The writing’s on the wall: I’m well on my way to being an honest-to-goodness grown-up. I’ve reached that stage in life where Sunday Brunch with the wife thrills and enamors me in ways unmatched and unrivaled by the bars and nightclubs that once were the scenes of some of my lightest and most unburdened revelries. These days, discovering that my favorite food market has begun carrying a new item brings me all the excitement of finding money in the street, and I am reminded anew that tastes change as one’s sense of enrichment shifts to simpler pleasures and quieter villages that our younger selves often neglect to appreciate. With that in mind, my thoughts turn to simplicity in the kitchen as well as out of doors, and to foods that for all the exotic global cuisine I’ve enjoyed, remain personal favorites of mine for their ease of acquisition and preparation. The following list highlights ten of those simple, edible pleasures.
1. Toasted Sourdough Bread
With crisp outer edges and a craggy surface well-suited to holding a generous smear of butter or preserves when the mood takes me, there’s never a bad time of day for this. Sliced thick and taken with a cup of tea or coffee, it becomes my refuge.
2. Baked Potato
Leaving the skin on is the only way to enjoy it. As anyone who’s ever dared take a too-early bite of one fresh from the oven will attest, a mouthful of scalding potato has ruined more than one person’s day. Those with a healthy interest in preserving their taste buds and the skin lining their mouths know to wait a while before diving into this delight too often relegated to being a side dish. In my kitchen, a baked potato, lightly salted, and with sprinkle of black pepper plays second fiddle to no food.
3. Grilled Portabella Mushroom Caps
What makes this my favorite grilled vegetable is how well it satisfies as a meat substitute. A light brushing or misting with olive oil, a dusting with sea salt and cracked black peppercorns, and it’s ready to roll.
4. Black Forest Ham and Swiss Cheese Sandwich
I know. Lots of people have problems with the negative health implications of allowing cured or processed meats into their bodies. This is one I admittedly indulge in less often than many other items on this list, but every so often, the stomach wants what it wants. Usually, it wants the ham sliced thin, the cheese sliced thick, on a sub roll with mayo and brown mustard.
5. Roasted Whole Chicken
Again, minimal seasonings: I favor black or white pepper, a touch of powdered garlic and white onion. Sometimes I’ll push a slice or two of unsalted butter between the skin and the meat, since this adds a blossoming richness to both meat and drippings as it melts. Then into the oven it goes.
6. Well-Prepared Fish
Be it tilapia or Alaskan salmon, deep-fried, baked, or broiled, this is a hard one to beat as far as comestibles that satisfy hunger without feeling heavy on the stomach afterward. A splash of lemon juice adds a bracing tanginess, but is for me, generally unnecessary, making its inclusion or omission subject entirely to my whim on any given day.
7. Grilled Red, Yellow, Orange, and Green Bell Peppers
I’ll brush these with a bit of extra virgin olive oil or Italian salad dressing before putting them to the fire because it generally keeps them from sticking to the grill or tearing when you attempt to turn or move them. But that’s as much seasoning as they’ll see, since their sweetness and crunch need no embellishments.
8. Cold Anjou Pear
Should man ever gain the alchemist’s aptitude for transmuting metal into gold and gold into fruit, this little darling tastes to me a lot like what would result. I enjoy them best cold, and at peak ripeness, a bite taken from one is the most fun I’ve ever had alone with fruit.
9. Medium-Grilled Steak
I tend to not overthink this one. Nothing fancy; just a quick massage with salt, pepper, maybe a touch of minced garlic, and let my grill or skillet bring the heat. Classics needn’t be improved upon. While I do sometimes enjoy watching T-bones and porterhouses cavort around dressed up in red wine reductions and imported spice rubs and the ubiquitous pat of herb butter or crumble of bleu cheese, other times, it’s more fun to simply let a steak be a steak.
10. Cheese Omelet
A little salt and pepper plus a slice or two of yellow American cheese, and that’s it. Taken with a slice of toasted sourdough, this eating experience becomes an event. Regarding the fondness of some for an added splash of milk or water for augmented airiness and volume when beating the eggs, I don’t consider this the cardinal sin that many people do. Having said that, I personally hold with those who know a well-beaten egg will achieve a fluffy consistency all by its lonesome, and thus I typically add neither.