Tuesday, August 3, 2010

We now return to our regularly scheduled program

That's right: I'm back in my kitchen, freed at last from the social anxiety of preparing for and attending my high school reunion. Seriously. The stress from a big event like this reminds me of what a natural mole I am. Most social events I attend I could probably show up to in pajama bottoms, and while this wouldn't go unnoticed, people would probably be more interested in what I brought to eat than in why I forgot to get dressed.

But the reunion? OK, I'll tell you. It was . . . weird. But not in an entirely bad way. It was at first confusing and disorienting. Who on earth were these people?? Slowly, they started coming into focus, as my date and I recognized first one person and then another. But after thirty years, it was sort of like seeing ghosts. Ghosts of high school people—doesn't that sound scary? But they were friendly ghosts, extending a hand and sometimes even a hug, acknowledging that it was nice to see if you even if they had absolutely no idea who you were. And I was very happy to see some old childhood friends, some of whom I had known from third grade.

People generally looked great, the women faring on the whole better than the men. As my date, who looked seriously better than anyone there, pointed out, women and gay men work harder at it. Funny thing about other men who looked particularly good: Not the necessarily the ones considered the major gods in their day. Strike one for karma.

Thank goodness for my kick-ass date. Every woman should attend these events with a gorgeous, stylish, charming, and witty gay man. I was immensely flattered that several people thought he might be my husband. (My husband, who has heard just enough by now about my fabulous date, asked "So did you tell them that you have a very handsome and charming husband at home??" I did, didn't I? No? Well, I guess I forgot, just for the evening.)

There are already rumors afloat of a 35-year reunion, to which Fabulous Date and I say, "Thank you, but no." I truly would not mind seeing more of some of the people there and would like to catch up with a few I never did see that night, but anything like that needs to be at a smaller gathering for me. But I'm glad I went to this one. No regrets, aside from chickening out on photographing a pair of hotpants. We'll be kicking ourselves forever over that.

And so, really. Back to what I know.

I love a recipe with a sneaker ingredient, as in something that really enhances flavor but you would not know is there just by taste. For example, my favorite recipe for Daube Provencal (a French beef stew). Anchovies add a deep earthiness, and no one would ever guess their presence.

My favorite summer fruit salad gets its kick from cardamom, which I love but always think of as a baking spice.

The pods are crushed with a mortar and pestle and then steeped, along with lemon zest, in a reduced white wine syrup to make a gastrique, a sweet tart dressing. The natural flavors of the fruit are enhanced, and the citric acid in the lemon keeps the fruit from browning.

The recipe, originally from Cook's Illustrated, specifies adding the warm reduction to the fruit, but I usually make this in a triple batch well ahead of when I want to serve the salad and chill it, adding one portion to my salad about an hour beforehand.

The rest goes in the fridge for the next time I see fruit at my produce market that needs to be made into a salad. Fruit salad is one of our favorite summer desserts, so this doesn't last long.

My adaptation uses white wine instead of champagne (any white wine will do—especially bottles you open and do not like). I omit their raspberries from this combination. I add tiny mint leaves from my garden (not chopped mint because the edges can darken if the salad has to travel or wait a while).

White nectarine and blueberry salad with wine-cardamom reduction
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated, July 2001

1 cup white wine
1/2 cup sugar
pinch table salt
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
5 cardamom pods, crushed
5 medium white nectarines, pitted and chopped
1 1/2 pint blueberries
1/4 cup small mint leaves

Simmer wine, sugar, and salt in small saucepan over medium heat until syrupy, honey-colored, and reduced to 1/4 cup, about 25 minutes.

Remove from heat and add lemon zest and juice and cardamom. Steep 5 minutes to blend flavors, and strain. Allow to cool or chill if making ahead of time.

Combine dressing, fruit, and mint. Toss gently and serve at room temperature or chill up to four hours ahead of time.


adozeneggs said...

The fruit salad looks amazing. We're just getting tomatoes in VT! Yay! Both you and your date look fantastic, sexy!! Glad you had a good time at your re-union.

Purple Flowers said...

Bravo to you for even going to your hs reunion. I have stepped away from it many times. My 35th is coming up soon, and I will continue w/my go-to answer of "no".
BTW, your "friend" is a very handsome man-great smile.

Fruit salad looks great. You have so many good ideas; I'd love to be your neighbor.