Food and Reflections from a Lonely NYE Dinner (2020)

When I struggle to find a way into a topic, I can always count on a good meal to open the door for me. I mean, how can one begin to reflect on all that was 2020 and not struggle to find a succinct way to start even a single thought? Well, for me, the way to do that is to cook. The work, smells, focus, and calculations help me clear out the mental clutter. And the rewards. Those beautiful sensations that emerge when a slow bite unleashes a steady flow of flavor over the tongue–an organ that is not greedy but rather sends pleasure signals out so strongly it’s not long until your tingling from la cabeza a los dedos de los pies. The only word that can sum up that experience is gratitude, immense gratitude.

Before I get to the reflection, let’s talk about the meal.

What?

Delmonico steak, mashed potatoes, tomato-onion relish, roasted hot pepper, a glass of pinot noir.

How?

For the steak, I salted and peppered both sides and let it stand uncovered on the counter for an hour or so. I patted it dry with a paper towel about halfway through and added a bit more salt and pepper after.

I preheated a cast iron skillet and melted a generous amount of butter inside just before I added the steak. I seared the steak on both sides, roughly 4-minutes, and moved the steak and skillet into the oven that I preheated to 410°F. I honestly set the oven temperature on a hunch. I think I knew it should be above 400°F but was afraid to go too high. I let the steak bake for 10ish maybe 12 minutes and then took it out to rest while I finished the mashed potatoes. (The steak ended up being closer to medium than med-rare, but still very tender and tasty.)

For the potatoes, I washed them then peeled 50-75% of the skin, because I enjoy the added texture and flavor of the skins in the mash. I quartered the taters and boiled them in water and salt. When they easily slid off a fork I drained the water and mashed them with oat milk–that’s what I keep in the fridge–and butter, then salted and peppered to my liking.

For the tomato-onion slaw, which I prepared first, I chopped onions and tomatoes finely with a sharp knife. Added some apple cider vinegar, salt, chili powder, cayenne, and a dash of paprika. I mixed them all together and put them in the fridge while I cooked the rest of dinner.

For the roasted pepper, I simply threw this in the cast iron skillet alongside the steak while it was in the oven.

For the wine. I bought a bottle and poured some into a coffee mug.

Why?

So, this meal isn’t exactly a go-to for me. It definitely wouldn’t be my request for a last meal. I’ve never been a big fan of steak, and honestly, my diet is gradually becoming more and more vegetarian. Despite habits from my teenage and early adult years, this last year and a half have not been defined by alcohol in the slightest. I don’t keep it in my home and have only had a drink here and there to toast special occasions like weddings and the pre-covid family holiday functions of 2019. (Yeah, all of the holidays of 2020 were wrapped in this damned pandemic–ain’t that some bullshit?)

So why the hell would I end 2020 with a meal that seems to contradict the lifestyle that I have been practicing for going on two years?

This meal was symbolic of a few things. For one, there is actually a nod to Namibia in it with the tomato-onion relish. I don’t have the seasonings needed to do it “correctly,” but Namibia is from where the idea for that side dish came. At a braai (cookout) in Namibia, whether it is on a homestead, outside of a shebeen (bar), or on the street, they usually have delicious cuts of meat being served with an incredibly tasty salad made of tomato, onions, vinegar, and a specific blend of spices that I fell in love with while I lived there. It’s much easier than making chimichurri, so now, when I cook steak, I make this side dish as well.

The deeper purpose of this meal was to remind me to lighten up a little. Times are tough, to say the least, but despite the various threats we face from the virus, climate, or the economy, the extreme polarization in this country is what is having the largest impact on my mental health. It’s been interesting to see the number of people disagreeing on issues increase at the same rate as the number of people who have convinced themselves they are right. But that is a side note that I probably should remove from this post, but I won’t.

I have learned throughout my own experiences that I need to hold space for the possibility that I’m wrong and that there is so much wisdom in the phrase everything in moderation, especially Oscar Wilde’s take “everything in moderation, including moderation.” So to end 2021, I thought what better way for a guy who has been leaning towards vegetarianism and sobriety to try and bring some levity and carefree spirit into 2021 than by eating steak and drinking red wine. Will I be a meat-eating lush in 2021? Hell, no. But I’ll make sure to honor the relationship between man and animals that has ensured our mutual survival for generations (despite how perverted it has become). And I will remind myself that it is ok to celebrate life and that everything can be a gift when you have gratitude and know how to practice moderation.

So that’s that. Welcome to a new year, everyone. It’s been hard. But, at the time I’m writing this, I’m still here. And if you’re reading this, so are you. So I hope you find clarity and healing this year and that we can all help build communities that are resilient, loving, fun, and most importantly, eating ridiculously well.

Thanks for reading,

Andy

And here’s another picture of a recent breakfast for dinner I cooked, because mm.. food. (RIP Doom)

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