck with Bing Cherries. As the fork left his mouth, his face changed and he closed his eyes. He laid his fork down carefully beside his plate and placed his hands on the table and paused. I heard him breathe, deeply. After he recovered and came down from that bite, he offered me a taste. And I got it. Of our five senses, taste seems to me the most magical. And this moment, in some savory conflagration of duck and rum and thyme and cherry, changed the way I understood food.

I’m not saying that my dish had this kind of profound effect on Erin and Lee by any stretch of the imagination. But it was certainly a favorable response and it made me exceedingly happy and brought back the memory of a moment that shaped my life.

Baked into that moment, no pun intended, was the caring and mindful preparation of a meal, in order to create an experience to share with someone else. This is cooking. And in this we find great joy. 

They had brought a cooler full of oysters and a local Pennsylvania Gruner Veltliner Sparkling wine. We joked about Pennsylvania’s reputation for wine, and Erin confirmed that this Vetliner defied assumptions. Erin also brought dessert: a mysterious ‘no recipe’ Spicy Apple Pie. Lee taught Brian and I how to shuck oysters, with a fancy little knife with a nacre handle. We learned Lee’s proprietary ‘wiggle’ and surgical release technique. He then prepared them with caviar and creme fraiche from little glass containers and tiny mother of pearl spoons. It was divine. 

And so was Erin’s pie.

Never have I ever had a pie like that. I am so grateful they left the rest behind. I found myself standing there in front of the open fridge, spoon in hand, drawing out little nibbles, until the open door alarm went off. The sharp ginger and mysterious ‘other spice’ with the sweet apples was addictive. She said she’s been making it for years and has never written down the recipe. She just wings it and hopes for the best. It was the best. I ended up trying to make it for Christmas. It was the first time I hadn’t made Tarte Tatin in 25 years. It was worth the adventure.

We barely know each other, but this mutual appreciation for the magic of a meal felt so special and still has me reeling days later. We toasted to new friends and shared the olive oil we got from the sailboat captain in Greece the previous year and talked well past midnight about eighteen other things all wound up in food and cooking and life and parenting and creativity and partnership and menopause and bicycles and genealogy and history.

Breaking bread is an opportunity to be present– to share stories, to create connection.

I share this story to serve as a reminder to us all, to celebrate the best gift we can give– our presence.

Happy Holidays.
December 2023

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