Sunday, January 23, 2011

delicious surprise

Longer ago than I want to admit, in what feels like a different lifetime, I was hopelessly addicted to Star Search.  Does anyone remember that?  Every weekend, I would park myself in front of the TV to watch America's youth compete against one another to see who was the best - kind of like American Idol, but without all the drama and caustic wit.  I won't deny that as I watched Ed McMahon introduce the acts and congratulate the winners, I harbored a secret hope that one day, I would appear on that show and take home top honors.

When I was 14, my love affair with Star Search ended.  That may have been the year it went off the air, but it was definitely the year I lost interest in watching it - you might call it the beginning of becoming jaded.  My family went to the shore for a week, and although we programmed the VCR (with a VHS tape and everything!) to record my favorite show, something went awry and when I popped in the video, full of anticipation after a week at the shore, all I saw was TV snow.  This was disappointing beyond the feeble reach of language and I'll tell you why.  For about 13 weeks, I had watched with something akin to pride as this funky late teen named Beth Hart swept, week after week.  You couldn't touch her; she had Star written all over her - she had a great look and the confidence of a rockstar, strutting around the stage, interacting with the audience.  Better still, she knew it - at the end of every song she performed, you could tell she knew she nailed it.

The weekend I missed was the weekend she won.  I never got to see her winning performance or celebrate for the girl I had tuned in specifically to see for 13 weeks straight.  I turned on the TV the week after and she was nowhere.  I stopped watching.

So, that was kind of a bummer way to start, huh?  The point is I stole my post title from one of her songs - one more flashback and I promise I'll stop.  God only knows how many years after all this, possibly during college, I heard this amazing song on the radio and then the announcer said a name I hadn't heard since the beginning of my adolescence - apparently, Beth Hart went on to make it pretty big.  I went out and immediately bought Screaming For My Supper, which had a song called "Delicious Surprise," with spicy lyrics like "If I won me the lottery, I'd dance naked in the streets with a top hat full of money.  You'd wanna get to know me, if I won me the lottery."

I had two delicious surprises tonight.  The first was dinner (appropriately): we had Quinoa Bulgur, Kale, and White Bean Stew from Appetite for Reduction.

The title could lead a person to believe it would be a thin, anemic soup, which is probably where Mister's lack of enthusiasm came from.  A person would be wrong, though - want to know what's propping up all that glorious kale?  Cups and cups of diced potatoes, parsnips, carrots, and leeks.  This stew was so flavorful, it didn't even matter I was one clove of garlic short.  It starts with a generous herb blend: marjoram, thyme, and the mystery spice, the thing that makes you go "hmmm?"  Crushed Fennel Seed.  It's so subtle, you don't even notice it until you pause for a sip of water and you think to yourself, "what is that sweet, anise-y taste, lingering along the sidelines of my mouth?"  It enhances the overall flavor of the stew without ever drawing attention to itself.  That's something I really like about Isa's soup - I have probably 100 soup/stew recipes, but hers are always amazing and I think the reason is because she always incorporates a little something that throws your tastebuds for a loop and makes your brain shake itself off for a second look.  Tarragon in lentil stew, fennel seed with kale and potatoes, the mellow warmth of roasted garlic.

I'm going to go enjoy my second delicious surprise while I craft the new menu.  My Beaujolais-Villages is already poured and "breathing" and I found a dessert-sized chunk of Vivani dark chocolate in my cupboard.  Bon appetit!

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