Monday, September 14, 2009

Just call me a Passion Fruit

I saw the movie "Julie and Julia" earlier this month. Is it proof of my passion for the culinary arts that I actually found myself a bit teary eyed during the food scenes? I could care less about Julie cooking her way through "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in one year. Honestly, it seems a bit wrong, even. You couldn't possibly create such works of art with any sincerity at all under such a deadline. But to see Julia's passion - my passion - played out on the screen is something else entirely. It's even possible that more of my heart is wrapped up in food than in my other beloved art form, music. That could be because music is my job, cooking is not, and I don't disparage my love for my job in any way by saying this. I'm just trying to give an accurate measure of how I feel about the preparation of the gifts of the earth, their qualities lovingly brought to light, the magic of their whole exceeding the sum of their parts.

A couple of days ago, a surprise windfall of Mexican (aka Key) limes made their way from someone's tree here in town to my kitchen. I spent two days making all things lime. Lime curd, lime curd cream, teeny tiny candied lime slices, I pressure canned more lime curd to bring sunshine to some future dreary day. They were so perfect, so fragrant, so zingy. Honor the lime! How else could I properly do so than by making bite sized meringue cups, filled with lime curd cream, topped with a tiny candied lime garnish? I mean, yes, of course, I froze some extra juice, but really, that is just not enough to do them justice. Once I had this incredible turkey to prepare for Thanksgiving. Local, pastured, raised tenderly by someone who cares (and expensive! which is as it should be)... and I overcooked it. I was devastated. One could argue that I did this bird a great wrong by having it killed and eating it in the first place. But if you agree to do such a thing (and that's an entirely different conversation about which I have very strong opinions), you darn well better transform the beast into nothing less than total rapture for the senses of those you love. If you fail in this, you have done it an even greater wrong. It still bothers me when I think about it, that bird, dying for naught.

Laura Esquival, in her book "Like Water for Chocolate," expresses emotions and food better than I ever will. I am reminded of it because tonight I made Chiles en Nogada for dinner, a dish that plays an important role in her book. Again, I ask you, how better to honor these gorgeous roasted chiles (chile/motorcycle story coming soon) and pomegranates fresh from trees right here than by making Chiles en Nogada? Could you possibly bring yourself to painstakingly peel the papery brown skin off each and every one of a mountain of toasted walnuts if you weren't driven by overwhelming passion for the contents of your refrigerator? Or harvest cactus from your yard, pick the spines off it, and candy it, to create a better version of one of the many components of your recipe? When you have ingredients this exquisite, you don't just mix up a smoothie, if you know what I mean. In Laura's story, our chef/heroine embues her work with such feeling - feelings so powerful that they are dramatically transferred to her unsuspecting dinner guests in a most astonishing way. I'll never put my thoughts into words the magical way Laura Esquival does, but I tell you, it's all right there. My heart isn't on my sleeve, it's on my dinner plate.

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