Time and life get away from us; cooking brings us to the present. Mindfulness is easy when all of your senses are on — feeling the texture, seeing a medley of color, hearing the sizzle, tasting the contrast of sweet and savory, smelling the dish come to life. Feeling flour fall between your hands is a different type of ease.
I learned how to cook from my mom: no recipes, just cooking from feel. To Filipinos, food is love. I joke that she loves me a lot, because I was pretty overweight as a kid. I was in middle school around the time the Atkins diet came out. I didn’t understand the science behind a low-carb diet, but I did know I ate rice with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Bless my mom’s Filipino heart when I stopped eating rice. I slimmed down by high school and continued to learn more about nutrition and dietetics. Running a half marathon and doing CrossFit in college taught me how to use food as fuel — gotta keep my legs moving. Working 12-hour shifts as a nurse taught me to snack whenever possible — gotta keep my legs and brain going.
Living in Charleston, S.C., for college is when food really came to life for me. The Low Country foodie culture is so immersive. I remember kayaking through Shem Creek and buying freshly-caught shrimp right off the dock, the shrimp boat still unloading their catch for the day. I was hooked. One week out of the year in Charleston is deemed Restaurant Week, when upscale restaurants offer a pre-fixed three- to five-course menu for a fraction of the regular price. I would save up and go out to eat every night that week. If friends couldn’t go, I would happily take myself out to dinner. I ate like a queen. Fast forward 10 years, and I had the chance to visit Charleston with friends from here in Missouri. That girls trip stirred up creativity tucked away since nursing school.
I love a good pun, and the name Crepe Girardeau surfaced in our kitchen two years ago. I remember saying, “I just need a business man to swoop in and run with my idea for a brunch spot,” and then I realized, I could actually do this myself on a small scale: a food truck. I went part-time at the hospital and enrolled in Cape Career and Technology for culinary arts. A whole lot of prayer later, this once-a-pipe-dream has come to life. I am blown away and so very thankful for the community’s excitement about Crepe Girardeau.
The bacon-wrapped dates I made for the dinner party are the perfect mix of sweet and savory: the savory bacon and feta, the sweet date and balsamic reduction, the toasted walnuts and mint chiffonade. They are so versatile: Don’t like mint? Use basil. Want something bolder? Try gorgonzola cheese instead of feta. Have local honey on hand? Swap out the balsamic reduction. Don’t like walnuts? It’s amazing with pistachios or pine nuts, too. While running a small business obviously involves following recipes for consistency and food costing, cooking should be fun. Color outside the lines, break the rules, create without the stress of outcome, play. You never know where it will take you.
10 Medjool dates
5 slices thin-cut bacon, cut in half
8 ounces feta cheese
1 teaspoon rosemary, dry or fresh
1 tablespoon steak seasoning
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup walnuts
Remove pits from dates. Mix feta and rosemary. Stuff dates with feta mix, pinching edges together to seal. Wrap half a piece of bacon around each date and toothpick.
Toast walnuts in pan for approximately one minute and set aside.
Cook dates on low heat, rotating to cook exposed sides. Remove toothpick once bacon starts to adhere to date, about halfway through. Roll bacon in steak seasoning, and cook remaining sides.
While dates are cooking, simmer balsamic vinegar in a sauté pan on medium-high heat. Stir occasionally. Balsamic reduction is done once 1/4 of the original amount is a syrupy consistency. Garnish with balsamic reduction, toasted walnuts and freshly-cut mint.