July 26, 2010

30 Lessons

I turned 30 this past weekend. It was a wonderful and quiet event; in the Hampton's, with my parents and husband, gorging ourselves on lobster in a shack on the water in Montauk... perfection.

As I was trying to think of something wise to say, some epiphany about my short, yet informative 30 years on this planet and absolutely nothing came to mind that you haven't heard before. I have too much to learn and experience, too many places to visit, people to meet, things to eat...

I'm glad that my 20's are behind me, though. Somehow, I feel refreshed. It's as if the mis-steps I made are gone and only the lessons learned are allowed to follow me now. So what is there to say? Well, rather than wax poetic, I'm going to be practical. I thought I'd share a few things that I've learned from my food mistakes. Lessons from burning things, from those epic failures, and also from those surprising successes.

Thank you in advance for indulging my little list.

1. When in doubt K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid).

2. Salt. Water. Well. Not sure if it's salty enough? Taste it, it should taste like, you guessed it: salt water.

3. Eat seasonal foods. Not only will they taste better, but you support the right kind of people, who are growing the right things, at the right times. Right? Right.

4. Think across lines. Soy sauce isn't just for Asian food. Tortillas aren't just for burritos. Soy sauce is salty, tortillas are made from flour -- you can think of 101 ways to use salt and flour.

5. In baking, there are decent substitutions for almost everything except sugar. Nothing else is sugar.

6. Good knives and proper usage of said knives, are extremely important. You can get away with cheap pots and pans, but nothing is a good quality knife.

7.Cheap, no-name brand bacon is almost always better than expensive bacon. It cooks better, has better flavor, and... its cheaper.

8. If it's not good, don't serve it. Keep it around to prove to your friends that you tried, but do them a favor and order a pizza.

9. Patience is a virtue. Yes, it takes better part of an hour to chop up everything you need for a truly stellar guacamole but, it's always worth it.

10. Careful with those flavored oils, a little bit goes a very long way.

11. Careful with those essences... see above.

12. People will forgive paper plates, plastic utensils, and cups, but only if the food is yummy.

13. Cheap doesn't always mean crappy & expensive doesn't always mean wonderful.

14. Don't turn your nose up at people's cultural delicacies. Not only is it rude, you do yourself a disservice.

15. They key to good pastry isn't butter, it's MORE BUTTER!

16. It's ok to buy pre-made pie dough, filo dough, puff pastry, and stocks. We can't all be Martha Stewart.

17. Find a chef or fellow foodie to be inspired by. My first foodie inspirations were the Two Hot Tamales. It wasn't about the kind of food they made, it was how much life they brought to the food, their passion and humor.

18. A lesson learned from said Tamales: use your hands whenever possible. Touch your food, mix with your hands, get a little dirty.

19. Let poultry and meats get to room temperature before cooking. If you cook meats when they are still cold or even cool, you steam the meat before you actually start cooking it. That being said, if you are steaming your meat, then it really doesn't matter.

20. Always be respectful of peoples food preferences, political views, and choices, but don't cater to them. It was their choice to eat that way, not yours. (Caveat to that is allergies, make sure people with allergies can eat something.)

21. Chicken soup really does heal.

22. Learn to make at least one thing really, really well.

23. If a host or hostess asks that you not bring anything food-wise, please listen to them. They have a plan and a menu, and feeling obliged to serve whatever you brought, may not be a part of that. Wine, liquor, flowers, or even thank you cards are always welcomed.

24. You can always buy dessert instead of making it. 
Even if it's ice cream, people will be more than thrilled with that.

25. Homemade, fresh whipped cream, is always better.

26. Necessity is the mother of invention; how true! Sometimes, when you only have pasta, eggs, and onions left in the kitchen, you make the greatest food discoveries.

27. Don't over sauce things. Nothing is worst than food swimming in sauces. Put enough on the dish to make things glisten and moist, then serve the rest to the side. Same holds true for salad dressing.

28. Everyone likes popcorn. You can dress it up and down, make it sweet or savory.

29. Acid, it's a good thing. A squeeze of lemon juice, or a dash of vinegar will do wonders.

30. Be brave! After all, you don't have to like it, but you have to try it.


  1. Absolutely FANTASTIC list, Duchess! :-) Just love it. I hope your 30's are wonderful for you. I know they've been the best years of my life. :-) Happy Birthday!!

  2. very well said... all true in food and in life.

  3. Duchess, I am hard-pressed to know where to start. First of all, how did you get to be thirty? Am I not still 30? Oh right, I'm not. Second of all, this is a wonderful list, full of wise advice for cooking and for life. Well done and happy belated birthday.

  4. I love your post. I'm writing from the Hamptons and Manhattan. I voted for you. Check out my post on Pekin Duck at Lighthearted Locavore