Over 20 years ago, a young woman traveled to Sedona and stayed, on recommendation, at Don Hoel’s cabins. They were a cluster of small cabins near Oak Creek, looking a bit tired, but still cozy and homey, each with a kitchen, fireplace and a separate bedroom.
12 years later, she returned to Sedona and the first lodging she considered was Don Hoel’s. She was disappointed to learn she couldn’t reserve a cabin – the owner was selling and the cabins were closed. She stayed just down the road at Junipine, at a place that was neither cozy nor homey. During that trip, she drove past Don Hoel’s and saw the large “For Sale” sign across the closed gates. Even then, she daydreamed about buying it. The place was big – over 20 acres, with 20 cabins and a market. Her thoughts on the matter stayed in the daydream world.
The woman is back again. The place is now renamed, owned by a young couple for the past 5 years . They’ve polished the place up, adding the much needed character, and turned it into a little gem. The woman, who is not so young anymore, is envious. Again, she thinks “I could do that” and this time she doesn’t consider it just a daydream.
A man I once aspired to date – I often seem to be trying unsuccessfully to date someone unavailable– was describing the Buddhist sand mandala painters he had watched the previous two afternoons. These monks painstakingly labor over their sand painting for days, only to destroy their art in the end – a symbol of life’s impermanence.
“I’d be heartbroken to devote all that time creating artwork only to see it demolished,” I declared.
“Isn’t that what happens with your cooking?” he wryly replied.
We never did go out. I can’t even recall his name. Our exchange, though, has remained with me. Cooking IS my art and it took a nameless man to show me that. My kitchen is my studio where I practice and play. At its denouement, my art is devoured, demolished. My passion lies in the crafting, my delight in the sharing.
The incidents and experiences at my stove echo my life of savored successes and grieved failures. My kitchen is bomb shelter and Band-Aid, my respite when I’m overwhelmed and my surefire reason for procrastination. My artwork bribes my coworkers and seduces my lovers. It’s my voice, my meditation, my pleasure and often my vexation.
A graduate of culinary school and (most recently) gelato school, I call myself neither Chef nor expert, but a mere dabbler in all things gastronomic.
Last night, I was reading a book in which famous U.S. chefs were asked the “desert island question”. You know the one – if you were stranded on a desert island…
For the chefs: “If you were stranded on a desert island, what ten food items would you want to have with you.” Some chefs were practical – various beans and seeds that could be harvested or they included two animals, Noah-like, to ensure a constant supply. Others leaned towards the whimsical – champagne, caviar and blinis…if you’re going to be stranded, might as well do it in style. For me:
Cheese – do I need to select just one kind or can I bring the assortment basket?
Wine – the elixir of life.
Pasta – if including a starch, I would grow tired of rice or potatoes before pasta.
Olive Oil – the best for cooking and good for you, too!
Lemons – …or butter, decisions decisions.
Sugar – for my gargantuan sweet tooth.
Onions – the best for building and imparting flavor.
Tomatoes – to be enjoyed raw, roasted or sun dried.
Cinnamon – I wanted to bring thyme, but with room for only one spice, I decided on cinnamon, which I use in my savories as well as sweets.
Most of the chefs included “salt” (it was the #1 item selected). I’m on a desert island – surrounded by salt water. I’ll harvest my own.
Looking at these items, like peering into the refrigerator on a Wednesday night, I ask myself, “what could I make?” My first thought would be to crisp some bacon and remove it from the pan. From there, I would sear the pork belly in the rendered bacon fat, add onions, sauté, and add a bit of cinnamon. I would deglaze the pan with a good douse of wine, add tomatoes, some lemon zest and put the bacon back in the pan. I’d return the pork belly to the pan for a long, slow, fall-apart braise. I’d serve the braised pork and unctuous sauce over pasta with a dollop of goat cheese for brightness and a large glass of wine. Care to join me?