Friday, March 11, 2005

Share

Tapas, dim sum, family style, tasting menu, communal eating -- my eyes light up because it means two things, variety and sharing. My motto for eating is "Share your food!"

As fellow diners will attest, I can turn any meal into communal dining. Regardless of germophobia or some people's need to keep their plates to themselves, I will finagle my way to get a bite of what's on that plate. At a new restaurant, never order the same thing as fellow diners unless there's only one item on the menu or the place is known for one specialty. With participating company, I can turn any meal into family style dining (passing plates). Part of the joy of eating is the company, the people, the social aspect. The company in which you share your food turns good meals into great experiences.

This underlying philosophy dictates they way I cook and serve. Always with a central theme (sometimes even loosely, but it can be a particular cuisine, a specific ingredient, a particular inspiration such as a book or memory of a trip), I cook with as much variety as possible, balancing out not only taste and texture, but also social involvement. You can talk while simultaneously tearing into a baguette. An appetizer requiring your bare fingers is a great way to dig in and break the conversational ice (a glass of wine doesn't hurt either). A salad requiring only a fork needs little commitment or hand-eye coordination. Then you have a steak or a beautiful slice of albacore sushi, where the first bite(s) should be enjoyed in silence, requiring your full physical and emotional commitment to the food. Then you resume your meal, tasting every dish on that table, talking not just about the food, but about anything that you want to share.

In the tradition of small plates to share, I cooked a relatively healthy meal for my girlfriends Jen S, Jenny P, Hannah, and Courtney (six months pregnant w. baby girl - yay!). A few of them are ardent Weight Watchers, so I had to twist their arms to not bring their own food (and still they did) or continually count the number of points. Even with what I deem a healthy meal, the points add up with multiple courses. The central theme (and this one is a common one for me) was healthy with an Asian flare. We started off with watercress and cranberries salad, topped with avocadoes and a sesame-citrus vinaigrette. Then I made a few kinds of spring rolls, a combo of lemon-soy sautéed chicken, fried tofu, asparagus, herbs. Served with a plum peanut sauce. I usually make a plum-coconut peanut sauce, but I was trying to cut fat where possible. Then I made mini entrees of steak (grilled without the usual cubes of butter), sweet mashed potatoes (sans the usual cup of butter and cream), and vegetables. Topped with my signature soy-port reduction. I finished the meal with simple sugar cookies (okay, so they were coconut-ginger cookies). We drank plenty of red wine and finished the evening with cordials of port.

So, it wasn't a lot of dishes, but there was a lot of variety. The meal had over fifty ingredients, from the seven ingredients used to marinate the steak (shiitake mushroom stock, soy, sesame oil, honey, Asian black vinegar, sesame, pepper) to the many ingredients in each spring roll (lettuce, herbs, vermicelli, etc.). It was a delight (and a cinch) to cook. The prep was laborious as usual, but I got my timing down. I served on time, each course within 20-25 minutes of each other, giving us enough time to commune and catch up. At a restaurant, I would have served each course within 10-15 minutes of each other, probably bringing out all the spring rolls and salad at once.

The work (and it wasn't that much) that went into making a meal for my girlfriends was worth the smiles, appreciation, and communal experience of sharing not only our food, but our lives.

28 Comments:

Blogger Arethusa said...

I've always been in the habit of sharing but I don't think that I've ever cooked many meals with that entire "social" idea in mind. Which is odd because it makes perfect sense.

You're lucky that I'm full or else your post would have made me ravenous again. Sweet potatoe is one of my most favouritest food in the entire galaxy.

8:15 PM  
Blogger Bella_by_Barlight said...

Two things,
1) I love sharing food (especially with Darth)
2) My home away from home is moving to Santa Monica, so if you can recommend some good eating in that general area I would be grateful!

12:02 PM  
Blogger darth said...

yes yes YES on the importance and joy of both variety and sharing food...one of the best things about going out to eat with others who like to share and explore together: the menu becomes not just a "pick one thing for today", but instead a "lets try this too!!" experience..i love it...

and i love your description of how the menu and structure of a meal can facilitate socializing-i always loved the whole basque restaurant tradition of family-style service; salad comes in one big bowl you pass around the table, etc..and any food you can use your hands seems to break down any uncomfortableness...

wonderful post, mhp :)

5:18 PM  
Blogger MHP said...

Hi guys!

Areth, sweet potatoes are divine -- the kind I use often this time of year are called satsuma-imo. They're not as sweet as the more orange ones we use for Thanksgiving and pie.

Bella, nice pic. I love that there's pics next to comments now. I have a list for you...remind me. Drew also has a good list. Actually, we'll work on a list for you. I'm a huge fan of Abbott Kinney Street in Venice (Joe's, Primativo, Jin Bakery, and Axe -- where I work). The New Beechwood is also pretty nice. Santa Monica itself is quintessential westside -- bling atmosphere, above average food. Great yoga studio -- Brian Kest's SM Power Yoga.

Darth, my dear kindred spirit. There is little we can share with that isn't easily empathasized....

6:54 PM  
Blogger thephoenixnyc said...

We are kindred spirits. I grew up in a household where large numbers of dishes, sharing and picking off each others plates is the norm.

Thank God I wasn't born in England, or Germany.

1:21 PM  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you ever seen Asparagus this BIG
They grow up to 15in long and 2in wide.
gardening supply

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Blogger tom naka said...

Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you! I have a applebees restaurant site/blog. It pretty much covers applebees restaurant related stuff.

10:31 PM  
Anonymous how to cook asparagus said...

I wish I could understand how doing a search for how to cook asparagus got me to Share. Not that I mind, you understand MHP. It's just that I don't think it's exactly what I was looking for :0)

3:43 AM  
Anonymous how to cook lobster tail said...

Crikey! One minute I'm searching the web for things on how to cook asparagus, and the next I'm reading Share. I'm not sure that's exactlly what I had in mind, MHP, but I've enjoyed my visit. Now I'm off to try another search on how to cook asparagus.

6:50 AM  
Blogger Clickbank Mall said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:38 PM  
Anonymous how to cook salmon said...

Hi
I was searching for articles on how to cook chicken when I came across Share, which is a bit weird really. I've enjoyed the experience but I'm not at all sure I've found what I'm looking for :0)

Just thought I'd say hello.

9:34 PM  
Anonymous how to cook salmon said...

Hi
I was searching for articles on how to cook salmon when I came across Share, which is a bit weird really. I've enjoyed the experience but I'm not at all sure I've found what I'm looking for :0)

Just thought I'd say hello.

12:35 AM  
Anonymous how to cook salmon said...

I think I've found a search engine with a sense of humor - I was actually looking for articles on how to cook turkey, and here I am on a site called Share. There's probably an electronic explanation for this and I have enjoyed the experience, so no harm done. Have a nice day MHP - if that's your real name :0)

7:22 AM  
Anonymous how to cook rice said...

G'day MHP
I seem to have found Share while searching for things on how to cook turkey. I can see why, but I'm not sure it's exactly what I'm looking for. Just thought I'd say hello :0)

7:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

**HYDROPONICS**

4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:54 PM  
Anonymous how to cook cabbage said...

Hi MHP
I never realised that so many different types of blog would show up if I did a search on something like how to cook rice. I'm still not sure how well Share fits into that category, but I've enjoyed visiting :0) Adios Amigo.

8:46 PM  
Anonymous how to cook turkey said...

I think I've found a search engine with a sense of humor - I was actually looking for articles on how to cook salmon, and here I am on a site called Share. There's probably an electronic explanation for this and I have enjoyed the experience, so no harm done. Have a nice day MHP - if that's your real name :0)

5:58 PM  
Anonymous how to cook turkey said...

I think I've found a search engine with a sense of humor - I was actually looking for articles on thanksgiving turkey, and here I am on a site called Share. There's probably an electronic explanation for this and I have enjoyed the experience, so no harm done. Have a nice day MHP - if that's your real name :0)

8:59 PM  
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