Despite the fact that it looks fairly glacial around these parts, signs of the impending thaw can be seen everywhere. Actual bare ground is visible at the edges of roads, where the plow scraped wide and the sun-warmed asphalt shares the love with a slightly broader margin every day. Even a winter as mighty as this one can’t fight the light; it’s reaching spots that haven’t felt it since around Columbus Day. The upside to these arctic days we’ve been saddled with has been the cleanest, clearest air on the planet: cloudless, endless azure framing a sun that gets higher and warmer every day.
So far this winter I have made four separate arrangements with a babysitter so we could go out and enjoy ourselves like people with lives and social skills are wont to do, and I have had to cancel four out of four times due to illness of child. It’s frustrating, to say the least, so I’m giving up hope of going out and doing anything fun other than by myself until summer rolls around.
Consistent with the tradition in this house, there was no turkey for Thanksgiving. Turkey is boring and hard to cook well unless you take it apart. We did, however, have Milo’s awesome Lego turkey as part of the centerpiece. Also keeping with tradition around here, the meal was a seven-course exploration of whatever perfervid visions had swum into my insomniac mind during the preceding week. It’s funny; I was listening to the radio as I made the dough for the foie gras oreos—one such idea—and the guest was saying something like “The key to a stress-free Thanksgiving is never to cook something new for the first time when people are coming over.” I think that takes all the fun out of it; three out of the seven courses were things I just made up and figured wouldn’t suck.
Last year, Milo told me that instead of a birthday cake he wanted an Eiffel tower made of éclairs. So I made one. It was lopsided and barely held together with bamboo skewers and ganache, but it killed; the 7-year olds in attendance were blown away and laid gleeful waste to it. This time around, I was informed that instead of cake he wanted his name spelled out in homemade doughnuts. So I made them. Read the Post Time To Make The Doughnuts
When it comes to the subject of desserts, having a child around the house is a lot like having a crackhead with a law degree as a roommate. The incessant negotiations, bargaining, and meticulous parsing of every word in a simple phrase like “If you eat your dinner” are exhausting in the extreme. How much of the dinner? During what time frame? Will the quantity of sugar correlate with the volume or percentage of dinner consumed? Can we renegotiate these terms after a nonzero percentage of said dinner has been consumed, pursuant to the the stipulation that the painful levels of hunger expressed during the preparation of said meal have in fact vanished mysteriously, leaving only a tiny amount of hunger that is exactly equal to the quantity of dessert, but no more? Will there be seconds?
I reread my France posts recently, and it already feels sort of like if it happened to someone else, especially the early ones (since I was so jetlagged). And there are still so many photos and so much information left to process. Since the freshness of the experience fades in inverse proportion to said processing, future posts in the “Things What I Learned In France” department are likely to be less literal and more an organic assimilation of the information I absorbed while there. This post is about an homage to Gascony that popped into my head as I unwrapped the many goodies I had stashed in my luggage, including a sampler of the Chapolards’ charcuterie–saucisson sec, saucisse sèche, and noix de jambon–which Dominique graciously gave me and which somehow ended up swaddled in plastic bags and dirty laundry and buried deep in the recesses of my suitcase for the trip home.
I kid, of course; bringing those things home would have been illegal. Also, there was the Armagnac. And the prunes, and the Tarbais bean and Espelette pepper seeds, and pistachio oil and truffle salt and other items that would be at the top of your must-have list if your plane happened to disappear into the Bermuda Triangle and leave you stranded on some desert island somewhere like in a certain TV show that actually managed to be more annoying than Twin Peaks. I’m all about the pragmatism.
We ended up owning a vast cooler full of fruit pursuant to an under-attended neighborhood function recently, and the poor fridge was jammed to the rafters with watermelon and bowls of grapes and such. This highly non-local windfall was begging to have its volume consolidated, since the arrival of fruit fly season meant that keeping any of it outside the fridge for any length of time was a non-starter. I figured that the quickest way to compact it all would be to purée it (juicing not being an option since we haven’t replaced the broken juicer yet). And then there was all that gelatin in the cupboard.
Last week I read about peony jelly, and coming as it did on the heels of my lilac ice cream, I was excited to give peonies a shot. Our peony grows right next to one of the lilacs that I ravaged to make the ice cream, so given the lamentably short period of lilacular splendor it’s nice to know that other flowers can be used for similarly elegant culinary purposes. I’m not quite mentally ready to make jelly, though–it’s more of a mid/late summer thing in my mind–and since the lilacs all crapped out before I got to make crème brûlée with them I figured that peonies would work pretty nicely in their place.