Friday, November 23, 2007


Yesterday's snow showers give way to today's brilliant skies. The ginko drops her leaves in the blink of an eye. In this season of contrast and change, the simplest combinations create dramatic transformations.

Sunshine and sleep turn Mistress Hyde into happy Mommy Jeckle. A little grape (Polka Dot Riesling, as sweet as the name) at the Thanksgiving table can turn a foul and harried mood into something like ebullience.

(Yet even in the middle of the festivities, no one forgets the bare dark sticks of trees just outside. The joke we roar loudest at is the debate whether the holiday commemorates a sickly band of doomed pilgrims, most of whom wouldn't survive til spring or whether the national party was established to keep us all distracted from our own seasonal depression and anxiety.) (No, come to think of it, the biggest, blackest laugh of the night was the rock star's story of reenacting his friend's stroke. On stage. During her benefit concert.)

Lately I've been having some kitchen adventures with carbohydrates, and marveling at the magical results.

Homemade tortillas require a single ingredient, a little water and ladles of technique. Ground corn is massaged into a paste with a few tablespoons of warm water, then rolled into small balls, flattened, pressed into pliable thin circles and laid on a hot dry skillet. Playdough transforms into the so-satisfying warm tortilla. A perfect base for sautéed black beans, a little cheese, halves of cherry tomato. Or chicken with green salsa, if you are my husband. The warm smell will make you start planning tomorrow's fish tacos.

For a Thanksgiving chocolate-pecan tart, I make the crazy science project that is caramel. Again, one ingredient, a little water and heat amaze. Mix a cup of sugar with a quarter cup or less of water (hard core chefs use none) and swirl over a medium high flame.

At first your tired swirling arm despairs of ever achieving candy status. The golden-hued boiling sugar looks like slow motion champagne. Then very quickly the thick liquid turns a rich gold color. That's it. You've made caramel. You can dip roasted pecans in the slightly cooled brew, if you work quickly and dexterously. Or you can add some butter and cream and end up with a phenomenal sauce. If you also throw in some chocolate, the results, Joy of Cooking says, will make a shoe taste good.

No comments: