August 23rd, 2010 by Alice Medrich
Fruit is memory food for me. A bite of this, a whiff of that can take me instantly to my Southern California roots (picking succulent plums from our rooftop with my best friend Linda, parking in the orange groves with my boyfriend). Often the memory is France, vivid, random, sweet…
I recently joined old friends for brunch just up the street, in the middle of the week. So luxurious. It felt like Sundays of old. My friends are retired and I seem to work all of the time lately, so it doesn’t matter for me either, whether it’s weekday or weekend. But it still felt like Sunday. The talk was so good that I barely noticed what I was eating until I’d helped myself to fruit salad three times. Sensational fruit in a giant stoneware bowl. There was a whisper of cinnamon in every bite, really just a nuance. And the fruit was bright and sweet and tart on my tongue, just as it should be. I know my hostess well enough to know she hadn’t added sugar to perfect fruit. But she had just tossed it with a little limejuice and a squeeze of orange, and pinches of cinnamon. I left with the taste in my head, saving it for later.
A few days ago, I needed a palate-cleansing snack, just for myself—something light and refreshing, without chocolate, butter, or white sugar, please. I sliced a nectarine, squeezed a little lime and grated a little cinnamon. Freshly grated cinnamon stick is magical–it perfumes the air and your fingers as well as flavoring the food. I was starting to add the ripe blackberries and tiny strawberries from my Thursday night North Berkeley farmers’ market, meanwhile previewing the fruit with juicy fingers. Licking a finger, it hit me that the big (really big) star on the plate was just the nectarine with the lime and cinnamon. Thinking back, Nancy’s salad had lots of nectarines. It was the nectarines that carried the dish! I set my lush blackberries and exquisite strawberries aside for another moment, just to focus on the nectarines.
Recipe: Slice ripe nectarines. Squeeze a little limejuice over the fruit. Toss very gently to keep the slices looking virginal. Serve on the hand-painted plates that you bought in Moustiers 20 years ago on a summer afternoon, after pedal boating in the Gorges du Tarn. Grate a little cinnamon stick over each plate.
*My first nectarine story, “Chocolate And The Nectarine” can be found on page 68 of my book, Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate.
August 18th, 2010 by Alice Medrich
My 8th book, Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Cookies, will be out this fall. I'm excited to be finished with it. Now it's been "suggested" (didn't I put that delicately?) that the best way to celebrate the completion of a new book is to blog about it.
What a surprise to learn that starting a blog is more intimidating than writing a book. It’s immediate. Where is the editor to prevent one from making a fool of oneself or committing atrocious grammar? The spontaneity goes against my nature, which is to write (or test) and rewrite (or retest) and rewrite and retest again. To ease into it, I planned a little essay on the creative process. I love to hear any artist (writer, painter, dancer, musician, chef) discuss their work. Even the most mundane details of how they actually do the work has a voyeuristic fascination for me. National Public Radio is a staple in my kitchen. I love Terry Gross and City Arts and Lectures. I planned to cite Malcom Gladwell’s descriptions of artists and their work styles from his New Yorker piece, “Late Bloomers”.
But by the time I sat down to write that essay, I was overcome by my own process. All kitchen counters and the dining room table were covered with labeled samples. The actual work area was a landscape of drips, greasy spatulas, and bowls full of goop flanked by clipboards with handwritten notes coded to match (I hope) the labeled samples. I start a clipboard at the beginning of each project (book, magazine article, client) and after a while I move pages from the clipboard into a binder so I can put tabs on groups of pages to keep some order. I try to remember to date every page and I put the most recent page on top, like a legal brief. I used to be able to have three or four clipboards in play at one time. But lately not so much. After scribbling tasting notes on the wrong clipboard a few times, I refined my process. Now it’s one or possibly two clipboards at a time, and NPR stays on.
I have a reputation for testing. A lot. Anyone who has read or cooked from my books, Bittersweet or Pure Dessert knows this. I thought I was normal until Dianne Jacob described my testing mania in her book, Will Write for Food (a wonderful manual for budding food and cookbook writers, btw). Then I felt self-conscious. But, some times multiple trials are necessary to get flavor, texture, and visuals of a dessert right to begin with. Other times I retest because I’m stubborn or curious. Even when I like my results, I catch myself wondering what would happen if I made this little change, or that one. I love how small details make a difference. “What if this, what if that” is the hallmark of my process and perhaps my greatest professional and artistic asset and also my biggest liability. If I take more time on a recipe than I think I should, I figure it’s an investment for a future project. You can imagine where that leads…