He kissed me, not a soft kiss, but a forced, hurried one, right between Period 4 and Period 5, we stood there in a secret rushed moment of youth, I, at the ripened age of eleven and him, a much wiser and older twelve, he kissed me.
And it was disgusting.
Not what little girls tucked comfortably away in their pink canopy beds dream about or are read to in tales of princes and peas where the kiss is The Event of Grandeur, ever so tender and complete and enveloping.The girl loses senses.Knees buckle.Long perfect blonde hair cascades between them.A tiny sigh is heard.And life as we know it is renewed.
This is what I had expected, what I’d been promised, in countless years of fairy tale grooming.And even though it was the seventies, an era where women proudly burned bras and demanded from men things that had never been demanded before, this little girl expected to swoon, blush, and feel whole and refreshed by her first kiss.
Instead, oceans of bubble gum grape saliva had infested my mouth.I’d always been a big fan of Hubba Bubba, heck, my sister and I nurtured our reputations based on the proud acknowledgement that we knew the guy who’d invented its unforgettable flavor, but, the critical difference was that I chose when to taste it and between Period 4 and Period 5 in the stairwell that day was not one of those moments.
My kissing mate misread my initial hesitation as a moment of shyness (one of many poor calls in judgement) and proceeded to plunge further into my mouth; his thirsty, clumsy tongue digging deeper and deeper in feign attempts of pleasure he swept my throat for tonsils, it seemed.And I fought this alien creature slivering inside me, eyes watering, mind spinning, I wondered why I’d been fooled into believing this would be the luckiest moment of my life (and with a sixth grader no less!) But instincts are uncontrollable things and mine kicked in after the initial moment of horror wore off. I ripped myself away from my self-appointed courter and, right there, between Period 4 and Period 5, on his Nike-clad feet (coveted shoes hard to secure in Venezuela back then) I spat, spat, spat that Hubba Bubba flavor in desperate efforts to remove the memory from mind.
I looked up to find a small ego staring back at me (for no one had used his toes as a spittoon before) and my eyes winced as my body moved away (wishing now I’d taken the main stairs and gotten a good seat at World Geography instead) and not a word transpired between us, two fallen lovebirds, both equally shocked by the action of the other, we drifted away leaving the stairwell with its memory and puddle of grape saliva.
The first time I saw my rabbi dressed up as Buzz Lightyear I knew I was in the right place. Most adults stared uneasily, not sure what to make of this grown man bounding happily in a bright green and white suit, but I felt right at home. My children were with me at the time and quite naturally declared: “Look, there is rabbi Andrew!” just as they would if they’d seen him at Publix, the park, or up on the Bima. There was no mention of the outfit, I assume because he wore it quite well, quite naturally. I’d step out on a limb and confess he even seemed more comfortable in it than the stiff grown-up jackets he’d have to, on many occasions, wear. This was, after all, Purim, the Jewish holiday that, not only allows, but expects silliness to reign. So it seemed fitting that Ramat Shalom would have a real life Buzz Lightyear headed your way.
Sure, there’s the whole logical story behind it: Purim commemorates how Queen Esther and Mordechai saved the Jews from Haman, the evil minister of the Persian king. On this holiday, costumes are worn and the Megillah (the Book of Esther) is read to recount this tale of survival. Hamantaschen, (also called “Oznei Haman”, or Haman Ears in Hebrew) are the treat of choice. I nibble on my husband’s ear on ocassion, but it pales in comparison to this: tiny triangles of tender, buttery pastry curled up against a dollop of tangy apricot, hearty prunes, or, for the lucky ones, rich melted chocolate.
For my kids Purim is equally important in their repertoire of holidays. I assume they’d have to agree with Rabbi Andrew and say it’s because of the costumes- the opportunity to relive the splendor of Halloween, without having an ominous light to it. Catalogues of costumes are meticulously scanned by my daughter and of course, there will be the mandatory visit or two to the party store to scour through their costume section. It is much leaner than the selection they carry in October, but then again, so are the crowds of shoppers, so I don’t mind going several times to appease my kids.
They look at pictures of witches and fairies and superheroes and eagerly discuss amongst themselves what they are going to be. Then, they both turn to me and their eyes light up, two sets of beautiful almond eyes flanked by swooping long lashes lock on me and I know I am in trouble. Their eyes are pools of irresistible power and when they shine in the light just so, swirling in a sea of butterscotch and they blink blink blink those eyes are powerful weapons and I know, whatever it is they want, I know they will get. They know they’ve got me by the way my body just slows to a stop and I wait. Wait for it. Whatever it is. They smell victory. They are good at this, they know. Years of practice pays off. So they ask me, not if, but what I am going to dress up as? If I weren’t under their spell I’d try to tell them Purim is just for the kids to dress up, but I can’t say that, I won’t. After all, their rabbi knows it’s all about goofy fun and is headed to infinity and beyond, so why shouldn’t I?
This week I almost offered my ten-year old daughter a buck to eat her fruit.And by fruit I mean, two teeny tiny strawberries sliced in cubes a toddler could gulp down and not notice.It was a moment, like many, of weakness and sheer desperation where I delved down deep into my heart of capitalism and nearly paid her for the service of leaving me alone and putting something healthy in her body instead.But something held me back.Maybe it was the image of my son, sitting right next to his sister, wolfing down whatever fruit possible at the speed of sound. Maybe it was the memory of having grown up in a tropical country where fruit played a critical role in my household; very different from the way my daughter sees it today.There were no saran-wrapped watermelons or Styrofoam-packed nectarines, or, God forbid, bag of sliced apples.In Venezuela fruit was readily available at every street corner, dangling off heavy transport trucks or in tiny but cramped fruit shops where it would be regularly purchased and taken home leaving a sweet and delicate fragrance throughout our house.
We used to have a carved out tree stump as our fruit basket.This may sound absurdly large, but it deemed itself necessary, as every week, mom would make her trip to her favorite fruit store, Siempre Fresco (Always Fresh) where the savvy and flirtatious owner would offer her free samples of papaya, mango, or pineapple in order to make his sale, or, as I believed, speak to the pretty gringa lady.
She would return home with bagfuls of tropical delights:pineapple, passion fruit, papaya, mango, guava, carambola, and of course, at least three different kinds of bananas.All of these made their way into my diet, whether as my nanny Yolanda’s famous fruit salad, where she’d meticulously dice each fruit into ¼ inch bites and douse the final product with fresh orange juice, or just simply offered up in slices after a heavy meal.And to my daughter’s credit, I wasn’t always gobbling the stuff up either.There where many moments where I craved God’s gift to Venezuelan children:the candy bar such as Carlton, or a Susy, (both crispy wafers bathed in rich chocolate) instead.
But then I’d hear that warm familiar call from Yolanda, or Yoli, as I’d call her, who’d been busily working in the kitchen as I struggled over algebra homework at the dining room table.I knew whatever she was doing in there had to be something good because by problem number five I was already in a stupor over the distracting aroma emanating from the kitchen: a combination of cinnamon and butterscotch and the sweetness the comes from the earth after a rainstorm.
“Niña!” Yoli would shout.“Ven a comer tu dulce.” I needed few excuses to abandon algebra, but when I heard this command, “Child, come eat your sweets,” all the pieces of the puzzle came together and I understood it could only mean one fantastic thing:I was getting a free trial sample of her famous Baked Bananas.She and I knew that this was meant to be for dinner only, but she and I knew how much we loved to share moments together, especially if it involved food, and more power to it if it temporarily suspended painful tasks such as mathematics.
The lethargy that had guided me through variables of x and y evaporated as quickly as the morning dew on a hot day and I shot my way to the kitchen where Yoli was already ready and waiting for me with a sample of her signature banana dessert.I don’t know how she did it but biting into that dessert always made me melt like butter.The banana was sweet and luscious and oh so comforting, happily swimming in a sauce of butter and rum and cinnamon that had baked into drunken butterscotch perfection.We both knew we had only seconds before La Señora, my mother, would sense my absence in the room next door and come to make sure I was fulfilling my academic duties.But this moment was worth all the risk, with Yoli’s adoring eyes gazing at me as my soul filled with warmth and love and pleasure as I greedily gobbled her amazing baked bananas, inevitably sighing back to that fabulous woman brimming with love and begging her desperately for more, knowing surely my banana plea had given me away and I’d soon find myself facing more horrid algorithms.
cambur con ron al horno: una feliz distraccion de álgebra
Esta semana casi le ofrecí a mi hija de diez años un dólar para comer su fruta. Y por fruta quiero decir, dos fresas diminutas cortadas en cubos que un niño podría tragar y no dares cuenta. Esto era en un momento, como muchos, de debilidad y desesperación donde busque profundamente en mi corazón del capitalismo y casi le pagué para el servicio de dejarme en paz y poner algo sano en su cuerpo en cambio. Pero algo me detuvo. Tal vez era la imagen de mi hijo, sentando directamente a su lado devorando toda la fruta posible con un gusto delicioso. Tal vez me paro la memoria de haber crecido en un país tropical donde la fruta desempeñó un papel crítico en mi casa; muy diferente de la identificacion con fruta que mi hija lleva hoy. No había patillas ya picadas, nectarinas embaladas en plastico ni bolsas de manzanas cortadas. En Venezuela, la fruta existia en cada equina de la calle, guindando sobre camiones o en tiendas de fruta diminutas pero apretadas donde sería con regularidad comprado y llevada a casa, dejando una fragancia dulce y delicada en todas partes de nuestro hogar.
Solíamos tener un tocón de árbol forjado como nuestro canasto de la fruta. Este puede parecer absurdamente grande, pero se juzgó necesario, cuando cada semana, mi mamá haría su viaje a su tienda de fruta favorita, Siempre Fresco, donde el dueño (un italiano coqueto) ofrecería sus muestras libres de papaya, mango, o piña a fin de hacer su venta, o, mas bien, hablar con la bella señora gringa.
Mi madre volvería a casa con bolsas de placeres tropicales: piña, parchita, papaya, mango, guayaba, carambola, y por supuesto, al menos tres clases diferentes de cambur. Todos éstos hicieron su camino en mi dieta, en forma de la famosa ensalada de fruta de mi niñera Yolanda, donde meticulosamente picaba cada fruta en pedacitos de ¼ de pulgada y empapaba el producto final con jugo de naranja, o simplemente ofrecido en rebanadas después de una comida pesada. Y al crédito de mi hija, yo no siempre quería comer fruta tampoco. Habían muchos momentos donde me provocaba un Carlton o Susy (el regalo de Dios a niños venezolanos: obleas crujientes bañadas en chocolate rico) en cambio.
Pero entonces yo oiría la llamada familiar de Yolanda, o Yoli, como le decia, quien ya había estado trabajando furiosamente en la cocina mientras que yo luchaba sobre la tarea de álgebra en la mesa de comedor. Yo sabía que ella tuvo que haber hecho algo delicioso porque por el problema número cinco yo estaba ya en un estupor sobre el aroma que emana de la cocina y tracionaba mi concentracion: una combinación de canela y caramelo de mantequilla y el olor dulce de la grama después de una lluvia torrencial.
¡“Niña!” Yoli gritaría. “Ven para probar tu dulce.” Necesitaba pocas excusas para abandonar el álgebra, pero cuando oí esta orden entendí que esto sólo podría significar una cosa fantástica: me tocaba una muestra de su Cambur al Horno famoso. Ella y yo sabíamos cuánto amabamos compartir momentos juntas, sobre todo si esto implicaba algo de comida y más aun si esto temporalmente suspendiera tareas dolorosas como matemáticas.
El letargo que me había dirigido por variables de x y y evaporaron tan rápidamente como el rocío de la mañana durante un día caliente y pegué un tiro hacia la cocina donde Yoli estaba lista y esperando con una muestra de su postre. No sé como ella lo hizo pero mordiendo en aquel postre siempre me hacía derretirme como mantequilla. El cambur era dulce y delicioso y ay tan consolador, felizmente nadando en una salsa de la mantequilla y ron y canela que había horneado en la perfección de caramelo de mantequilla borracha. Nosotras ambas sabíamos que teníamos sólo segundos antes que La Señora, mi madre, sentiría mi ausencia en el cuarto al lado y vendría para asegurarse que yo realizaba mis deberes académicos. Pero este momento mereció todo el riesgo, con los ojos de adoración de Yoli que me miraban fijamente mientras mi alma llenaba de calor y amor, inevitablemente suspire a aquella mujer fabulosa que rebosaba de amor y la pedi desesperadamente para más, sabiendo que seguramente mi súplica de cambur me habia desubierto con mi madre y pronto me encontraria afrontada por algoritmos más horrorosos.
Cambur al Horno de Yolanada
Este plato originalmente requiere cambures titiaro, un cambur pequeño, salvaje que crece en la selva de Amazonas. Usted puede encontrarlo en algunos mercados, pero si no, esto trabaja perfectamente con la clase convencional.
1 taza de agua
1 taza de azúcar moscabada
15 plátanos titiaro maduros, o 6 plátanos maduros, pelados y cortados en a mitad longitudinal
4 cucharones de mantequilla
¼ taza de vino Oporto
¼ taza de ron oscuro
1 cucharilla de canela
½ cucharilla de jugo de limon fresco
helado de vainilla
En un sartén grande, profundo no reactivo, combine el agua con el azúcar. Cocinar sobre el calor medio hasta que el azúcar se disuelve. Añada cambur, mantequilla, Oporto, 2 cucharadas de ron ron y canela. Hierve y reduzca el calor. Suavemente hierva a fuego lento, embastando cambur con la mezcla de azúcar, 25 minutos. Añada el jugo de limon ¼ taza de ron. Sirve con el helado de vainilla.
If someone presents you midway through your meal with a sweet cream flavored ice cream enveloped with wild flowers, cilantro and other herbs, you’d take pause. You’d reach down to the pit of your basic ice cream knowledge (well formed for us Americans) and take pause. Because you know chocolate well. Many a passionate night you’ve spent together. And vanilla goes without saying; it brings on a whole new meaning to nuts and sauces, sprinkles and maraschino cherries; basically anything with horrifying numerical dyes that linger in our system for seven years. There are even others ice cream flavors on the standard list: coffee (for die-hard, strong personalities like my seven-year old son), strawberry (for a touch of delicate whimsy), and rum raisin, (for drunken decadence and in my case, nostalgia as it was my mother’s favorite flavor). But this? Beyond the fact that it purposely doesn’t mark the end of the meal (huh?) there’s this, made to pull the rug out from under you and rethink your whole concept of such a basic delight as ice cream.
This is Chef Andoni from Mugaritz, of course. Who else could it be? And when I visited him back in June at his restaurant in the lovely northern Spanish town of Errenteria, he proudly and candidly explained the purpose of his cuisine:
“You are always on the edge between, ‘Can this be real? ‘ and the experience being real. You are always questioning these principles.”
Chef Andoni is jovial, vibrant and infectious with his energy and passion about food. He is also a bit of a philosopher mixed with genius all wrapped in his chef’s jacket. As we stood amongst his well-orchestrated staff in his tiny but effective kitchen, his eyes glimmered as he pointed at the emblem stitched on his chef jacket. It is a leaf bearing a delicate central vein with smaller lateral veins sprouting out left and right. “See”, he points out. “That balance is even in the emblem. That thin line of questioning runs right through the middle.”
Andoni assured me that he doesn’t strive to be like a traditional restaurant and he is quite successful at that. For starters, I spent five hours at his place. To wrap it up, I’ll never forget it.
I’d say the experience was more like a museum for the senses. My guests and I began seated in the outdoor garden, bursting with beautiful flowers and calming gray stone, sitting in plush but minimalist furniture, where we enjoyed the traditional Cidra sparkling wine and were introduced to our first of many moments of double take as a basket filled with rocks was served to us. Taking extra long sips of our Cidra, the waiter relieved us of further quiet distress (am I going to have to eat rocks here?) by explaining these were not rocks, but rather potatoes that had been cooked in edible ash. The only rock there was the warm one on top, to help keep the potatoes nice and toasty.
We actually did several double takes on that one because we would have sworn these all to be a basket of rocks. But, I am an adventurer at heart, and the waiter did have warm, trusting eyes, so I decided to go for it and take a bite, and really, it was from that bite forward that I was cast in the spell of Mugaritz.
The potato was creamy, luscious and smooth on the inside, with a slightly sweet flavor to it. If butter could be a starch, this was it. The ash offered the perfect border to the fluffiness, a defined close with an almost dry touch, carefully enveloping the flavor into one. A dipping sauce was offered, some creamy something or other my husband adored, but quite frankly, the potato worked amazingly on its own, even better with eyes closed. I was easily immersed.
From there we moved on into the main building, a ivy-covered neutral toned space where we headed to a large round table decorated with a moving sculpture of forks, knives and spoons which the three children in our group (all under the age of ten) where fascinated by. Now you’d think a place of this caliber would have rights to be snooty and pretentious, but the staff at Mugaritz seemed like clones of the most patient nana, babysitter and teacher in one, always kind and accommodating to the kids’ needs and completely unperturbed by their rambunctiousness, which, got a little out of hand by hour number three.
Dishes came and swept us off our feet with flavors. There were so many, all boasting with local, organic and ridiculously fresh produce. Gnocchi’s made out of a nearby farm’s Idiazabal cheese arrived swimming in a broth of Iberic ham, each of the four gnocchi’s crowned with a different herb that had been hand-picked from Mugaritz’s garden and strategically placed with tweezer precision.
Grilled foie gras, from geese that are locally grown and required to run around freely, were served with a fresh mustard sauce and greens and proved to be smooth, simple and explosive with flavor. There were many more dishes that came, all at the appropriate time and beautifully presented. There was fish and lamb and a dizzying array of local Euskal cheeses served with a delightful pear juice, the ice cream, and the traditional Spanish dessert of Torrija, which is a wonderful French Toast Extreme that in this case came with a crunchy caramel coating and a lovely goat milk cream. Even the kids got their own meal: a tender and juicy fish accompanied by thick slabs of the Spanish prerequisite side dish of patatas fritas (French fries), only these where one-inch thick slabs that came all stacked up and ready for Lego-building action: a definite hands-on presentation that served as an easy half an hour of food play, readily encouraged at Mugaritz.
When you arrive at your table you are encountered by numerous note cards with simple but powerful messages:
150 minutes…submerse yourself
150 minutes…rebel against yourself
150 minutes to feel, imagine, relearn, discover, contemplate.
This is Mugaritz in a nutshell: a haven of rediscovery, not only with food, but also with yourself: letting go of preconceptions and looking at the world through a different lens.
And as for the ice cream…it was spectacular. Better. Indescribable really, except if it were possible to convert the most colorful and amazing firework show into a culinary experience, that ice cream would be it. My husband was so moved by it and, of course, was brash enough to ask the waiter for a second serving (the man has no shame.) Being Mugaritz, they graciously complied. I was dying for more of that flavor. What was it that made it so? The dandelion? The iris? Parsley? Thyme? What? I didn’t know but I liked to be haunted by it. I liked to be left longing for more and I knew that is where I had to stop with this incredible dish. I was right on Chef Andoni’s line. Craving it. Thinking about it. Twisting and turning the symphony of unique flavors Andoni had cursed and blessed me with. This is Mugaritz: a gem that will leave you more alive, more relaxed, and more thoughtful at the same time. And whereas some will only splurge on this experience once, my husband and I know we cannot. Once introduced, we already long to go back.
mugaritz: una experiencia inolvidable
Si alguien te presenta con un helado de crema de leche envuelto con flores salvajes, coriandro y otras hierbas a mitad de tu comida, tomarías pausa.Alcanzarías tu conocimiento de helado básico (bien formado para nosotros americanos) y tomarías pausa.Sabes el chocolate bien. Muchas noches apasionadas has gastado juntos. Y la vainilla va sin el refrán; esto provoca un nuevo sentido de locura con jarabes y cerezas de marrasquino. Hay otro sabores de helado celebrados: café (para el intransigente, personalidades fuertes como mi hijo de siete años), fresa (para un poco de capricho delicado), y pasa de ron, (para la decadencia borracha y en mi caso, nostalgia, por ser el sabor favorito de mi madre). ¿Pero este helado? ¿Más allá del hecho que esto deliberadamente no marca el final de la comida (¡eh!?) existe el helado en sí, hecho para tirar la manta de bajo de uno y repensar el concepto entero de un placer tan básico como el helado.
Este es el trabajo de Chef Andoni de Mugaritz, por supuesto. ¿Quién más podría ser? Y cuando lo visité en junio en su restaurante en el pueblo vazco encantador de Errenteria, él orgullosamente y sinceramente explico el objetivo de su cocina:
¿“Usted está siempre en el borde entre, ‘puede este ser verdadero?‘ y la experiencia siendo verdadera. Siempre se pregunta estos principios.”
Chef Andoni es jovial, vibrante e infeccioso con su energía y pasión sobre la comida. Es también un poco filósofo mezclado con genio abrigado en una chaqueta de chef. Cuando estuve en su cocina diminuta pero eficaz, sus ojos brillaron tenuemente cuando señaló el emblema cosido a su chaqueta. Es una hoja con una vena delicada corriendo por el centro. “Vez”, él indica. “Aquel equilibrio está hasta en el emblema. Aquella línea delgada de preguntar es fundamental en Mugaritz.”
Andoni me aseguró que él no se esfuerza por parecer a un restaurante tradicional y en esto tiene toda la razón. Para empezar, gasté cinco horas en su lugar.Cinco horas que nunca olvidaré.
Yo diría que la experiencia era más bien un museo para los sentidos. Mis invitados y yo comenzamos asentados en el jardín al aire libre, que se revienta con flores hermosas entre muebles comodos pero minimalistas, donde disfrutamos del vino espumoso Sidra tradicional y fuimos presentados nuestro primer de muchos momentos “Mugaritz” cuando una cesta llena de piedras nos fue servida. El camarero nos alivió de la angustia (voy a tener que comer piedras aquí?) explicandonos que éstos no son rocas, si no patatas que han sido cocinadas en ceniza comestible. La única roca allí era la caliente encima, ayudando guardar las patatas calentitas.
La patata era cremosa, deliciosa y lisa en el interior, con un sabor ligeramente dulce. Si la mantequilla pudiera ser un almidón, sería esto. La ceniza ofreció la frontera perfecta, con un toque casi seco y con cuidado envolviendo el sabor en uno. Una salsa fue ofrecida, pero francamente, la patata trabajó extraordinariamente sola, aún mejor con ojos cerrados. Fui fácilmente sumergido.
Desde allí nos invitaron adentro donde nos dirigimos a una mesa grande e redonda decorada con una escultura móvil de tenedores, cuchillos y cucharas que los tres niños en nuestro grupo (todos menores de diez) vieron con fascinación.Ahora usted pensaría que un lugar de este calibre tendría derechos de ser presumido y pretencioso, pero la gente de Mugaritz parecieron clones de la nana más paciente, siempre acomodando las necesidades de los niños y completamente impasible por la bulla que creaban, especialmente despues de la tercera hora.
Los platos vinieron y nos anonadaron con sabores. Había tanto, todo hecho con productos locales, orgánicos e ridículamente frescos. Gnocchi hecho del queso local, Idiazabal, nadando en un caldo del jamón Iberico, cada uno de los cuatro gnocchi’s coronado con una hierba diferente que había sido escogida a mano del jardín de Mugaritz.
Foie gras, de gansos que andan libremente, fueron servidos con una salsa de mostaza fresca y ofrecían un sabor cremoso y memorable.Había muchos platos más que vinieron, todos en el momento oportuno y maravillosamente presentados. Había pescado y cordero y una serie de quesos de Euskal Herria acompañados con un jugo de pera encantador, el helado, y el postre español tradicional de Torrija, que en este caso vino con una capa de caramelo crujiente y una crema de leche de cabra cremosa.Incluso a los niños les ofrecieron su propia comida: un pescado acompañado por losas gruesas de patatas fritas que vinieron todas listas para construir algo estilo Lego, una distración fácil de media hora para los chicos.
Cuando llegas a la mesa encuentras numerosos mensajes simples pero poderosos:
150 minutos para sentir, imaginar, rememorar, descubrir.
150 minutos para la contemplación.
Esto es Mugaritz: una mecca de redescubrimiento, no sólo con la comida, sino también con uno mismo.
Y en cuanto al helado…era espectacular. Mejor. Indescriptible realmente, excepto si fuera posible convertir el espectáculo de fuegos artificiales más vistoso y asombroso en una experiencia culinaria, aquel helado sería ello. Mi marido fue tan movido por ello y, por supuesto, siendo bastante atrevido le pidio mas al camarero (el hombre no tiene ninguna vergüenza.) Siendo Mugaritz, ellos graciosamente le trajeron otra porcion. Yo moría para más de aquel sabor. ¿Qué era lo que hizo esa experiencia así? ¿El diente de león? ¿El lirio? ¿Perejil? ¿Tomillo? ¿Qué?
No sabía pero me gustó que no pude dejar de pensarlo. Me gustó añorar más y sabía que es donde tuve que pararme con este plato increíble. Estaba justo en la línea del Chef Andoni. Enroscando y girando la sinfonía de sabores únicos con que Chef Andoni me había blasfemado y me había bendito a la misma vez. Este es Mugaritz: una joya donde terminaras más vivo, más relajado, y más pensativo al mismo tiempo.
Helado de Lavanda
No puedo competír con el helado del Chef Andoni. No pensaría hacerlo. Pero encontré esta receta en la revista de Gourmet, 2003, para el helado de lavanda.
2 tazas crema de batír
1 taza crema “half-and-half”
2/3 tazas de miel
2 cucharones de flores de lavanda comestible*
2 huevos grandes
1/8 cucharilla de sal
Equipo especial: termómetro para caramelo; un fabricante de helado
Traiga la crema, half-and-half, miel, y lavanda a hervír en una cacerola pesada de 2 cuartos de galón sobre el calor moderado, moviéndose de vez en cuando. Quítalo del calor y déjalo cubierto, 30 minutos.
Vierta la mezcla de crema por un tamiz de malla fina en un tazón y deseche la lavanda. Mezcla de vuelta a cacerola limpiada y calienta sobre calor moderado hasta caliente.
Batír junto los huevos y sal en un tazón grande, luego añada 1 taza de la mezcla de crema caliente en una corriente lenta, batiendo. Vierta la mezcla de crema caliente restante en cacerola y cocine moderadamente a calor lento, moviéndose constantemente con una cuchara de madera, hasta que adquíera una consistencia bastante gruesa, como para cubrír atrás de la cuchara y se registra 170 a 175°F en el termómetro, aproximadamente 5 minutos.
Vierta la crema por el tamiz en el tazón limpiado y enfríe completamente, moviéndose de vez en cuando. Cubre y enfríe al menos 3 horas.
Ponga la mezcla dentro de la maquina de helado y sígua instrucciones del fabricante de helado.
*se puede conseguir en tiendas de comidas especialisadas
I have to start with the chair, because it was green, so bright green, and it greeted me with such gusto and verve as I entered my Greenbrier room and began acclimating to the hyperactive wallpaper (which I obviously had the chair as hostesses to) somehow reassuring me that the week I would spend there would end up being one filled with learning and good food and it would all begin with this rolling fit of laughter as I got to know and love this green chair, my green chair that I’d sorely miss.
I went to the Greenbrier Inn last week to attend the Symposium for Professional Food Writers. I had been chosen as a finalist for the James Peterson Food Writing Passion Scholarship and arrived with every arrogant intention of launching my career into high gear. But just as soon as I arrived and started attending the talks, I realized I may need to tinker with a thing or two before hitting the best seller list. For starters, a lot of talk revolved around the ever-changing blogosphere and I quickly questioned my tactics on this venue. Paired with the blog talk was the word “platform”, which got thrown around a lot: building one, having one, nurturing one, engaging with one. Platform is who you are as a writer and how you sell yourself as one. Logic has never been a forte for me but I soon realized that without any scheduled appearances on Oprah or any best selling books my platform = my blog = you guys.
Sitting on my green chair after many grueling sessions loaded with information and self-discovery, I munched on tangy orangettes (provided by the Greenbrier as a welcome snack), I knew I had to improve my platform by revising my blog and making it interactive. Extremely. Interactive. I love posting my thoughts, but this whole set up has become quite lonely. I need you guys to help me out. Which means, you don’t have to get out of your green chair (or rocker, or car, or Starbucks, or wherever the warped sensed of curiosity strikes you to view Culinary Compulsion) but it certainly would be fabulous to have you participate a bit.
It’s kind of hard not to bond with a bunch of food writers when you are spending a whole week nestled in the hills of West Virginia in a gargantuan relic of a hotel nicknamed “Old White.” We’d cruise down abandoned corridors luxuriously decorated by the legendary Dorothy Draper (rumor has it our group of 45 where the only occupants in the 800+ rooms hotel), devising plans to film the remake of The Shinning here (picture twins and tricycles).
And, in between sessions about platforms, blogs, and publishing, we’d eat. Floating from meal to meal we’d sit at tables littered with an endless supply of (opened) wine bottles, and talk food, politics, and life.
I could send out a big thanks to absolutely everyone for that intense 4-day experience, but particularly to Steve Dolinsky, Chicago’s “Hungry Hound” for ABC News who taught us about the art of brevity (key to any good writer.) Don Fry, speaker and writing coach who seemed to subsist on an endless supply of Tab (neatly lined up for his consumption) claimed that he lacked social skills but went on to teach and dazzle about the art of finding your writing voice. He proudly sports several, one of which can be enjoyed on his blog. Check it out and then let me know.
Let me know.
Let me know.
(Remember the word platform.)
Michael Ruhlan, author of a ton of interesting books (Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, The Elements of Cooking: Translating the Chef’s Craft For Every Kitchen and The Soul of a Chef: The Pursuit of Perfection, to name a few) was one of the guest speakers. One would be tempted to easily get lost in the piercing blue eyes of this tall, tanned man with lightly tossed wheat blonde hair and a relaxed aura until he opens his mouth and you forget about all that and are quickly transfixed in his cool, calm, and level-headed advice on publishing, blogging and marketing: words that seemed to evaporate from his skin and readily be absorbed by the attendees. One session consisted of Michael and Russ Parsons, food editor of the Los Angeles Times, sitting on their own set of bright green chairs and casually chatting to each other about the writing process. It was Food Writing Porn: we sat perched on the edge of our seats in this scrumptous moment of voyeurism: two food writing greats to be savored fully and quietly.
Other speakers shared their personal publishing journeys. Andrea Nyguan used her experiences from her new dumpling book to emphasize platform and inevitably left my stomach growling each time. I slipped her a card in the hopes she’d consider me as a taste tester on her next book! Ann Taylor Pittman, editor of Cooking Light, and Martha Holmberg, from The Oregonian Food Magazine talked about demystifying the query letter while literary agent Judith Weber and editors Sydny Miner and Bill LeBlond where there to beg us to never send book proposals in a pretty binder. Never. Ever.
And then there was Andrew Schloss, simply known as Andy, whose sheer energy force would serve as enough inspiration (who else sleeps two hours, volunteers to hosts extra sessions, and bike rides?) Andy was the alloted money man and by the end of the conference his name had turned into a verb: to schloss something means to make it profitable. By day four we were all transforming our writing from the tiny baby we nourish and cradle and love to a product for sale worthy of big bucks; worthy of schlossing. I think I fell in love with Andy’s advice when he announced he doesn’t believe in the word “rejection” when talking about query letters and book proposals. Like in the film Jerry Maguire when the teary-eyed vulnerable chic claims ‘you had me at hello’, Andy got me with his rejection of the word rejection. His alternative word, “pass” feels much better. As he explains it, your proposal or query letter is merely a venue to sell a product and if an editor sends you a rejection letter, he or she is merely sending you a “pass” on your product and you must just go on and sell that product elsewhere. Clean. Simple. No tears or bleeding heart or even extra tequila shots necessary. Just a sale that didn’t take place yet. I dig this. I dig this a lot. And so I begged Andy to shrink to the size of a small African grey parrot so I could place him on my shoulder to whisper such advice on those dark and gloomy lonely days as a writer, but the shrink bit didn’t fly with him, he seems to be a man of his own agenda, so I look forward to the advice continuing in other venues, if not off my shoulder.
Of course the Symposium was bombarded with food. Although it was not running at full capacity (a sidekick of the recession), the kitchen is large and worthy of its reputation, with apprentices competing to attending two-year stints. The pressure was on for these folks hosting a bunch of food writers. One day a group of us were invited on a kitchen tour. As we wandered the underground tunnels that run alongside the famed hidden bunker (built by the U.S. government as a fallout shelter for the members of Congress during the Cold War) I tried to envision this place 100 years ago, in its fullest glory, filled to the brim with chefs and food and orders, a constant buzz of energy and cuisine.
Dishes ranged from Southern Classic (country grits) to Southern Classic with a Twist (lobster burgers with a slab of foie gras) and even jumped away from American cooking and into the futurist high-cuisine coined “molecular gastronomy” inspired by the famed Spanish chef of El Bulli restaurant, Ferran Adria.
Sugar Sphere at The Greenbrier
Some attendees where generous enough to bring food. Barbara Sharon, the Big Yummy Gooey Lunch Box Cookie Lady scattered brightly striped lunch boxes filled with samples of her baked goods such as Mocha Chews and Oatmeal Raisin. Her sister, Linda Sendowski, came bearing colorful tales of their Sephardic Jewish upbringing highlighted with culinary proof housed in tiny silver boxes bearing two cheese bourekas up to par with those served by my Great Doda Rachel in Jerusalem (it made all the painful cheek-pinching from mothball-smelling relatives that I endured as a child all the worthwhile). Then there was Mark Bitterman, simply known as “The Salt Guy”, and rightly so. I’ve never met someone so passionate and knowledgeable about salts and I’ll tell you now, such enthusiasm is dangerously contageous. Mark set up a salt tasting for us using only tidbits of buttered bread, thin slivers of cucumber and the salts from his Portland store, The Meadow. My palate learned of salts from Iceland, Japan, Australia, France and the Himalayas, and after those two hours I came out of there never looking at salt the same way.
Varieties and usage are endless and the flavors vary as well. Did you know that the Japanese have a salt extracted from seaweed and then smoked? Man, that stuff is hauntingly good! Check Mark’s store out and change your salt attitude for the better. Then come back and tell me about it.
Of course, guiding us through this entire electric creative process was the ever-calm and ethereal presence of Antonia Allegra, the Symposium’s director, simply known at “Toni.” Toni made it a point of welcoming each and every one of us with a warm and genuine embrace and constantly nourished both first-time attendees and old-timers alike. Everyone gravitates towards Toni, and, spend five minutes with her and you’ll quickly know why. She is calm and graceful yet matronly and nuts-and-bolts about everything; offering a safe-haven for writers to replenish and nourish while extending a practical venue to equipt oneself with the tools to thrive in the trying career as a food writer. So I got this idea while munching on my orangettes:
I think I’m gonna shake things up around here, give you foks the opportunity to be more participatory, because, I am told, that is what blogs are all about. And I promise not to ramble on like this again. I am just beyond myself with information from my week at the Greenbrier and am banking on your goodwill to use this venue to spew thoughts out.
Summer is at our doorstep so I am thinking of tackling fruits and veggies head on. I suggest a series on these and invite you to join in on the conversation: share a memory or recipe or delicious link. If you’d like to see a topic covered, please do tell.
Oh, and if you see a bunch of Spanish stuff you may not understand, don’t panic, I’m not keeping a culinary secret from you. I’m just trying to follow advice first given to me by my Spanish brother-in-law and reconfirmed by a new Greenbrier friend, Kris Rudolph, owner of La Cocina cooking school in San Miguel de Allende (Mexico), both of whom adamantly insisted I open up my thoughts and recipes to my Spanish-speaking friends. Asi que, bienvenidos, empezaremos pronto con compulsiones en español!
So there you have it, a week filled with inspiration and growth! I look forward to our culinary conversations!