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Thursday morning, I woke early to the sound of birdsong and the slight chill of the breeze pushing through the two open windows of my bedroom. And though I woke peacefully and easily, there was the sense that I had been working through some things in my sleep, untying a knot that had just come loose. It became clear then that I would fast from food for the following 48 hours. This was not some sort of religious observance, nor was it an attempt to tighten up my midsection. In the weeks prior, I had been reading about and meditating on the idea of human desire: how one’s attachment to ‘things’ can shape one’s entire life.

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The morning and afternoon came and went without event. My work always keeps me busy, and it’s not out of the ordinary for me to skip breakfast and lunch. But when I returned home, it was odd not walking into the kitchen and preparing dinner. And though I wasn’t plagued with intense hunger, the evening hour seemed to crawl. It was my night, more than my stomach, that seemed empty. This made increasingly clear the idea that food is more a source of entertainment than a means to nourish my body. I prepared a cup of tea and fell asleep.

Day two brought more thoughts about food: giant bowls of bibimbap, piled high with steaming vegetables and meat and seasoned with toasty sesame oil, crispy rice sticking to the sides of the ferociously hot stone pot; a french fried potato, heavily salted and dipped in the most impossibly creamy garlic aioli; a biscuit smothered in spicy sausage gravy and topped with a fried egg over easy. And yet, amidst the deluge of the most indulgent pleasures of food, there were no hunger pangs. There was no sense of weakness. In fact, I felt alert and sharp. As Friday evening fell, even the thoughts began to fade. I spent the day’s last hours on a terrace with my wife. I sipped cold clear water. I watched the sun fall. The crickets chirped. A bird alighted. I fell asleep.

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In the morning, another knot had been untied. The fast was over. We drove to the grocery store to buy the ingredients for the meal that would break my 48 hour fast. I decided on roasted leg of lamb, a meat I had (oddly) never cooked before. Throughout the day, I ate judiciously: a ripe peach in the morning, a green salad for lunch. I wanted to approach the evening meal without the sense that I was ravenous or that I just couldn’t wait any longer.

Here is what I made:

Roast Leg of Lamb with Gremolata

Ingredients:

2 lbs boneless leg of lamb

1 cup red wine

1 medium shallot, diced

4 cloves garlic, diced

2 lemons, zested and juiced

7 sprigs rosemary, chopped

1/4 bunch parsley, chopped

1 tbsp salt

2 tsps black pepper

2 tbsps olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. After prepping the shallot, garlic, lemon zest, rosemary and parsley, put them in a medium bowl. Add the salt and pepper, lemon juice and olive oil and stir to create a thick paste.

After placing the lamb in a shallow roasting pan, cover it completely with the gremolata. Add two more tablespoons of olive oil to the pan along with the cup of red wine. Place the lamb in the oven and allow it to cook for 40 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees.

Remove the lamb from the oven and let it sit on a cutting board for 10 minutes. Slice the lamb against the grain into 1/4 inch thick pieces.

When the lamb had been cut, it was served over blistered pita bread with parsley salad, dill yogurt sauce, and ricotta salata. There were olives of all kinds and chilled red wine at the table.

Maybe only when you’ve given it all up can you have it all back again.

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My family talks a lot about food. We talk about it so much, in fact, that I would wager a statistical analysis might show that food(its preparation, consumption, etc) serves as the genesis of most all of our conversations. This doesn’t sadden me. On the contrary, it comforts me, because out of these conversations come the most sincere, honest, and passionate opinions. I think this goes for everyone, though. After all, most people don’t lie when it comes to their opinions on food. Want to see the face of honesty? Witness a toddler’s first bite of carrot, or spinach, or apple sauce.

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I say all of that to say this:

I met my father’s wife, Mary, about three years ago. She was instantly likable; generous, welcoming, wise. But as the frantic pace of life would have it, time never really allowed for much more than a hello or goodbye. In time, my wife and I grew thirsty for a life outside Kentucky. With little money or prospect, we packed our things into a trailer and moved to Nashville.

What the move did not allow me to discover was that while Mary was indeed kind and warm, she was also an incredibly knowledgeable baker and cook who authors a widely successful food blog.  I started getting phone calls from my brother or sisters, the sole purpose of which was to share that Mary had recently made “the best” this or “the most incredible” that.  I knew my family to be honest in their opinions on food, but the consistently glowing reviews seemed almost suspect. I needed convincing of my own.

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In subsequent visits to Kentucky, I made it a point to schedule some time to cook or bake alongside Mary. Her food was perfectly seasoned and prepared in a way that seemed effortless. One afternoon, Mary brought to the table a dish filled with the most brightly colored red beets. Nestled among them were hard boiled eggs which had taken on the purple hue from the beets. I later found that the recipe is a part of Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine. And with dishes like Cup Cheese, Hog Maw, and Bova Shankel, how could one not be at least a little intrigued? Until then, I was unaware of any such tradition beyond Quaker oats, of course. And so, in honor of the Easter holiday, I thought I would pay tribute with a Pennsylvania Dutch favorite.

Red Beet Eggs

6 eggs, soft boiled (I’ve got you covered)

3 large red beets, peeled

1 onion, diced

2 cups white vinegar

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 tsp salt

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. After soft-boiling the eggs, allow them to chill in the refrigerator. Meanwhile, lightly oil and salt each beet before wrapping it in aluminum foil. Place the wrapped beets on a baking sheet and allow them to roast until they yield when cut with a fork. Depending on the size of the beet, this can take anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour.

While the cooked beets begin to cool, mix the vinegar, sugar and salt into a large pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Chop the beets and the onion. Once the vinegar solution comes to a bowl, add the beets and onion and reduce the heat to low. Let the beets and onions simmer for about 20 minutes. After 20 minutes of simmering, let the beets cool.

Once cool, fill a wide rimmed dish with half of the pickled beets. Place the soft boiled eggs on top of the beets and then cover them with the remaining half of the beets. Be sure that the eggs are completely immersed in the deep purple liquid.

And now we wait. You can let the eggs pickle for up to 3 days, but the ones you see in the pictures above were given just 24 hours. As for ways to serve them, they’re swell on their own, or with crackers, or with a side of Hog Maw, I suppose.

As it is Easter, I let the bounty of Spring be my guide: a bed of fresh, bright peas flecked with smoky local bacon gave way to a new take on “bacon and eggs.”