I neglected this blog for almost 2 month now – shame on me.
Before sitting down to write this post I was running all possible excuses through my head (new job, summer vacation, kids … the usual suspects) – but the pathetic truth is I was waiting for a young, fresh, white, medium sized, un-bruised cauliflower to appear on the shelf.
I desperately needed this cauliflower for my next cooking adventure (cauliflower risotto with chocolate from The Fat Duck cookbook) – but as far as the universe was concerned … well the universe did not give a damn !!! It was mid summer (and that means a lot in our part of the world) – and rare found cauliflowers resemble more of a thorn than a flower.
Us – humans – proved, during our short history on this planet, to be adaptive creatures always ready to face the next challenge standing in our way. We were placed on the earth naked and empty handed – and we made quite an impressive way since that day. We learned to communicate, we learned to trade, we learned to build tools from whatever was around. We challenged bacteria, we challenged gravity, we challenged the speed of light. We started with fig leafs and ended with Louis Vuitton – we took a flame and turned it into molecular gastronomy, we were not given wings – but we did manage to fly !!!
And yet – there is one force that constantly reminds us of our true size in the universe – the mighty weather !!! No matter how much progress we managed to pull in all other areas – weather still controls our lives more than we want to admit.
Just visit your Facebook album from that lovely camping weekend you spent with your best friends last fall. The kids are playing joyfully on the grass while you and your mates are drinking cold beers next to the barbecue … lovely indeed. Now – use your imagination to add just one cloud to those blue sunny sky (no need for a full blown typhoon – a standard medium sized gray cloud will do the trick). What happened to your pastoral picture ? Can you see your tent blown away by the wind ? You are probably thinking – well – I should run and get all those bags into the car so the clothes don’t get wet … but hey … shouldn’t you collect those screaming wet kids first ? I’m sure you did give a small glimpse at those beautiful marbled steaks on the no longer burning grill (I know I would have) – what a waste …
Weather proves to be superior to us – it defeats us any time – hands down. We are all familiar with those weather disasters – typhoons, fires, mud slides … But I believe the day to day examples prove it best.
How does it feel to be a loaf of bread baking in the oven ?
I think I experienced the exact feeling while visiting India so many years ago. Pushkar – in the middle of Rajasthan – India’s dessert. Camels, sand castles, beautiful women wearing colorful saris and covered with countless gold necklaces and bracelets. Gold – Red – Yellow – that’s how I remember it. We were young and wild and free (thank you Springsteen) – moving from one location to another – wearing the minimum necessary – doing the minimum necessary. Ignoring any warning signs – Ignoring the weather …
My ears were the first victims. They got so burnt it felt as if they were about to drop of my head like the fingers of a leper. My feat followed – swamping and swamping until they gave in and cracked – and I mean “Grand Canyon” sized cracks all over my heels !!!
My guesthouse’s manager pointed me towards the village’s doctor. Sitting in a small “about to fall” hat on the side of a “no-road” street – was this friendly Indian doctor. His “clinic” was cramped with countless tubes and bottles of medicine – looking as if they were left there since the dinosaurs age. He pulled a tube from one dusty shelf and handed it to me with a smile.
Luckily for me I was in my “no worries twentieth” – did not bother to ask any what/who/why questions. With a sense of trust entitled only to young stupid people – I applied the cream to my cracked heels and stepped outside smiling – heading directly to Pushkar’s sunset point near the lake to drink a bhang lassi and gaze at the sunset. Took a while but my heels did recover – I will never know if it was the medicine or the magic of nature.
I’ll phrase my next question as a toddler game question : If hot weather “expands” you – how does cold weather affect you ? Correct !!! It “shrinks” you !!! You start by putting your hands around your body in an attempt to get warm. Next – you enter your arms into your shirt too. Soon after – your legs will follow … without any advanced planning – you will pull your legs towards you – and than … you will probably try to squeeze them into your miserable shirt along with the rest of your body parts.
You do your best exposing as less as possible of your surface to the outer cold world – and as a result – you shrink !!! I assume that if you were given the physical ability you would shrink to the size of a singular dense point – ready for a new big bang that will set your molecules to an infinite expand motion – when weather conditions permits.
And don’t get me started about rain – our worst enemy !!!
Rainy days are rare in our part of the universe – but when they do arrive – they tend to behave like rainy days in all other parts of the globe – water is falling down from the sky – as simple as.
Picture me – stepping outside my shrink’s clinic door in the big city (after being “fired” politely from his supervision – he claimed there was nothing hidden in my deep subconscious – WYSIWYG – as we like to describe it – although I left with a feeling he was just too afraid to dig in that mess) – back to that door … I stepped straight into one of the heaviest rain falls I have ever experienced in my home land. There was water – there was wind – there was me – and there was a very small pathetic umbrella – and that was about it.
On that specific day I decided to use public transportation instead of my car to avoid the hunt for a parking spot (it made sense when I left home to a cloudy yet dry environment) – wrong decision as it turned out. So here we were – me and my purple (yet still pathetic) umbrella – making our way through the streets – jumping in the puddles – getting wet by the rain – getting wet by splashes of water produced by the courtesy of the drivers …
When I finally embarked the bus – I was soaking wet – head to toes- no part was neglected. There is only one thing worse than wet shoes – wet jeans sticking to your legs while you sit !!! I had to escape this feeling – so I did what other people do best – I started meditating. I tried escaping my physical body – so I let my thoughts wonder as far as I dared – and guess were they ended up – I invented a magical spray that can be sprayed on trousers and will repel water – so you don’t get wet in the rain.
When I arrived home – I immediately called my brother (OK – no … I immediately took off those wet jeans and then called my brother) :
Brother : Ahhhh
Me : Ahhhh (that’s our version of hello – how are you – we haven’t spoke for a long time – I really missed you)
Me: Guess what – I finally got it – my start-up idea
Brother: Right …
Me (not discouraged yet): Did you ever get wet by rain – and had to stay wet all day
Brother : Nu Kvar (“come on already” is the best translation I can come up with)
Me: Well – what if we invented this spray – you know that you can sp…
Brother – Yhe Yhe I got it – we are going to invent a spray that will create a coating layer on the jeans and prevent the jeans from getting wet – and we are going to sell one on every rainy day in our country – brilliant !!!
Me (I do love my brother): Nope !!! We are going to sell 1000 on every rainy day in the UK !!!
Brother: Seriously ??? Those people have been living this way like – for ages !!! From the viking ages – even before they invented Muffins !!! They have solutions for that – trust me – they do not get wet !!! Its only here that rain gets us by surprise every time. Bad Idea – Bye
My next phone call was to my sister. Located under the wings of her Majesty in the royal kingdom – I felt she was the right person to shade some light on this mystery.
Sister (joyful as ever): Hi sis – how are you – how are the kids ?
Me: What do you do when it rains ?
Sister: Not sure what you mean – you know – it always rains here
Me: When it rains in the morning – and you have to get to the office – and you are not a hi-tech snob driving your car from parking to parking … So you ride the subway – and at some point – you have to step outside … did I mentioned its raining ? So – how do you guys not get wet ??????
Sister: We do get wet
Me: Silent … very silent … there must be some more information coming …
Sister: Silent … very silent … waiting for my response …
Me: Don’t you have any solution to prevent you from getting wet ?
Sister: Well … some people wear those anti-rain suits – but most wont dare step outside looking this way. I think there is a spray to put on your shoes to prevent them from getting wet … we walk fast … and yep – sometime we arrive to the office wet …
Me: Are you actually telling me you spend a full working day in the office with a wet jeans ?
Sister: We try to dry it under the hand dryer in the bathroom …
Really??? I did mention that human beings are adaptive and creative … You people received more than enough time under the constantly dropping, gray, cold thing referred to as the English weather – I do respect the “adapt” part – but what about some creativity ?
You guys have dress codes for every occasion – you actually deny people from drinking bear in a pub due to them wearing sneakers (will never forgive you that night in London – never !!!).
You show up to weddings wearing expensive stylish bird nests on your heads – you always use your knife with your right hand. You sip your tea without making the slightest sound – you quote from Shakespeare as if you understand what he meant. You own the copyright for the Beatles, you are polite, you take pride in the English language, you people even got your own real QUEEN !!! And yet – you find yourselves sitting like ordinary people next to your office desks – wishing this long day will finally be over – just because you are wearing wet jeans ?????
If the mighty have succumbed how shall the weak emerge unscathed ?
Time to cook
As you could understand from this post – I did not manage to source this cauliflower for the risotto recipe – so I decided to cook some Asparagus instead.
I used a recipe from the book “On Vegetables” by Jeremy Fox (Ubuntu, Rustic Canyon). As the name of the book suggests – this book is all about vegetables – recipes are not very long – not too complicated – yet they feature flavor combinations I have never tried before.
Chilled asparagus, saffron, olive & fennel pollen
It was the black olive caramel that drew my attention to this recipe. Prepared a short shopping list – and 1 hour later I was back in the safe environment of my home – realizing I just missed one piece of the puzzle – fennel pollen. Since I have never heard of fennel pollen – I did some googling and learned this is the new favorite child of the neighborhood. It is “usually hand collected from wild fennel” – “It doesn’t taste like fennel seed or anise, so it truly adds a different flavor to food” – “When you add a dash to any dish, you transform the ordinary into extraordinary. Fennel Pollen is Slightly sweet and ridiculously flavorful, a sprinkling of fennel pollen makes pure magic.” – you get the picture …
I knew my spice store will not have this fancy pollen – I could obviously order a pricey box of this magic powder online – but that would mean delaying my cooking for at least a few weeks … and I could … Yep – I decided the dish will be prepared without fennel pollen.
And then this happened
The universe was on my side – finally !!! Like on most Saturday morning – I dragged everyone to visit mother nature – and there I was – surrounded by fields of wild fennel – and guess what – it was end of summer – and – they were all covered with this beautiful smelly yellow pollen !!! I do not have the words to express my feelings at that moment.
Black olive caramel
Pitted some oily shiny Kalamata olives and pureed them in my food processor. Then I prepared caramel (The books advises you to “just leave it alone and look for an amber caramel color” – and I advise you to do exactly that – worked for me). Added the olive puree to the caramel – let it cool a little – and then pureed it in the food processor again. The result was a squeeze bottle with this tasty black – sweat – salty “condiment” (borrowed this word from the book) – and a big pile of dishes.
Next was the saffron yogurt
Took the saffron and added some lemon juice – then added yogurt and some salt. As simple as it can be – but it does make you understand why saffron is the most expensive spice of them all … I believe i’ll be using this saffron yogurt a lot in the future – its simply that good !!!
Asparagus – nothing special. Cut – cook in salty boiling water for 45 seconds – place in ice bath – drain – add some lemon juice, salt, and olive oil – and they are done.
Platting was fun – placing the asparagus – adding “dollops” of the saffron yogurt and “dots” of the black olive caramel. A little sprinkle of shaved toasted almonds – and finally – those fennel pollen – done
Sooooo good !!! Simple yet so surprising. Every part tasted good by itself – but all of the components together … It was really a perfect combination. The saffron taste – with a little sweet from the caramel – a little crunchy piece of almond … and last – but not least – those fennel pollen – they give a hint of anise without overpowering – I was so happy I found them.
This is one of those dishes that teaches you about the importance of flavor combinations. Every component had its role in the final result – and it was such a good result achieved with such a minimal effort … Defiantly a dish to remember when planning my next meal with friends.