It’s said that Cleanliness is Next to Godliness, and regardless of your beliefs, a clean kitchen is surely going to keep you closer to the desirable state of ideal health and well-being than a slovenly one. A rotten, filthy kitchen, on the contrary, may well send you off to meet your maker (or annihilation) with unwelcome rapidity. In my experience, Good Eating is Next to Perfect Happiness.
Simply eating well–whether of the most esoteric or exotic or splendidly gourmet meals, or of the handful-of-greens with some impeccably ripe apricots, a speck of salt and pepper and a drizzle of lemon-infused honey pristineness–that act of tasting and enjoying is its own reward. Love of good eating and the happiness that accompanies and follows it are worthy sorts of pleasures.
The process by which the meal or nibble is achieved can be grand delights, too. Just happening on the desired food serendipitously, even sometimes without having realized there was a desire at all, is lovely. Planning a dish, a menu, an event can be a satisfying challenge and adventure. Hunting (in field, stream or market) can be your surprisingly meditative, endorphin-brewing action sequence to prepare for the meal making itself.
Along with all of this is the primary joy of dining with others: the communal happiness and yes, meaning that can be cultivated in shared eating. The love of good food is magnified, multiplied exponentially, by the reflection of that affection between those at table. With strangers and acquaintances, it is the magnanimity–the largeness of spirit–inherent in hospitality that binds and bonds us. Among friends and loved ones, the food is both expression and enhancement of the finest graces in our connections to one another. And I can think of no lovelier thing to stock in my kitchen than that.
Best way to have a head start on preparing a meal: keep lots of shelf-stable or frozen flourishes convenient–they don’t have to be artificial or toxic, you know–and be kind to the best of your leftovers. It’s important to have the usual dry goods in stock; flour or thickeners, if you use them; spices; rice or oats or that kind of thing, but small prepared items are just as crucial for time and taste’s sake. Yesterday it came in handy to have stashed a few servings of easy-to-serve chocolate dessert items like my homemade nut truffles and almond-flour brownies. Today it was an assortment of fresh fruits that rounded out the meal with no cooking and virtually no prep, unless you count washing and cutting just enough for two plates; I certainly don’t find that onerous compared to prepping and cooking actual side dishes. Tomorrow, who knows? If someone pops by unexpectedly and we sit to lunch or dinner, it’s just nice to know that there’s almost always something in the pantry that can be served up in a trice.
Or in a casserole, if one prefers.
You’ve no doubt noticed in any previous food posts, especially if I’ve referenced my pantry shelves, that I’m mighty fond of pickles and toppings and condiments of many kinds. I tend toward the salty, savory and sweet rather than extremely spicy ones, though I’ve been known to crave some good north Indian lime pickle with my Palak Paneer or pickled jalapeños with my Tex-Mex treats. Mostly, I like a fairly wide assortment of olives, vinegar-pickled vegetables like green beans and carrots and asparagus, preserved lemons, mild pickled okra or clove-scented beets; relish, chutney, sweet watermelon rind pickles also tickle my palate, as do pickled ginger and preserved sauces, and so forth ad mortem. Because I do concede that it’s just possible I could eat myself into a happy coma followed by cheery death, given constant proximity to such dainties. Nearly all of these delights, not to mention those aforementioned (okay, I did mention! deal with it) garnishes and toppings, like the ubiquitous southeast Asian fried shallots, salted and unsalted nuts, fried herbs, candied peel and ginger, shaved coconut, and so much more, can be nicely preserved to be either shelf-safe or freezer friendly without too much difficulty.
And yes, there are commercial preparations of those and other easy-to-keep foods and edible accoutrements that I willingly stock and use. Perhaps one of the most favored is tinned tuna, but I admit I don’t like many of the commercial brands, preferring those that can only the tuna itself, usually with a little salt, and simply let it be preserved in its pristine glory and its own juices. There are more and more good guys out there who are trying to do right by the tuna and our tastes, so it takes very little effort to find them out, and the boost in flavor and concomitant decrease in artificialities are well worth it. Canning fruits and vegetables does commonly act as a killjoy, destroying much of their texture and flavor and, not surprisingly, nutrients as well. Now, I know that much of the destructive character comes from mass production and that many people are able to home-preserve beautiful specimens of both fruits and veg, but frankly, that’s almost always too labor-intensive and plodding for my energies and attention span.
So I tend to lean toward decent quality fast frozen green-groceries if I’m keeping some around for quick use. These are often perfectly delish in soups, cooked dishes and quick pickling, where they take up the dressing and seasonings more readily than raw foods because of the slight cellular breakdown inherent in freezing. And there are, for that very reason, also a few commercially canned things besides jam or jelly or pickles that I will concede to stock on my shelves and eat. For example, I wanted a speedy picnic sort of salad the other day, so I took out tins of cut green and wax beans and baby carrots, all of which I admit would be strikingly unappealing to me for straight-from-the-can eating, and bathed them in a light dressing of plain rice vinegar, vegetable oil, orange juice, orange zest, salt, pepper and snipped dill, and had myself a tasty little salad that has fed me all week long, gaining in flavor as it sits but having been quite edible right from the ceremonial Opening of the Tins.
Salmon is something I generally prefer fresh or smoked over tinned as well, but having a couple of cans on hand does have its moments. If, as with the tuna, it’s prepared well enough to not taste of the tin rather than of the sea, why it too makes a very useful salad when mixed with good mayonnaise and seasonings and can sit lightly on crackers, in a sandwich or stuffed into hors-d’oeuvres plenty well. I’ve made mine up with Asian-grocery wasabi mayo (another good condiment to keep in the refrigerator, mind you), minced gari, and a splash each of ginger juice and soy sauce, and enjoyed it even more for those uses. When the salmon is not tinned but instead left over from yesterday’s dinner, it can do similar things. We’re not overly enamored of leftover seafood, my spouse and I, in its previously served form, always feeling a bit like it’s sure to have gone bad. But a little change-up can rescue that leftover fish too: the oven roasted salmon, smoked salmon, and a few cooked prawns from the other night’s dinner got mashed to a pate with the stick blender, using some mayonnaise, and then spread on a small Romaine leaf and topped with slivers of yellow capiscum, a curl of gari and a dab of that nice wasabi mayo–whose squeezable bottle charmingly arrives with its own built-in star tip for decorative application–and voilà! Snacks.
I’ll grant you that any amount of ‘trim’ kept in the kitchen guarantees nothing like conferring gourmet status on what I make of it. And it’s a virtual miracle when I bother to gussy up my food as much as even that last little snackable item, so presentation isn’t instantaneously improved either. But having the stuff right here at my beck and call is the only way either is likely to happen, even by accident. And who says I can’t eat all of this tastiness right out of the box, bottle, jar or tin, anyway?
I have no particular secrets from you kind people out there in Bloglandia, so it can come as no surprise (especially to those who have seen any of my previous food posts) not only that I am an unreconstructed carnivore but also a generally unrepentant eater of all things–okay, nearly all things–that might be considered decadent if one is of the sort that equates dining habits with morality. I like eating. I like eating lots of different things, and in what even I will readily admit are too large quantities. It’s not good for my health, to be sure, and possibly not best for my soul, but there it is. I love food.One of the things I would be most reluctant to give up eating or cooking with is of course that stupendous universal donor among ingredients, the humbly perfect egg. If I must be limited in my access and opportunities and omnivorous mania, I would proudly and gladly be wearing a nice schmutz of egg on my chops any day. Besides, with my coloring I am very ill-suited to wearing any other form of yellow, so why not embrace the ephemeral form of dressing up in some eggy yellow goodness that can at least be licked off my lips and make my innards very happy if its look doesn’t suit my exterior. I love what the egg can do for a sauce, a custard, a souffle. For baked goods; for dishes where it serves as binder, thickener, garnish.Maybe most of all, I love eggs when they star in the show. Their honest simplicity and smooth, creamy deliciousness deserve to be featured and recognized as the wonder that is borne in that beautiful capsule of the egg’s origin. So today I give you one of my very favorite meals, which despite my fondness for all sorts of marvelous mealtime miracles is a supremely simple omelette with grated sharp cheddar cheese melting in the middle, accompanied by some nice crispy bacon with a little drizzle of pure maple syrup, and a fresh, crisp, fabulous apple. I don’t usually mess with eggs much when I cook them, and a nice little cheese omelette like this deserves to be treated respectfully, so the only ingredient in the omelette besides the eggs, lightly beaten, and the cheese is just a nice big splash of melted butter to make the eggs easy to loosen from the pan and fold over when sufficiently set–but just barely set, really. Still light and creamy through the middle.I’d go on, but I’d kind of rather dash over to the kitchen and grab an egg or two . . .
While I’m on the subject of eating, and when am I not, and delving into the marvelous mysteries of leftovers and rehashed Hash (or, as I often call my versions, casseroles), let us contemplate yet more intimately The Day After. Or, the day after the day after, if you need me to be more precise. For the party two nights ago made happy provision of both work and comestibles to follow.
The broth put on to cook ‘way back when is now strained and the stewing beef I made into pot roast within it put up for later with a soupçon of broth soaking right back into it. The chocolates* I’d set aside to chill while making the tapas for the party are now broken out of the pan into nice variable-sized hunks for dessert treats to come. The cleanup after the party was incredibly simple–a couple of goodly batches of dish-washing, a quick sweep-up and tossing a few tea towels into the wash for today, and snip-snap, that was all it needed. The leftovers of various nosh-ables went into the fridge for later sorting and rearrangement into new meals.
So lunch today capitalized on all of that. Chorizo, Manchego, marinated mushrooms, Papas Bravas; I took the last quarter-cup full each of these various tapas leftover bits and chopped them into a smaller cut, mixing them and tossing them on top of some of my refrigerator stash of cooked broth rice. A sprinkling of smoked paprika, a drizzle each of cream and my freshly brewed beef broth, and into the oven for a thorough heating. Done.
With that, the accompanying salad was made somewhat in the style of Vietnamese (lettuce wrapped) salad rolls, with greenery fresh-plucked from my own garden borders. Next time I make them I’ll eliminate the layer of red cabbage leaves, which despite their glaucous beauty, snappy crunch and fine flavor are just too dense and tough for the otherwise tender rolls, so the rolls had to be sliced up into bites and eaten with a fork rather than the possible eating out-of-hand I could otherwise have managed. So without the cabbage, here’s the rest of the concatenation, and it was a tasty collation at that.
Spring Salad Rolls
On a piece of wax paper or parchment, lay out a few whole green leaves in a solid ‘sheet’–a pattern that will allow them to be rolled up as a whole into a green sausage once the other ingredients are layered on top of them–sushi style, if you will. I started with three nice big tender chard (silverbeet) leaves to create an outer layer of roughly 8″x10″. And then I piled on, in fairly even layers one over the other, the remaining greens. I used:
Chard leaves, borage leaves, basil leaves, mint leaves, a little parsley, and tiny baby beet (ordinary red beetroot) greens.
Over the top of this ‘lasagna’ of fresh greens I drizzled a couple of tablespoons full of my lately-signature jam mixture (equal parts strawberry, plum and ginger preserves, to use up the tail-ends of several favorites), warmed to thin it enough for drizzling since the leafy stuff was so loosely stacked. The last layer was a set of red cabbage leaves, which next time I’ll replace with more chard or lettuce substitutes for tenderness, slathered with cream cheese, goat cheese or mascarpone and laid face-down on top of the stack. This ‘glue’ helped hold everything in place as (one could lift an end of the paper underneath if necessary to get started) I rolled the greens up gently into a reasonably tightly packed solid cylinder. Once rolled, it’s best chilled for a bit to help it hold its shape, and can easily be sliced across into a couple of shorter hand rolls or a number of pretty pinwheels. I think this will prove almost infinitely variable with whatever greens I have on hand or am in the mood to include, not to mention any tender and thinly sliced addition that’s neither too brittle nor too juicy to ‘play well’ with the others. Sounds fussy, but it’s really incredibly quick and simple, and it’s plenty refreshing. To serve it today, I drizzled a tiny bit of crema and honey mixed together on top, but that’s just icing on this particular cake.
With the salad roll and the casserole, nothing else but some of the sherried olives made for the other night’s gathering, and sparkling water. Oh, and some of the chocolate* pieces I’d made back then, too, from nothing more than a mixture of melted Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate, a little melted butter to emulsify, and pure black cherry juice. The finished chilled pieces are solider than fudge but a little softer than the pure chocolate, and also subtly fruity, just a teeny bit mysterious, and pretty swell, as a sweet bite at the end of the meal.
Sweetly as the day begins,
It cannot reach its finest part
Until that leisured à la carte
Procession of great taste that twins
Fine foods with seasonings and drinks,
With garnish, relish, fetish, fish–
Whatever makes the perfect dish–
‘Til everyone at table thinks
He’s surfeited (at least, quite near),
Whereon the pace grows slower yet,
Chairs get pushed back and belts made loose,
And everyone’s digestive juice
Begins to work on this grand set
Of foods and trimmings at a rate
That makes the luncheon eaters feel
Almost as if another meal
Could fit in with what they just ate–
But since it was so fine, no sweeter
Course could complement the feast,
From boldest spoonful to the least,
So full content is every eater–
So they set down, each one, that spoon,
And smile, and wipe their chins and lips,
And sup no more, not even sips,
My big sister flew out and visited here for a couple of days last week. It was heavenly. Besides that I just get a big ol’ kick out of her company at any time, there are a number of reasons that time spent with her is a great treasure.
One, of course, is that having known her my entire life, I can happily be myself without any fear of shocking her. I can (and do) even revert to my most immature self and she never skips a beat but joins me at whatever level of silliness most promotes our laughing until our eyes turn into faucets and we choke on our drinks from our big snorting guffaws. I can, in the safety of my own kitchen, drink a few more of those drinks than I would do on my own, and be just as ridiculous as that makes me be. No repercussions. Well, she might tell Mom when she gets home. But it’s usually the duty of the younger sister to be the tattle-tale, right? So I should be safe for now.
When I get to be with my sister I can catch up on all that’s happening in her life, something that is not even remotely the same over the phone because it lacks the drama of the whole pantomime portion, not to mention all of my interruptions to ask what X or Q player in the story is currently doing. We can rant shamelessly about the current state of the world and everyone and everything that we know in it, and know that the Top Secret information and occasional swear-slippages need never leave the room. I can tell her my own life’s updates and make them seem as glamorous or pusillanimous as I wish, knowing that she will listen to it all with whatever sisterly sympathy or elder-sibling disgust is requisite in the event, just to help me sort out what’s believable and what’s merely my imagining.
I take it as not only excuse and permission but a virtual requirement that I eat any and all of the junky but deliriously tasty things I would normally consider inappropriate for regular dining, starting with chips and a big bowl of ice cream for lunch and not budging impressively far from that sort of menu for the duration. Now, granted, if the visit exceeds a week, I might be better behaved, but (a) this was a short visit (so there!) and (b) I probably wouldn’t be better behaved (so there!). Guess it’s just as well she didn’t test me on this. But it was a danged delicious few days, even if my body may take a while to recover.
And it’s certainly amazing how much my spirits recover from any time lost between visits, when I get just this one little dose of sisterly vitamins. Having three such stupendous sisters is probably an unfair advantage of mine, but I am not in the least apologizing for it. You have to admit, if it’s a selfish trait on my part to revel in such wealth, at least it’s one of the least of my offenses. She said, grinning just a little devilishly.
I knew we’d hit the neighbor jackpot yet again. We have a history chock-full of fine neighbors between us, my husband and I, of that sort who are not only great to chat with at the mailbox but offer help and led tools when they see projects underway, share their mystical gardening secrets, and advise on who’s the best resource for automotive care, where there’s still an independent pharmacy in town, or what the local ordinances are on right-of-way maintenance.
But we all know that the best neighbors of all have not only generosity in their hearts but also food in their hands when they show up at the door. Rhonda was known to trade her fresh-picked raspberries for our over-abundant plums. David–actually the manager at our then apartments–went door to door delivering home-grown green beans, tomatoes and zucchini that he and his wife grew in the ‘bonus’ plot on the complex’s property. Peter rang the doorbell at our place in Tyee bearing bending boards of fantastic barbecued meats and salmon and vegetables.
Add to this that we had not only other great neighbors but also heroic postal carriers, pest treatment and HVAC specialists, and remodeling contractors who have become admired friends, and you know that our standard for being spoiled is very high.
So when we moved to our current home, perhaps it was only par for the course that our new next door neighbors would arrive with welcoming smiles–and food. But what food! We didn’t have to lift a finger for anything other than unpacking and furniture-dragging for at least three days after arriving in this house because we were handed an enormous platter laden with an assortment of deliciously varied homemade salads, another piled with home-baked breads and rolls and biscuits, a plate of tender, moist cream cake, and a gallon pitcher of sweet tea. If it hadn’t been love at first sight, it would surely have to have been at first bite.
The flow of gustatory glories has continued unabated (and ably washed down with Mr. Neighbor’s lovely wine-selecting and punch-making skills as well as his fine Scotch collection) from that day forward. You will have no trouble believing and understanding when I say that we are devastated that these neighbors have retired and have the temerity to plan to move back to home territory in another state. Who will phone us in Canada when our sprinkler system fails during a hot spell, to tell us that they’ve already hired the company that installed it to do repairs before we come home? Who will deliver our entire stash of newspapers they collected over our out-of-town trip, updating us on the rest of the neighborhood or sharing delightful stories of their own adventures? And who will show up at random, numerous and very welcome times bearing, say, cake or cookies or pie, or a handmade bread cornucopia with a massive vegetable-and-floral display in it at Thanksgiving, a gorgeously crafted Bûche de Noël at Christmas, a sprightly spring assortment of cookies and cupcakes and jellies at Eastertime?
The answer, as you well know, is that it is our turn to become those neighbors, to show up unannounced with that very special something-extra whenever we can, to lend tools and perhaps the hand to use them, and to spread the joy of hospitality whenever and wherever we can. The torch–or the torchon de cuisine–has been passed. I hope I’m up to the task!I’ll probably start with something supremely simple like the nut-and-seed crackers that have no real recipe and change every time I make them. They make a handy vehicle for dips, salsas and salads when I want a quick bite of lunch or a not too terribly naughty snack. This time they were thus:
Nut and Seed Crackers (and Tuna Salad)
8 cups of finely chopped mixed nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, pecans, macadamias, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds) tossed together with about a cup of grated extra sharp cheddar cheese plus coarsely ground salt and black pepper and good chile powder to taste, all mixed with just enough water to clump together into ‘dough’ and rolled or patted onto a non-stick cookie sheet (I use a silicone lining sheet in the pan so I can be extra lazy on the cleanup), and then baked at 325-350 degrees F (depending on your oven) until golden brown. I let these ones cool in one big slab and then just broke them into uneven pieces about the size for carrying, say, some bacon and cheddar cheese dip or guacamole or seasoned labne or some tuna salad. Tuna Salad, around here, is nothing more than a good quality tinned tuna (one of the brands that cooks its filet directly in the can and adds nothing other than a little salt; I like High Seas and Tuna Guys and can order it online from both, but there are other excellent sustainable-fisheries purveyors as well) seasoned with ground pepper, dried or fresh dill, smoked paprika, yellow ‘ballpark’ style mustard and sometimes chopped capers, and bound with good mayonnaise until slightly creamier than just glued together (spreads better that way).
This combination may not exactly constitute sweets for neighborly delivery, but then we know that the sweetness derives just as much from not needing to fix any food oneself, if only for a brief moment. Or for days on end, if you happen to get one of our neighbor’s fabled deliveries!
If America really is a Melting Pot, combining a multitude of cultures into one big, satisfying stew, it’s most believably so in the kitchen. Nobody can convincingly argue this concept to my satisfaction as applied to a nation founded over the centuries by invasive species of the human variety in a bizarre and often violent series of waves, frequently waves that if they don’t actively seek to wipe out everything Other that made a beachhead on these shores before them, are still not very good at blending and assimilating and otherwise embracing each other. We’re fond of ‘talking the talk,’ so to speak, as long as the other guy is willing and able to do it not only in our preferred language but with the same point of view.But when we get to the table, our omnivorous love of good things can at least fairly often override our worst instincts. It’s true that breaking bread together is one of the best ways of finding commonality and even, perhaps, community. So although it’s sometimes quite delightful to be thematic in our thinking and our tastes to the point of specificity, it’s also very possible to enjoy the bounty of whole parts of the world when one is hungry for ideas, culture and especially, for good food. One can easily find a north Indian restaurant or a Sicilian one or a New Orleans-style Cajun one, but it’s not unusual either to find eateries that have a wider-ranging reach: pan-Pacific, Middle Eastern, Scandinavian, or Mediterranean, perhaps. My own tastes are shaped not only by the foods and flavors I like, but of course by the versions of them with which I am familiar and those I adopt or adapt for my own purposes and interests.
So it’s quite common indeed to arrive at my table and find foods influenced by particular places’ or regions’ cuisines sitting side by side with foods from decidedly different ones, or even trying a little intermingling in one dish, just for fun. The other day the meal consisted of a warm quinoa dish with a bit of Persian inspiration, right along with a salad that had slight Japanese leanings. However incongruous they might be geographically, their flavors and textures seemed complementary enough to me, and I found the combination not only edible but pretty friendly after all. So here for your refreshment, and a table-top vignette of world peace, is a little lunch invention of the Persian-Asian persuasion.
Spiced Lamb Quinoa
Cook one cup of plain quinoa in water or (as I did) homemade broth until tender. While that’s cooking, brown 1/2 lb of ground lamb, seasoning it fairly liberally with salt, pepper, thyme and nutmeg. Set both of these elements aside while preparing and combining the following in a spacious bowl: about 1/2 cup each of crumbled feta cheese, sliced black olives of any variety on hand, chopped preserved lemon, diced dried apricots, and sliced almonds (plain or toasted), and about 1/4 cup each of chopped fresh mint leaves and sesame seeds (plain or toasted). Finally, mix the prepared quinoa with that bowl of flavor-boosters, and either layer on or stir in the ground lamb. Dress the dish with fresh lime juice, raw honey and olive oil (I used my favorite blood orange olive oil), and re-season the whole with salt or pepper or any of the other previously included seasonings to adjust to your taste.
Serve warm or hot–let your taste and the weather be your guide. This dish stores well in either refrigerator or freezer and can be reheated in the microwave once mixed. Vegetarians can certainly omit the meat, and those who don’t enjoy lamb might also like ground or diced chicken better in the dish.
Quick Green-&-Orange Salad
Assemble these ingredients and mix freely, or present separately for guests to mix: sweet orange sections, snap pea shoots and carrots are the ‘big three’ here. I put them in separate “stripes” in the serving dish to show off the alternating orange-green-orange of the simple ingredients, and topped the oranges and carrots with fresh lime zest and the pea shoots with fresh orange zest just to exaggerate the color effect.
I had some pre-shredded carrots handy and in retrospect would have preferred to shred my own with the coarse side of the blade rather than have the oversized bulk of store-bought shreds. The pea sprouts are easy to cut up once plated and look kind of pretty as a long-stemmed mini-bouquet, but I’m pretty pragmatic about my food (you may have noticed), so in future I’d probably chop those into 1″ lengths beforehand too. The orange (one large navel orange) was cut into about 1″ dice and was good and juicy.
The dressing for this bright fruit-and-veg combination was a simple blend of about 2 Tablespoons of minced pickled ginger (sushi gari), orange juice squeezed out of the peel I’d cut off the orange sections while dicing it, the juice of half a lime, a splash of soy sauce, a splash of ginger juice, and a hint of honey. The soy sauce makes the dressing a less than picturesque muddy color (maybe I should try white miso next time), so I served it separately so as not to spoil my little orange-green-orange picture before we chomped all of it into moot bits.
And if I am to make a statement about interculturalism or ecumenism or any such blending in the way of my household cuisine, it might just be that when we eat food it all gets turned into Us, respectively and eventually, kind of the same way that every one of us on the planet will all turn after living into the same dust (unless we get to be reincarnated), so why not simply embrace the differences that become one in us, eh? At least we’ll eat happily.
I love food of every kind enough that I’m often quite satisfied to have meals and days without much sugary content. But my craving for sweet tastes always returns at one time or another, and sometimes in overwhelming fashion, and then I may as well feed the monster with a little bit of indulgence rather than trying to be more abstemious than my nature will long tolerate–that always only ends in the eventual pendulum swing of brazen excess, if my history serves as any example. Besides, I don’t really have to be so very wild to find a little sweet solace.
Sometimes a great piece of fresh fruit will suffice for the need of the moment. Then, though I’m well aware I’m eating nearly pure sugar, it’s not so over-processed and hyper-refined as some treats and I console my conscience, if it’s at all nagging, that I’m getting a few dashes of vitamins or other goodies of however tiny nutritive value, as opposed to simply crunching down a fistful of plain sugar, which, you may be surprised to know, I don’t find all that compelling even when my sweet tooth is aching for appeasement. A glorious, juicy, perfumed peach or pear is pretty hard to resist, though, or a handful of brilliantly sun-ripened blackberries or strawberries bursting with juice. Now, I won’t lie: if there happened to be a piece of dark chocolate to nibble alongside said fruit, I would certainly not offend anyone offering it by refusing such an option, because I’m far too nice for that sort of behavior.
Sometimes even the less dessert-oriented dishes, if I add a hint of sweetness to them, will happily assuage my yearnings for candy-like substances. The cabbage slaws and salads I make are by far most often on the sweet or sweet-tangy side rather than strictly savory, because I love the clean crispness of fresh crunchy cabbage and perhaps a little carrot or celery or cucumber or such when complemented with sweet tastes. A jot of honey or agave syrup, maple syrup (the dark, Grade B stuff, if you please–the whole point of maple syrup is lost if it’s refined to the point of tasting like sugar-water)–these bring so much, even in small quantities, to offset the heaviness or intensity of good fats, savory and umami tastes, and even to enhance them. Of course, if there’s any meat, especially a mild flavored one like pork or chicken, or maybe a nice solid seafood like sashimi grade tuna, wild-caught salmon or big meaty prawns on the plate, these can be so beautifully magnified in their satisfying richness with the addition of a bit of glaze: a sauce or a chutney, for example, with sweet or citrusy fruit, with reduced wine, with floral essences like rose or vanilla, that they can rein in my sweetness-compulsion quite nicely. Until the next time, at least!
Sometimes, of course, only something that seems genuinely like dessert will do. But it still doesn’t have to be an outrageously carbohydrate-centric sugar bomb to be perfectly marvelous and fully delicious. Rusticity, simplicity and even a little hint of good nutritional qualities can win the day when they’re just what I’m craving. Take the little baked custard I made when I was longing for pumpkin pie but really didn’t want to fuss over or consume a floury pastry piecrust: yummy as those can be, I’m finding the disagreement between wheat-based foods and my digestive system just isn’t worth the price of admission anymore. But when I took a plain little tin of prepared (plain) pureed pumpkin, stirred it up with a spoonful of vanilla, a pinch of salt, a good dose of raw wild honey, a couple of eggs and a big powdering of Vietnamese cinnamon, whipped it up and put it in a buttered ceramic bowl in the microwave (I ‘waved it, covered, on High, checking from about 4 minutes on until it was nearly non-wiggly), it came out willing to imitate a freshly baked pumpkin pie quite nicely and the sweet-toothed dragon was greatly mollified by the whole. It may not have been Thanksgiving Day, but I know I for one was thankful enough! And that’s all I really want from a bit of sweetness.
Ask my husband.