Why Do We Cook? Why Do We Eat?

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Hands off the keyboard. Put down the phone. Close your eyes. Breathe deep. Now fantasize. What is your favorite dish, ever? What smell draws you into a place? What food takes you back so palpably that you feel like you’re 5 years old again, tasting something for the first time?

I was reading a piece on Kitchn, like I do every morning with my second cup of coffee (small hazelnut dark, the $1.50 kind in a Greek coffee shop paper cup) when I read one phrase in this particular story. “Smoked sea salt.” Lo and behold, the heavens parted, thunder cracked, lightning bolts shot down from the skies over my 8 x 10 foot cubicle and I knew there was something unique and new in my universe that had to be explored.

I followed the link to Maldon Sea Salt and landed at Amazon, but this felt all wrong. I mean, really? Can your kitchen holy grail truly start with a click? That evening after work I went book shopping on the Upper West side and shock, I ended up at Zabar’s. I wandered in. After a few moments of sampling olives, ogling the smoked salmon counter, and filling my hands with hunks of grass fed French brie, cinnamon Rugelach and a tasty Kosher salami, on a lark I wandered over to their seasonings section. Sure enough, like manna from heaven, there it was. One box of Maldon Smoked Sea Salt. $5.50. The journey began.

I tested it on meatballs and spaghetti for my 6’2″ college son, in residence for a week before his summer job began, eating me out of house and home. The results were encouraging.

A few nights later, dining solo with a peaty single malt and my nightly dose of CNN, I got fancy with some chicken thighs. I pulled back the skin and applied some of the golden flakes, then re-dressed the gams and added a few more flakes to the top. One hour in the oven at 350 and I had crunchy thighs crackling with the briny snap. I sensed now that I had unearthed a new flavor destined for greatness.

I let a few smokey days pass to see if this tempting sel de mer could rise to the level of obsession. The Yankees took two from the Red Sox and I had nearly forgotten about my box of salt. That was until the next morning when I was frying up an egg. Risk beckoned. When you’re cooking for one you can try all sorts of crazy shit. I sprinkled some Maldon on the buttery, bubbling egg and served it up with my favorite accompaniment: a scoop of 4% small curd cottage cheese. Voila! My love affair was anointed.

Some eat to live, and others live to eat. The first thing that enters my brain in the morning when my eyes open is: “What’s for food, today?” Are we skipping breakfast and going long on lunch (he said, tweaking this piece and devouring a plate of chicken chow fun noodles). Or is it a gym night where I starve myself  until 10 or 11 p.m. and then amuse myself in the kitchen?

My sister (the true kitchen alchemist of the family) was recently in Copenhagen. I saw her yesterday and she had brought me back a small gift, something I assume she snagged at the airport gift shop. Common as day no doubt, in Denmark. Sometimes lighting really does strike twice.

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