Friday, June 24, 2016

A Satisfying Spice

Dish courtesy of Sunbird Kitchen.
Tokyo turnips with xo sauce, chili oil, toasted quinoa and nasturtium flowers. It’s like stepping into a hot bath. The chili oil burns my mouth at first, but I let it linger on my tongue. I breathe and feel my sinuses clear. The juicy Tokyo turnips give respite from the spice. I sink in deeper. The Hinona Kabu turnips taste similar to radishes, and pair well with the nasturtium flowers. They add a peppery flavor, which compliments the subtle saltiness of the xo sauce––a caramelized shellfish and meat sauce. Surprisingly the xo sauce is my favorite part of the dish. After I finish eating, I wipe my mouth. My lips feel slightly numb, but I don’t try to neutralize the spice with dairy. It’s a satisfying spice.

This summer I’m lucky to be working at Sunbird, a local café in Orleans, MA that serves intentional dishes for mindful eating––carefully selected ingredients, thoughtful preparation, and considerate presentation. The kitchen sources their ingredients from local farmers–the turnips in the above dish are from Chatham Brews Inn (CBI) Farm in Brewster–and the menu changes depending on what’s in season. Above is a new dish I tried last week, after chatting extensively with one of the chefs about the turnips and the kitchen’s plan for them. Through inquiring about, tasting, and selling the food we serve I’m learning to trust what ingredients a chef pairs together. In many of my past experiences as a customer at restaurants, I've been particular about how I want my food prepared, what ingredients can be left out, and can I please substitute this ingredient for that one? Although I would not voluntarily add chili oil to the dish, my experience with the dish wouldn’t have been the same without it.

Dish courtesy of Sunbird Kitchen.
Meatballs with harissa yogurt, ricotta salata, dill, and mint. A Moroccan-inspired dish––harissa, dill, and
mint are all common in Morocco. It's not as heavy as meatballs and marinara, and the aftertaste reminds me
of spicy chorizo sausage. The dill, meatballs, and ricotta salata compliment each other well.
Through my work at Sunbird, I'm rekindling a joyous relationship with food. I respect the entire experience of a meal, from selecting the ingredients to washing the dishes after. Inspired by my work at Sunbird, I’ve been experimenting in my own kitchen a lot this summer. Here are some highlights:

  1. Lettuce, garden veggie burger, crumbled smoked gouda cheese,
    cucumbers, sautéed carrots and kale, hummus, Braggs dressing.  
    Melted gouda cheese on a garden veggie or portabella burger. Just trust me.
  2. Mixing fresh veggies with sautéed veggies adds interesting temperature and texture to a salad.
  3. Fresh mint counterbalances spicy and fishy flavors.
  4. Herbs are most flavorful when kept raw. Thank you, Sunbird Kitchen.
  5. Fresh mint and dill compliment each other.
  6. Pickled turnips.
  7. Braggs dressing, sesame ginger tofu, and sea beans. The combination of flavors reminds me of sushi.
    Lettuce, sesame ginger tofu, sea beans, cucumbers, egg yolk,
    hummus, parsley, Braggs dressing. 
  8. Fresh parsley on hummus. It echoes the traditional tabouli and hummus combination. This is best when hummus is the main feature of the dish––otherwise the hummus can overpower the dish.
  9. Fish sauce. I've had it in three different dishes this summer: the butter turnips from Sunbird, kimchi from Sunbird, and crispy brussels sprouts from The Canteen in Provincetown. It's salty, spicy, and satisfying.
  10. Poached egg whites. Smoked egg yolks. Fried eggs. Omelets. Sunny side up eggs. Scrambled eggs. I've tried them all this summer.
Lettuce, cucumbers, granny smith apple,
scrambled eggs with kale, carrots, sesame ginger tofu.
My latest creation: Brown rice toast spread with fresh avocado. Topped with two fried eggs,
sautéed mushrooms and onions, salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary. I was proud of this one.

Brown rice toast. Mango and strawberries.
Omelet with goat cheese and sautéed mushrooms, onions, and rosemary. Topped with fresh rosemary.
It's photo worthy because the omelet actually stayed intact when I flipped it. 
When I take the time to cook, arrange, eat, and reflect on my food, I'm less likely to jump for the next flavor. I sit back and appreciate what I'm tasting. I’m present. I’m satisfied.