Category Archives: My Delectable Delusions

Here you can find my writings on various subjects relating to food, nutrition, travel, and the culture found within.

An Ode to Daphne Zepos

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An Ode to Daphne Zepos

Many have wondered why I have not posted lately.  Don’t worry, I have not stopped having delectable delusions.  On the contrary, I most definitely have enjoyed a richness of experiences during the past nine months.   Bottom line, I have been unexpectedly busy with very good, and delectable, shenanigans.

These “very good and delectable shenanigans” transported me around the world.  I witnessed battles between the bravest and craziest cheese mongers in a Long Island City warehouse.  I saw tens of thousands of 80-lb Comte wheels aging in an impressive nineteenth-century army fort.  I worked behind the counters of the best cheese stores in the United States during absolute mayhem – aka Christmas.  I rekindled my dormant relationship with the French language.  Finally, for le fair de resistance, I consumed some of the best food and beverages known to man in five separate countries in just under a month.  This is merely an amuse bouche of my feast of experiences during 2012.

In contrast to the many beautiful and delicious moments enjoyed these past nine months, numerous bitter tears were shed and many “therapy sessions” were convened in my apartment amongst close friends.  Death’s painful sting seemed to be a common thread – a minimum of five friends gone in a span of four months.  While each were people unique and special to me in various ways, the pain was the same, especially for those who remained huddled together unitedly to find and provide comfort and support.  All of these deaths touched me in their own way, but one in particular managed to break my heart and open it at the same time.  She was a woman that I knew more in name, reputation, and spirit than in actual reality.  However, her impact on my life was tangible and substantive.  On July 3rd, 2012, the cheese and food community lost a true “Raw Milk Rockstar” – Daphne Zepos, age 52.  As the newest member to Essex St. Cheese Co. and a beneficiary of Daphne’s oozing wisdom, this blow hit me like it did for thousands of others – cruelly and with overwhelming sobriety.  Nonetheless, there is no need for me to relive the obviously depressing nature of this loss.  Instead, I prefer to embrace Daphne’s outlook (as shared to me via her husband) to look to the future with a “vision”.  Days after Daphne died, I began searching through my notes from my first “official date” with Daphne.  I sat on the hardwood floor in front of my menagerie of legal pads that I had saved over the years, hoping I hadn’t thrown away my notes from that rainy day in March in a Manhattan pub.  Alas, I found them, but was immediately disappointed in my initial impression of brevity – only one page?!  I slapped myself for not having taken better advantage of my time with her.  What was I thinking?!  She had taken her precious time to open my eyes to a world of opportunities and give so much of herself, but at the time I failed to appreciate the gift.  Now, she was gone and all I had was one measly page of notes to show for it.  But then, my eyes caught sight of my final notation – “Name 4-5 experiences that said to you, ‘Aha!  This is what I want to do!’”  Immediately I was transported back to that Lower East Side pub, all bright-eyed and naive as all new college graduates are.  After explaining my grandiose plans for a career in food, Daphne had in essence told me to “back it up” and return to the basics to find what I really wanted to do with my life.  It struck me that I had never made my “Aha” list, like many things that I promised to do but didn’t because of “life”.

Well, Daphne, it’s been two years since you told me to contemplate why I love what I love.  It took me almost a year to admit to myself that what I was doing WASN’T what I wanted to do (something you already knew, like most mother-figures do).  It took another three months to put my plan into place.  Then, finally, sitting on the floor of my home office, days after your passing, tear-stained and in the mood, again, to do some serious “pondering”, I decided to make my list.

I finally did it, Daphne.  I’m sorry it’s late…but better late than never.  I figured that you wouldn’t mind since you were always a little slow to respond to emails anyway – let’s consider ourselves “even”.

Juhl’s Top Four “Aha” Moments

  1. Winter 2004 – On a snowy Utah night, the sommelier at my Mamela’s restaurant introduced my senses to the culinary insanity of food and wine pairings.  She invited me to a party of flavors where the guests were fresh red pepper strips, gooey house-made fondue, Chilean red wine and the hostess was ma bouche.  The previous eleven years of “melted cheese” experiences had led me to the point of groaning each time my mom suggested this molten dish, much like a kid who whines “ham sandwich again???” as he opens his lunchbox.  But that night, she instructed me on how to breathe in deeply the wine’s aroma, then to gently enjoy the cheese-cocooned-pepper, allowing both my taste and smell to birth the “flavor”.  For the first time, I understood that “flavor” involved more than just your tongue and that you should NEVER give up on a cheese!  Aha! Moment #1.
  2. June 2007 – After returning from my first trip in France with my sister after graduating high school, I was back at my job as a nanny for an adorably pudgy and precocious three-year-old.  The three days a week that we were together always revolved around food – our Starbucks after-school snack, Teriyaki Chicken from the place next to my bank, or preparing food together for her family’s meal that evening.   Having just been to France, the birthplace of the “sous chef”, I thought it only appropriate that I bring her a “sous-chef kit” complete with apron, mixing spoon, measuring cups, and cookie cutters.  I was overwhelmed with a sense of satisfaction as I looked down at her, standing on her tip-toes to reach the bowl of cake batter while she was mixing.  As I smiled at her, she babbled on and on about how much “Mommy” was going to love this special “present” she was making.  I knew then and there that I needed to teach children about the joy and gratification which results from cooking – concepts that are quickly becoming extinct on a global scale.  Aha! Moment #2.
  3. Alsace, France 2009 – For nearly twenty years, I had heard my dad go on and on (as dads do) about how I needed to go to Germany.  He’d looked at me through his square-rimmed glasses and say, “Everything will just make sense, Rachel.  You will look around and truly understand why you are you.”  And for nearly twenty years I “yeah-yeah’d” him and then would go on to my seemingly “American” ways.  After spending a weekend with dear family friends (first-generation Germans living in Alsace), I sat down to my laptop and composed an email to my father I thought I would never write: “I’m realizing how German I am…fits like an old shoe.  Hardly know these people and yet feel at home…feel like I’m safe…I dunno how to describe it but it’s pretty amazing and I had to say thanks for the opportunity to do this.”  At that moment, I knew that wherever life took me, personally, professionally, or both, it had to be tied to Europe somehow.  It had to be tied to where I felt “safe”.  Knowing where you belong is truly an “Aha” moment – something Daphne reiterated to me.  Aha! Moment #3.
  4. June 2012 – Cheese Monger Invitational in Long Island City, NY.  While this was not my first time at the annual “cheese rave”, it was my first time as a legitimate member of the “cheese community”.  As I stood with my family and colleagues cheering on the contestants, I felt an incredible sense of “belonging”.  I was no longer that weird kid who was “fancy” or “eccentric” or “different” for getting crazy excited about the flavor in raw-milk cheeses or how MIND-BLOWING cashews are with aged gouda!  These labels always left me feeling like loving gourmet-food was a bad thing or snobbish.  Finally, I was normal and in fact, for once, the subdued one!  Surrounded by 400 cheese maniacs…and it was absolutely amazing.  Aha! Moment #4.

Unfortunately, Daphne died before I was able to complete my “Aha” list, let alone share it with her.  I had promised her we’d meet for lunch again in that same restaurant, just steps away from the birthplace of Essex St. Cheese Co, to reassess my goals and share the results of the homework she had given me to do.  Now, I often think about what I would say to her if we could still meet for lunch…

I know that you asked for five moments, Daphne.  However, I think that the fifth is en route.  With the help of your husband, business partners, and dear friends, your most compelling “vision” is becoming a reality.  Your joie de vivre and legacy as a phenomenal teacher is alive through this scholarship that will be awarded to a bright-eyed and eager cheese monger committed to your same vision, that of cheese education.  In the last nine months, I have poured a great deal of time, energy, and heart into the process of setting up and administering this endowment fund.  Along the way, I have been connected to literally hundreds of souls that were all made better by having met you, each time learning something new about you, and consequently, our relationship remains strong and vibrant in my mind.  Out of all of my experiences this year, my encounter with you was the most extraordinary in how it broke and opened my heart at the same time.  The separation from a mentor, for any reason, is a feeling that leaves students helpless and questioning how they will continue to bring honor to their education received.  But, you didn’t leave your students, friends, or colleagues alone.  This foundation and scholarship unites all you know and gives us the tools to allow your love of cheese, community, and life to carry on and grow within our own hearts.  So this summer, at the American Cheese Society Conference in Wisconsin, when an eager cheese monger is accepting their check for the Daphne Zepos Teaching Award, I know that this will be part of my really big and magical “Aha! Moment #5”.

Aside

For those who know me personally, I have recently left my job off two-and-a-half years to finally pursue my passions.  So, as I sat in Mamela’s kitchen two Tuesdays ago, contemplating why the world spins and why I had quit my job, I decided that I needed to finally DO the things I keep SAYING I will get around to.  Staring at me was a copy of Jamie Oliver’s cookbook “The Naked Chef”, a book by a person I greatly admire and relate to in food philosophy.  Unfortunately, this specific book of his had always been on my to-do list.  So with an hour before dinner to kill, I cracked it open to page one and was immediately immersed until I reached page eleven.  Then, I simply became inspired.

We can’t keep buying those small packets of fresh herbs from the supermarket.  Quite often we are paying high prices for substandard herbs, and not much of them either…the idea is that fresh herbs are to be picked and used in cooking for a really natural, fresh perfume, not sweating and wilting in plastic.”  (Excerpt from “The Naked Chef Cookbook” page 11.)

Jamie managed to put in ink what I always have thought – that store-bought herbs is nearly tantamount to “cruel and unusual punishment”.  Before you dubb me “Rachel’sDramaticDelusions”, hear me out.

Many are all too familiar with the high costs of packaged fresh herbs that are only good for two days, forcing you to only buy herbs when you know that you will immediately use them.  I do not know about you, but I do not like being told when I can have my favorite pesto gnocchi.  Enter the genius argument for home-grown herb plants.

“Whether you live in the city or the country, whether you’re rich or poor, whether you live on the sixteenth-floor or in a basement flat, it doesn’t matter!  Just stick them in your garden, window-box, flower pot, bucket – anything that doesn’t move!”  (Excerpt from “The Naked Chef Cookbook” page 11.)

While this rules out my wheelbarrow, my family and I have definitely not let the lack of fresh arable land to hold us back or constrain our eating habits.

Mamela interrupted my delusional daydream to ask what kind of starch I wanted with my grilled steak.  Leaving her confused, I rand out to the back of their house to our shared garden and began snipping away.  Just like Jamie said, the perfume of fresh mint and rosemary on my fingertips gave me a calm feeling as dusk settled in and a warm summer breeze rustled through my dad’s tomatoes.

In an hour, I was sitting on Mamela’s terrace under the twinklelights and listening to my dad rant and rave about the refreshing sensation my roasted potatoes gave his palette.  I sat there, sipping my g’n’t, and thanked “The Naked Chef”.

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Our sweet rosemary doing its best to keep up with its herbal friends.

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Our mint that came back with such a vengeance this season that we had to exile him to his very own and larger pot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yukon gold potatoes tossed in mint and rosemary pesto before baking.

Roasted mint and rosemary potatoes ready to be savored.

It’s Not Just for Toothpaste: Roasted Rosemary and Mint Potatoes

Gin’n’tonic – more than just a cure for malaria

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Once upon a time in the year 2004, my sister returned from her first of now countless trips to France. Like most 21-year-olds returning from their travels abroad, she was wiser and had tales to tell of the world beyond the U S of A. One practice she had adopted after her two-month stint was the custom of an aperatif before one’s meal – particularly a gin’n’tonic (or as Maureen, her adopted nanny from England would call it, a “g-n-t”). It may seem simple and uninteresting to many, but it was a cocktail that reeked of sophistication, class, and history as she told us the story of why it is the cocktail of choice for so many Brits. Some of you may know this tale, but for those still stuck in their cultural cocoon, allow me to explain.

Back in the days when the British had spread their imperial ways across the majority of Earth’s landmass, including lands plagued with malaria such as India, British soldiers needed a means to protect themselves from such deadly pathogens. Afterall, if the soldiers all died, who would enforce afternoon tea???! DEAR GOD MAN (sorry…inside joke with my sister :p )!!! So, they discovered that quinine could treat the disease, but unfortunately was incredibly bitter and distasteful. Like many things, adding a little sparkling water, sugar, lime, and gin to anything makes it go down a whole lot smoother. Thus the birth of the g’n’t!!! Now back to me.

So here my family was in 2004, sitting around our kitchen table, each with a glass filled with this sparkling crisp concoction. As the kitchen table always was the site for lively discussions about our daily frustrations, delights, and philosophical delusions, the beverage became a mainstay in the Juhl family. Much like cheese, but that’s for another blog :).

So now it’s the year 2012 and even though we don’t live together anymore, we still spend our select evenings together sitting around that old Amana table, debating life, and sipping our g’n’t’s. So, it’s no wonder that when I came over this last Wednesday night after a long and crazy day, I went straight to my parent’s fridge to grab the necessary ingredients. That’s when panic sat in…no limes or lemons. DUHN DUHN DUHNNNNNNNNNN!!! What were we going to do??? All the stores had closed. The fruit stand vendors were long packed up. But, then I had a revelation…

A month ago my sister came to town for a visit and we met up with one of our dear friends to do what every Manhattanite is doing on a Friday evening…HAPPY HOUR! As I perused the cocktail menu at Café Sprig in the Lipstick Building, my eye gravitated to a gin cocktail that included a bizarre ingredient – cucumber extract. I love cucumbers and I love gin, but together??? But then my lovely sister who freakishly operates on my same wavelength said, “I bet it’s gonna be like that “Gilmore Girls episode!”

Lorelai: “What is it about cucumber water that makes it so much more refreshing than non-cucumber water?”
Rory: “I think it’s the cucumbers.”

So I told our stunning 6’2″-Aryan waiter named Hans (well, k I don’t remember his name, but it SHOULD HAVE been Hans) that I would take a stab. And I did…twice. It was just THAT good.

So here I am now, four weeks later and in a serious state of concern. There was no way I could stomach just gin and tonic water alone. Enter my gin-cucumber revelation. Two slices of cucumber quartered and sunk in my glass later, I took a sip and had a Bogey moment, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Crisis averted and family bonding time was back on track.

Think I’m crazy??!! Grab a cuke and give it a try! If anything, at least think of the sugar you’ll save from switching to a food that is high in vitamins A, K, and C, as well as potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus. See – I can even make gin sound healthy ;). Take that British East India Company!

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Delectable Recipes on the Fly: Chicken and Lemon Asparagus Penne

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Mamela’s Terrace – an above-ground NYC oasis

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The Dawn of My Delectable Delusions

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“One cannot live well, love well or sleep well unless one has dined well.” This quote by Virginia Woolf served as the mission statement for my family’s business and I am determined to carry on that legacy in my future career.

We live in a society that is getting farther and farther away from the family table. and getting closer and closer to our BlackBerrys, steering wheels, project deadlines, delivery boys, and McDonald’s.  Granted, the world has changed and the pace has hastened, forcing us to conform and give in just so that we can keep our head above water.  So, if we can’t change how many hours we work, the number of daily commitments, or the rising cost of living, what can we control so that we don’t all become Oompa-Loompas with heart disease, ulcer medications, and carpal tunnel from excessive texting?  Return to the basics and cook!

While Americans are becoming more and more health-conscious due to the popularity of “100 Calorie Snacks”, “Weight Watchers” and “Whole Foods Market”, we still see skyrocketing childhood and adult obesity rates.  Why?  “I don’t have enough time” or “I don’t have time to learn how to eat healthy”.  However, we do find time to interact with 150 friends on Facebook and catch every episode of American Idol.  We also seem to be going back to college for our second Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree – so somehow I don’t think intelligence is the issue.  You want the real answer – Americans are scared of the kitchen table.  WHAT???!  The kitchen table means you have to put the Blackberry on silent.  The kitchen table means that you have to use a knife and fork when you eat.  The kitchen table means that you have to talk to the person next to you.  The kitchen table means that you chew your food before you lift your fork for the next bite.  American media culture and the rising costs of living have possessed many families for so long that they have forgotten how to do these rudimentary things.  But what happens when they sit down at their kitchen table?  They find out about what’s going on in their children’s lives.  They don’t have heartburn after eating because they used a fork instead of a shovel.  They discover that they feel calmer because they aren’t worried about replying to an email.  But take it a step further – they begin to heal mentally, emotionally, and physically as they unwind from their day, strengthen family bonds, and eat a balanced nutritious meal.  They realize that they actually do have the time and knowledge to be healthy.  It was almost too simple.

Now while it is easy to say these things and believe them, putting them into practice after years of executing ingrained and learned behavior is where the hurdles arise.  This is where nutritionists and food professionals come in.  It is my firm belief that adults are not a lost cause – any person with the desire can learn what the Europeans have done for centuries with their eyes closed.  They just need someone to show them the way.  This is why the Food Network, TLC, Bravo, and the Travel Channel have all jumped on the “food-is-cool” bandwagon with amazing success across the nation.  This is why the “Food/Cooking” section of Barnes & Noble at Union Square encompasses half of the second floor.  Americans want to be told how to make dinner in less than thirty minutes on Tuesday night, how to seduce their husband with the right wine pairing on their tenth anniversary, and where to fly to for the best meal with a killer view.  It is our job as the ones with education and zeal to teach them, either in person or through the written word.

Lastly, this education and effort should not be available only to those tall enough to see over the kitchen counter.  Children love to please their parents and have a never-ending curiosity about this world that they have recently become residents of.  Teaching children the basics of proper cooking techniques, the value of having the right tools, the variety of choices in food and ingredients, and most importantly the serious worth of eating together as a family is what is going to change our society. 

As a passionate chef, nutrition enthusiast, lover of children, and zealous writer, I am dedicated to helping this generation know that they can stop the cycle by going back to the basics – by cooking the way your grandmother would have liked you to.