Monday, August 29, 2011

We Licked Our Plates

Unfortunately, when I sit down here I don't come alone.  My shadows come, too.  The devil on my left shoulder, the resistance in my belly, the ghost of potential failure--they show up sneering.
I'm not the only one with this problem.  Molly of Orangette fame, who in addition to her blog can count Bon Appetit articles and both a published book and a book in the works among her accomplishments, recently wrote a post about the difficulty in just doing the writing, despite her passion for her subjects and her undeniable complusion toward the craft.  She compared getting ready to write to sitting outside a dark cave, afraid to go in.  So many commenters shared her feelings, including me.  Welcome to my cave.  

It's not all dark and scary in here.  The food is quite good these days.  Occasionally something is so good that I know I must brave the dark inside to nail it down.  Like this beauty being kissed by the setting sun's warm rays.

How silly that I used to protest limitations. They are such fodder for creativity now, a Cinderella story waiting to be told. Sunday night I had two egg whites left from a sabayon whimsy and nearly a pound of dark, sweet cherries that wouldn't be resting quietly in the fridge much longer. I recalled David Liebovitz's recipe for cherries in red wine syrup before I remembered the waning egg whites, then realized with delight that they could be quite the match, a beautiful and frugal pair with a swan song worth hearing, or eating as the case turned out to be.

To the puny devil that tries to tie down my fingers and my heart, I say take that!  He used to show up in the kitchen, too.  My mental gears used to grind to a halt while he smirked in self-prophesied satisfaction when I tried audaciously to work with who I am and what I had.  But I didn't let him win.  I went to culinary school anyway, even though I wasn't sure how I'd pay for it, or if I'd ever use all that education professionally, and even though I sometimes felt like quite the imposter in those kitchens.  I brushed right past the cobwebs enough times that I got what I personally wanted in my own kitchen--his absence and purring gears.

We'll also eat three meals this week that are my own creations for good or ill.  So I win.  Air out the cave. I'm coming in with a dessert as deeply red as a blood sacrifice but way less painful.  Pure pleasure in fact.  Gently fracturing meringue, winey (but not too winey) sweet cherry flesh, and a soft cap of whipped cream.  My husband loves me more now.  Again.  And we licked our plates just to spite all demons of despair everywhere.  

It won't be too long before I share this with guests. (The little punk demon used to say that I couldn't do that either.  Shows what he knows.)  It's perfect for company after all.  The cherries and meringues can be made up to days ahead.  Just whip the cream, assemble, and wait for the groans.  They'll want to lick their plates, but they'll be too polite.  Poor guests.

I feel much better now.  Almost as good as I did about the time my plate looked like this.

And aren't those colors wonderful together?

Cherries in Red Wine Syrup
from David Liebovitz, bless him, with minor tweaking

1 pound fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted
1/2 cup 2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 cups red wine
2 teaspoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Put the cherries and sugar in a large, wide saucepan.

Mix one tablespoon of the red wine with the corn starch in a small bowl until it's dissolved and set aside.  

Add the rest of the wine to the saucepan.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low boil and cook, stirring frequently, for about 12 minutes, until the cherries are completely wilted and softened through.

During the last moments of cooking, stir in the corn starch slurry and let the mixture boil an additional minute or two, to thicken the juices.

Remove from the heat and stir in the almond extract.  Cool to room temperature.

Storage:  The cherries will keep up to one week in the refrigerator or can be frozen for up to six months.

Meringue Nests
Makes 6

2 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Put the egg whites, cream of tartar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Mix on high speed until soft peaks form.  Gradually add the sugar, beating until stiff peaks form.  Form into six nests on parchment lined baking sheets.  Place in oven and turn off the heat.  Leave in the turned-off oven overnight. 

Sweetened Whipped Cream

1/3 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Place whipping cream and powdered sugar in chilled bowl.  Whip by hand or with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. 

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