Friday, 31 December 2010

two-toned yum

Two tone yum!

A nice light dessert that screams "IT'S STILL THE HOLIDAYS DAMMIT!", and is perfect when heavy foods are just sooo last week. Plus (for those of you in the UK), I'm pretty convinced it counts for two of your five a day.

cranberry layer:
1 - 1.5 bag (4-6 cups) fresh or frozen cranberries
75 mL apple cider or redcurrant vinegar
3 whole star anise
5 whole green cardamom pods
1/3-2/3 cup agave (1/3 if you're using redcurrant vinegar, 2/3 if you're using apple cider vinegar)
1/2 tsp
splash lime juice
1/2 tsp aniseed, crushed (optional)
1/2 tsp guar or xantham gum

Put cider vinegar and whole spices in a pot and simmer until reduced by half. Add cranberries and cook until you have a glorious mush. Allow to cool. Fish out the whole spices, add the agave, lime juice, aniseed, and guar or xantham gum and then blend until creamy. Start with a little agave, taste, and then add more until it's as sweet as you want. The blood orange layer is quite sweet, so you might want to leave the cranberry layer a little tart. Push through a fine sieve if you are so inclined. I am not so inclined, especially since my vitamix pulverizes cranberry skins to nothingness anyway. Plus, life is far too short to be pushing things through fine sieves, but I'm not going to stop you if you are more of a kitchen perfectionist than me, and let's face it, the bar is low in terms of perfectionism in my kitchen. Anyway, after that harrowing decision, pour your unstrained (or strained) goo into a freezable container where your cranberry layer will fill it up halfway. Freeze. When the cranberry layer is frozen (say, the next day), do the blood orange layer:
2-3 cups blood orange sections
1/4 cup elderflower cordial
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/8 cup rosewater
1 tbs vanilla
splash lemon juice
agave to taste
1/2 tsp guar or xantham gum

Blend! Blend! Blend! Go through the whole difficult "to strain or not to strain" rigamarole again, then make peace with your decision and pour the blood orange goo on top of the frozen cranberry layer and replace in freezer until both layers are frozen. Remove from freezer about 10 minutes before you plan to eat it. Slice. If you are feeling extremely fancy, drizzle with caramel sauce, or maybe decorate with a bit of candied lemon peel, or even some mint and basil leaves. Admire briefly. Devour. Be pleased.

Two-toned music: two-toned skuds theme, on the All Skanadian Club...

Saturday, 18 December 2010

I choose Yum

I remember, way back when, living with roomates in Montreal. One of them was a wonderful silly woman with a keen interest in not only food, but also Buddhism. And at some point, there was a book, maybe on temple cooking, maybe on food, maybe on life in general, but the point is that I have a vivid memory of the two of us sitting in the kitchen and her reading out loud something like this: "There are two approaches to life: yuck and yum. I choose yum." And then the two of us sat in the kitchen chanting Yum instead of Om and giggling. And then laughing. And then cooking together, and eating together and laughing some more. The key bit being together.

Lately, I haven't blogged much. A lot of that is about me not having time, dammit. But some of it is about my mixed feelings on the food blog world. You see, so much of cooking is about being social in a real-life way. And so much about blogging is about monologue, and I just don't think of cooking, or food, as a monologue. Lately, I"ve been writing less down about food, and leaving the camera in it's case, and focusing more on the people that I'm breaking bread with rather than spending solitary time in front of my computer writing about the bread itself.

We need food to live, but it's so much more than that. Food has always been a social activity. It's how we welcome people into our homes. I don't remember very many solo meals (though there are some), but I do remember sitting at the table at my parents house as a kid, and later as an adult, with friends (theirs or mine or both), and it's the memory of the people that makes the food stand out. The excitement of the holidays isn't really about the food, but about celebrating my sisters and friends being around (food is part of the celebration, but only part, and if the wild mushroom ragout in pastry that I'm planning doesn't come out perfect, I will not care, because everyone will be around the table, there will be a fire in the fireplace, and there will be much laughter and good conversation). And would you like to know my I'm-a-bad- food-blogger secret? I make chocolate bars or truffles thinking of who I'll give them to, not about the chocolate itself. And we all know how much I love chocolate. But guess what? I love time with my friends and family more. I wouldn't make chocolate bars if I were the only one eating them, and quite often, I forget to put any aside for myself. All the chocolate posts start with "I wanna be a chocolate god", but truth be told, all that chocolate isn't really about chocolate. Chocolate just happens to be a very yummy matrix in which to embed love.

Which makes me wonder if food blogs kind of miss the mark sometimes. The point of food is communion with our loved ones, or outreach to strangers, or conviviality with acquaintances and coworkers. Food, though beautiful, is not about staging a perfect picture and then sitting down to your meal alone and shouting out into the void about it. I know that bloggers have families and friends as well, but ... it seems to me that food blogs are all about the photography. Real food rarely looks like that. We all know this. So oddly enough, getting back into cooking after my autumn of travelling way too much has made me blog about it less. I just don't want to worry about lighting when I could be actually interacting with people I love. I don't want to monologue over dinner. I want to sit down and have a conversation, dammit.

So the holiday cookies at my house won't be pretty, because we're going to sit around the table cutting them out freehand all afternoon while rocking out to some sort of elvis-based music, and for some reason, we always end up making monster shapes. Everyone will make cookies, and many of us are so bad at freehand drawing that we will have to label them with icing so that other people know what they are (nobody ever recognizes my godzillas!). Furthermore, it will be dark outside, because this is Edinburgh in winter, and we will have a roaring fire in the fireplace, so the lighting will suck for photos but be just about perfect for cozy cookie-making. So, if I remember to snap a few photos, they will be bad, because I choose yum.