Nothing comes easy. That is a universal truth, depressing as it may be. Everything worth having takes a lot of work. This holds true for school, jobs, friends, hobbies, and surprisingly, some fruit. Please meet the pomelo.
Pomelos are hugely fragrant and deeply flavorful, like an amplified grapefruit without the bitter grapefruit edge. Each pomelo segment is made up of hundreds of little juice packets that pop when you bite down... almost like fruit caviar. Pomelos are actually the mommies (or daddies) of grapefruit, which are a cross between a pomelo and an orange. Bet you didn’t know that. There are also pomelo/grapefruit crosses for sale (don’t know where) but this just has too many weird and incestuous implications for me to pursue. Pomelos take a lot of work. They are not a project to be undertaken lightly.
Pomelos are giant green globes with light pink flesh encased in an inch-thick rind - this takes a bit of work to remove. I usually set aside a slow evening for my pomelo consumption, when I know I have nothing to do, will not be interrupted, and can happily peel and eat my pomelo, becoming covered in a thin layer of pomelo as I go. The tools required for this activity are numerous (any good hobby begins with a shopping trip for accessories, I think) – you will need a big bowl to fit all the pomelo refuse, a knife (I guess long fingernails can substitute for the knife, but eww), and a big roll of paper towels. A bib may not be a bad idea.
So this is how it goes. You slice into the rind with the knife to get a foothold (fingerhold). Then start peeling away. Only the top layer of rind will come off at first, leaving a good half inch of bitter and foamy pith behind.
The pith is what takes the most work to remove, and it how one gets about a pound of pomelo lodged under one’s fingernails. Eww again, but it’s worth it. So you pick at the pith, clear off as much as you can until you can stick your finger down the middle of the fruit and pull it in half (see top pic). This is all very complicated and slightly gruesome. Again, worth it.
Remove the thick membrane encasing each large pomelo segment – I sometimes have to use a knife to get a fingerhold to peel off the membrane. Now the eating can commence. The eating technique has to be fitted specifically to each pomelo consumer. The more refined pomelo-eaters can pull off and peel each segment individually, before daintily placing small morsels of pomelo in their mouth. Or you can be me and just go for it. I don’t feel the need to convey the mechanics of “going for it.” I will leave it up to your imagination. I will say that I do not recommend the “going for it” technique while sitting on a couch, unless that couch has some form of plastic covering (all class, that).
All the work is worth it. At the end of the pomelo activity, you will be left with a big bowl of pomelo refuse, a lot of sticky juice in splotches all over, and the rewarding feeling of a job well done.
Monday, February 26, 2007
Friday, February 16, 2007
Boston has turned itself into a giant ice rink and does not appear to be changing back any time soon. Every surface in the city is evenly covered with 3 inches of ice. Cars are frozen on the streets, the ice half way up the tires. It's not pretty. Even my fancy-pants new snow shoes do nothing to save me from stumbling and slipping with every other step. Oh, and it’s freezing cold. Well, technically, that’s not accurate. Freezing would be comparatively warm right now. It is far past freezing, what I like to refer to as “minus a** degrees.” It’s a fairly accurate (and sensitive) measurement, mind you.
Most people are cocooning themselves in their homes or going out to order beef stew and hot toddies (whatever those actually are. I always forget). Those people make a good deal of sense. I, however, do not. I came home today, all poofy with my giant down jacket, huge scarf, and red hat (complete with pom-pom, naturally), tossed down my bags, had a cup of tea and made… guacamole for dinner. Yes, I make no sense.
Guacamole is the embodiment of summer, fresh produce, and cold beer. It is the very antithesis of the poofy down jacket. So what was I doing with guacamole in the middle of winter? I feel no need to explain myself beyond the fact that I make no sense and was thinking about guacamole all day. I love it and can (and do, on occasion) eat it with a spoon. It is creamy, citrusy, spicy, fresh, and totally addictive. I was going to have guacamole, ice or no ice.
I tried to make up for the obvious deficiencies of the season the best I could. I turned the thermostat up high, checked to make sure that my avocados and tomatoes (courtesy of Boston Organics) were ripe and ready, and the cold beer was (and is) a no-brainer. While I think that eating tomatoes in the middle of winter is completely pointless, I had no choice – they came to me. The tomatoes, not surprisingly, tuned out to be purely decorative. They added nice little flecks of red and a bit of texture but no discernable taste. Asking for flavor from a tomato in February is futile.
I like to make guacamole because it is easy and fast, but most of all, I like making it because I get to use my favorite trick, courtesy of the Jacques Pepin. Once I figure out my fascination with him, I will let you know. I like the taste of garlic in guacamole (and many many other things) but I am not a big fan of biting down on big, smelly garlic pieces. Jacques Pepin to the rescue. He mashes the garlic with salt into a paste which then distributes evenly through the dish, flavoring throughout instead of offering crunchy, painful garlic bites. It’s brilliant!
Denial of winter guacamole
One ripe avocado
Juice of one lime
1 garlic clove, mashed into a paste with a pinch of salt
½ of a tomato, seeded and finely chopped
big handful of roughly chopped fresh cilantro (how’s that for a precise measurement…)
pinch of cayenne
salt and black pepper
Mix all, open a beer, and pretend it’s not winter.
**Mush is really not very photogenic, is it...
Boston has been far colder than today and I am sure it will be again soon. I really wouldn’t mind, if only my car was not, in fact, encased in a giant block of ice that I will have to chip away at tomorrow. Ick.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
It’s so strange how the most simple and basic questions are the most difficult to answer. What is heat, really? Why do airplanes fly? Why does Britney Spears insist on letting me down, time and time again? Well, maybe that one is not so difficult to answer. Regardless, sometimes objectively complicated things can seem easy and turn out well, while something really simple and basic is a complete nightmare to master. Take, for example, the standard French omelette (I must be on an egg kick). It is so much harder than it sounds.
Feeling inspired by Julia Child after watching her on the French Chef (thank you, Netflix!) I decided to have a go at making an omelette, following her lead. I did not have the patience to practice my omelette manipulation technique before jumping in (Julia recommends using dried beans to simulate the motion of the egg mixture in the pan), nor did I have the heart to add nearly as much butter as she did (frankly, I think it’s a medical miracle that she lived to 92). Maybe I should have done both those things. I should have probably also used the right size pan for the job (mine was 2 inches too big in diameter). So many should-haves. Tant pis, as Julia would say (I think).
It looked easy enough. Add the beaten eggs (2 to 3 eggs per omelette, salt, pepper, teaspoon of cold water. No idea why the water) to the pan (7.5 to 8 inches in diameter) once the foaming of the butter (~1 tbsp, but I am pretty sure I used less) begins to subside. Let the eggs sit still for about 5 seconds, then start swirling the pan around to expose more of the eggs to the heat, allowing them to begin to coagulate (her word, not mine… it makes me think of blood). Then begin jerking the pan toward yourself so that the egg “pancake” folds in on itself. Tip the omelette out onto a plate, seam side down. The whole process should take about 20 seconds (!). The eggs should be just barely set, and therefore, creamy and luxurious (my word, not hers).
Well, not so much with the jerking and the folding. I really do think my pan was just too big - my egg pancake was too thin and the jerking did nothing but scramble the whole business instead of making it move it in a single sheet. My omelette looked a little disheveled and generally out of sorts.
After sprinkling a bit of parmesan on top, taking about 20 pictures and sitting down to breakfast, I was pleasantly surprised. While totally ugly, the eggs really were very creamy and closely bordering on luxurious. Cooking them the bare minimum of time is definitely the trick here, I think.
I have a lot of practicing to do… although my cleaning lady may quit if I start tossing beans all around the apartment. My kitchen is enough for her to deal with as it is.
P.S. I think this post make take the prize for the most parentheses used (ever).
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
I don’t know if y’all have noticed, but I have severe neurotic tendencies. Really, it’s true. Science does nothing to alleviate my neurotic sufferings, but instead amplifies them to a fever pitch, makes them bloom, sprout, and otherwise prosper and multiply. So what better preparation to undertake for a neurotic scientist (is that redundant?) than a soufflé!
Souffles are made of one part milk, two parts eggs, and the rest is worry. Will it rise? Will it be a brick? Will it be an eggy, mushy, foamy concoction with some cheese on top? The trick, as it turns out, is to get a firm grip on one’s neuroses and not check on the soufflé while it’s baking. Not even once. Opening the oven door is a soufflé death sentence. I was so good. I didn’t open the oven, not even once. Of course that’s not to say that I didn’t stand with my face plastered against the oven door with the little light on for the majority of the 50 minutes that the soufflé was interred in its toasty depths.
All my nervous energy must have aided the soufflé in rising to its potential (quiet. Puns are funny). The bragging rights of having made a soufflé are nothing compared to the satisfaction of seeing it rise in the oven, just like it should. Unfortunately, the uncooperative bugger that it was, the soufflé de-souffled itself (i.e. fell) the moment it came out of the oven, making picture taking, serving, and of course, bragging, rather difficult (the picture at top is a slightly de-poofed version of the teaser campaign pic).
If all those things fall into place, and everything works as it should, a soufflé is a marvelous thing. It’s like eating poofy, savory cotton candy, with a slightly eggy tang (unless it’s a sweet cotton candy type of soufflé, in which case you really hope the eggy tang is absent). I messed with the recipe a little. I used cheddar instead of Gruyere and threw in two big handfuls of parsley, scallions, and thyme. The herbs did a great job of cutting through the richness of the soufflé.
My second stab at soufflés (clearly, I had more worrying left in me) was a chocolate soufflé with a cardamom crème anglaise. While the cheese soufflé was for my own consumption (and worry), the chocolate soufflés were for friends – this took the worry component to stratospheric heights. But, all is well that ends well… or should I say, all is well that begins with ginger-wasabi martinis, moves on to three bottles of wine, and tops off with kir royales (there were four of us, FYI). We don’t fool around.
I used semisweet Valrhona chocolate for the soufflés and let me tell you, I needed a moment. I really did. I tried a piece of the chocolate and I realized that I needed a moment. It is positively hypnotic. The soufflés turned out silky, rich, light, and flavorful all at the same time, if that’s possible. Chocolate + cardamom - not an obvious combination, but wonderfully complementary and fantastic. Chocolate souffles with cardamom creme - not very photogenic, and somewhat deflated, and utterly delicious.
Since the recipe led me make about a cubic meter of cheese soufflé, I was eating it for quite a while. Turns out deflated soufflés are a marvelous substitute for scrambled eggs in the morning. Soufflés for breakfast. How amazingly bourgeois of me, right? It was great and lasted me almost a week! Not so much with the chocolate soufflés. Those didn’t last long at all. I had to physically restrain myself from drinking the cardamom crème anglaise. It was that good.
All this soufflé making had a purpose, by the way. It wasn’t simply to exercise my stress response. I was actually making soufflés for an IMBB event. It turned out that remembering the submission deadline was the one challenge I could not meet. I figure it’s all about the baby steps. I made the soufflé. Next time, I may even get the post up in time. Till then, I have another committee meeting to live through. The living through it part is becoming less and less a given as the day draws closer. Grad school has a wonderful way of taking my neuroses and helping them along to absurd heights. Taller than some soufflés, even.