Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"A" Perfect Meal

For those of you who read Anthony Bourdain's book on the perfect meal, you'll recall the cop-out ending in which he declares that there is no such thing as the perfect meal.

Neither the Bedouin-roasted lamb testicle nor the still-beating heart of a cobra took the title, and in the end I think he said that the ribs he was eating while writing the epilogue were just as good as anything else he'd had because of the context (a beach in the Caribbean, with his wife).

As Bittman (and probably many other people) says, perfection is often the enemy of good enough. So while "the" perfect meal may not exist, I realize that very often I eat "a" perfect meal. Last night's dinner, which is today's lunch as I type, was one such repast. (Note: I want credit as the first person in the history of the English language to use the word "repast" without also saying "sumptuous.")

Elise and I reconstructed a cauliflower soup we had at Chez Panisse, baked cornbread and perfectly blanched and shocked some kale. That's it.

"The" perfect meal? Well it's no lamb's testicle, but certainly "a" perfect meal. It was delicious, it adhered to my food ethics, and we weren't struck by lightning while eating it. Let's not forget to be thankful for the little things.

We've been making black pepper flecked cauliflower purees since before our pilgrimage to Chez Panisse, but it wasn't until after our meal there that we hijacked their swirl of (what I hope really is) truffle oil. The cornbread was made with cornmeal from Pete's Greens, neglected since the summer but still perfectly good, and the kale was as good as kale gets: kale cooked even one moment too long, unless in that awesome Portugese soup with sausage and potatoes, is grey, squishy, pathetic, and the kind of thing that vegetarians deserve to be made fun of for.

There was no meat, but there were ghosts of animals. Chicken stock in the soup, bacon grease in the cornbread pan (which made for a crackly, brown crust), butter on the bread. To someone who doesn't eat meat, these might seem like unnecessary corruptions. To someone who does, they're a beautiful compromise.

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