9.01.2008

He stuck in his thumb and pulled out a ----

Today I wore white for the last time this year (if you believe in such things) and made a plum clafoutis for a friend's Labor Day barbecue. We gathered on a rooftop in Brooklyn to welcome newly-married friends to their first apartment, and to celebrate the end of summer. If you were in New York City today, you know that the weather was everything that Labor Day should be: blue skies, hot temperature, a slight breeze blowing through the boroughs. In short, perfect. 

I repeated a concept that I have been playing with this summer: stone fruits and custard. In June I wrote about a clafoutis that I made with fresh apricots in Umbria, but the fun won't stop until the last fruit falls.

It is always a struggle to find stone fruits that my husband will eat -- he has an aversion to that particular combination of smooth or furry skin and juicy, pitted interior -- but peaches and plums and apricots and pluots, when cooked, go down smoothly enough even for him. As for me, I have never had strong feelings about these beauties, until I ate my first Italian apricot, and learned what summer is supposed to taste like. (You can see a bowl of Italian plums behind my blog's title; they came to maturity over the course of our month there, ripening in our last golden days in Umbria.)

I love how a clafoutis has just enough of a pancake about it, and just enough of a custard, to hold the fruit together in the most delicate, sensuous way. Even the preparation is a joy; the brandied plums stewing on my stovetop were so carelessly aromatic that I could forgive my oven for not working this morning. 

(It was also so delightful just to be in my kitchen, using my Brazilian knives and the All-Clad pots, arranging our things to and fro, that anything that I might have produced this morning was bound to be a success.)

I have knocked out quite a few things from this New York-sized 
galley in the last few days: coq au vin and chocolate mousse, homemade bread and cantaloupe pasta, tuna souffle and clam chowder. I have visited the 114th St. greenmarket twice now (Thursdays and Sundays), run down to the deli to pick up an extra stick of butter, and tracked down the best Minnesota flour I could find (Pillsbury, if you were curious). But, apart from racking up more trophies on the home cooking front, why does any of this matter? Why does it matter that, instead of bringing Brownie Bites (who ever wants just a bite, anyway?) from Whole Foods and bags of kettle-fried potato chips to the barbeque this afternoon, Chuan made cabbage and fig coleslaw, and I composed a clafoutis? Why do I feel so happy every time we make something for ourselves that someone else could have made -- or bought -- for us? And, more even than making food for my husband and me, why do I yearn to cook for others, to feed them even as I heal myself? 

Perhaps there is an inkling of American self-reliance that comes out in me from time to time, that satisfaction in knowing how to provide and sustain myself. But I think it is even deeper. There is more than a little alchemy in all of this: that which harms also has the capacity to heal. Food was my burden, my secret, my despair; now cooking is my comfort, my medicine, my communion. 

I shocked myself today when I realized, suddenly, that I like to cook more than I like to eat. I don't mean to dismiss my love of a good meal, nor the cultivation of a certain homemade palate. What I mean to say is that the whole process of cooking -- from the moment a recipe pops into my head or onto my computer screen, to the purchase of groceries and the first slice of the knife -- is ultimately more satisfying to me than any single instance of its consumption (though I have certainly benefitted in that regard, too). My stomach has limited capacity; my fancy and imagination do not. My summer whites may only last until midnight, but I can plan future clafoutis, astounding cobblers, lattice-topped pies and stone-fruit shortcakes until the sun goes down. I can live with food, with its idea, without losing myself in its consumption. And I can look forward to the next season, even as this one winds to a close, knowing that there will always be more, there will always be more.


1 comment:

KC Elaine said...

mmm, looks delicious!