Ordinarily I don't talk about food, except for when my stomach is growling. And despite my almost vegetarian diet, I still consume fish every now and then.
Today on a research hunt I found something interesting that I want to share. I love when I'm on a hunt, it's like opening up a treasure chest, it may take a while to find what I'm looking for but it opens up more possibilities than expected.
The most expensive food in the world, is caviar, the rarest and costliest is from beluga sturgeon, extracted from the Caspian Sea. One kilogram of these diamond eggs, harvested from fish almost one hundred years old, is worth $34,500. The beads must be rolled delicately between the index finger and the thumb, placed onto the tongue, and popped to release its buttery smooth burst of flavor.
However, this food of kings first belonged to the poor. Long before the age of blinis and champagne, peasants in medieval Russia spread caviar over black bread and downed it with vodka. Then the imperial aristocracy, the English, and the French, discovered its large grains, sumptuously soft texture, and its subtle but distinctive flavors. And that's how Caviar became synonymous with luxury.
At the time of the Russian Revolution, storefronts were desolate and shelves were bare and the country exported the precious black pearls and could no longer afford to eat them. Survival became the order of the day.
“Luxury is the opposite of the naturally necessary,” Karl Marx said. So long as needs were met, the people would not need caviar. At least, in theory.
But to survive, paradoxically, is not enough to live. Even in the midst of crisis, especially in the midst of crisis, humans seek out luxury. Art, pleasure, and beauty, like caviar, have a short shelf life. Too short to wait out ideology. Too short to wait for peace.
For seventy-four years, the Soviet regime monopolized all Beluga exports to the wealthy capitalist world. Meanwhile, in the streets of Leningrad, pushcarts sold the proletariat cheap caviar on thick slabs of bread.
Evelyn Waugh tells the story of a young Russian aristocrat who fled the revolution and found himself in Paris, alone and stateless, with barely enough money to starve through two more weeks … until he realized he was in Paris, and decided to have a luncheon.
American writer Dorothy Parker said, take care of luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves.
Oscar Wilde stated that extravagance is the luxury of the poor; penury is the luxury of the rich.
As I eat a more raw diet, my days of consuming caviar may come to an end, but in the meantime, I have a soft blanket, a good book, a bubble bath and a scented lavender candle… and I’m polishing off the last of a Napoleon, filled with cream.
This week, why not indulge in the simplest, inexpensive French experience available: crème Chantilly, and turn a carton of whipping cream into a culinary delight that is beautiful to look at and heaven to taste.
Chantilly is the name of a beautiful castle near Paris where sweetened vanilla flavored whipped cream became famous in 17th century because it was served to the King Louis XIV.
Today all you need to create crème Chantilly is a half pint of heavy whipping cream, a balloon whisk, and a bit of patience.
Crème Chantilly is the perfect finishing touch for summer’s freshest fruit; peaches, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cantaloupe. A spoonful of freshly whipped crème dresses up a bowl of berries to create a perfect summer dessert.
Before whipping the cream, place your bowl and whisk into the refrigerator or freezer to chill. You will get the best results if all of the tools and ingredients are cold.
Measure I cup very cold heavy whipping cream, 1tbsp powdered sugar,* and 1/2 tsp. vanilla or better yet a vanilla bean.
Place the cream, sugar and vanilla inside the bowl and begin to whisk.
While whisking, make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl periodically. Whisk rapidly back and forth until the desired peak has formed.
Once the cream has been whipped, it needs to be used as soon as possible.
So what is the difference between Chantilly cream and whipped cream:
Chantilly cream is vanilla flavored and surprising ingredients can be added to get many variations.
The cream can be flavored with all sorts of extracts as well as liqueurs like Grand Marnier or Cointreau.
And there you have it, a simple and elegant dessert!
*You can substitute with granulated sugar, but I prefer powdered sugar since it dissolves more readily.
Having a lemon tree I can’t help but think about France, and there are a few American things (I have to use my imagination) that can put me at a sidewalk café, mid-afternoon, for a pause and some people-watching. One of them is citron pressé.
Some say citron pressé is just a fancy French name for lemonade, but, I disagree. Citron pressé is made to order, by the glass rather than the pitcher. Order this drink at any café in France, and the waiter will bring you a tall glass filled with ice and the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon. Alongside your glass you’ll receive a carafe of cold water, and one, maybe two, sugars. You adjust the water and sugar to taste.
The first time I had citron pressé I was visiting my friend Karen. It was August 1992 and she was living in Geneva. We had crossed the French border to Annecy. We had spent the afternoon walking around the old city and it was time for a pause. It was humid and I ordered a citron pressé and I was immediately intrigued because I happen to like a tart taste.
Because it is so tart, you have to sip it, which makes the taste, and the pause, last that much longer. Try the recipe below and see if you don’t agree.
4 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Pitcher of chilled water
Put a small amount of ice into 2 glasses
Pour 2 oz lemon juice into each glass
Add water and stir in sugar to taste
Makes 2 servings.
Enjoy the airy keyboards, can you hear the sun shining?
I’m going to share a story with you today. It took place while I was grocery shopping, as I was about to leave the produce section. To one side of produce is the bakery and deli of the supermarket. Nearby are huge displays of the supermarkets own baked goods and those which they are trying to sell. Most likely they have the highest profit margin. It’s where snacks seem to override our senses. As I was about to turn the corner an average looking lady of about 70 stood in front of a display, stopped me, and asked if I could give her my opinion.
Perhaps it’s the way she was looking at the packaging. She was confused. There were so many choices. She held up a box and asked me, “have you tried these?” Caught off-guard, I hardly qualify to be a spokesperson. My response was; “when I was a kid, I wouldn’t eat one now.” Realizing that my comment sounded like a criticism, I backed it up with, “when I eat sweets, I bake them myself. I asked, you’ve never tried them,” she shook her head.
That I couldn’t fathom. Then I didn’t know if I should feel sorry that she was denied a rite of passage as a child to taste sugary snacks, or if I should applaud her caretakers dietary choices.
My mother had and still has such a wild sweet tooth that she never denied us trying anything sweet as long as we ate our meal. In our house, sweets were a way of life. It’s probably why I have so little desire for them now. Besides I’d rather fit nicely into my clothes than eat caloric sugary snacks.
But I also learned through living history to make an association with the snack product; a shooting spree and an assassination.
And so if your dying to know what the product was; they were Twinkies.
I remember the yellow baked snack, packed into the plastic packaging, and unwrapping them, the sponge cakes appeared billowy soft, their filling so creamy.
And later on I recalled the Moscone Milk assassination http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moscone%E2%80%93Milk_assassinations and the Twinkie defense.
But today was the first time I stopped and actually read the ingredients. It read like a scroll. Long. Normally, you need butter, milk and eggs to give a cake moisture and tenderness.
But butter, milk and eggs spoil, and they aren’t ingredients to be found, so Twinkies needed a way to defy the laws of baked-good longevity. That job is filled by ingredients like monoglycerides and diglycerides, and emulsifiers. — and palm oil, and sodium stearoyl lactylate, and corn syrup and on and on.
It’s pure junk. Stuff that makes your stomach bloated, hits your pancreas like a rock and can either kill a testing animal or produce a form of cancer.
She asked me which one she should try. I wasn’t aware that they came in flavors, “why not go for the original,” I said knowing she was intent on purchasing a box.
“For every now and then,” she added. I smiled thinking that maybe trying Twinkies was on her bucket list. Or perhaps it was a desire to celebrate a missed childhood treat or a way to reward herself. Whatever her reason, it’s her business, not mine.
Have you ever found yourself asked to give your opinion on a product at the supermarket?
One might wonder at the wisdom of undertaking a batch of homemade jam on a ninety-degree day. But I have begun to think about it this way: when people actually canned fresh food to get through the winter, it must have happened in the summer; so hot weather is when you’re supposed to stand over a kettle stirring continuously without the comfort of air conditioning.
I remember the house I spent my teen-age years in. The San Gabriel valley was originally home to the citrus industry, our backyard had both a lemon and avocado tree, the neighbor behind us had kumquats and grapefruits and our other next door neighbor had oranges as well as a bountiful—apricot tree. A number of years later, when I lived alone in the house, every summer as the recipient of the neighbor’s generosity I was given more apricots than I knew what to do with. And although there are probably lots of things I could do with them, as a woman who never cooked and cared about her figure, and got bored with apricot salads, I wasn’t about to bake a pie to eat alone, so I began my apricot jam -making.
Because the apricot tree was in the backyard—overlooking our gate, it meant gathering the fallen apricots off the ground, before the birds came to pick at them. The resulting jam—goes without saying, —was beautiful to behold, and because of my taste it was less sweet and more tart. Most others might have found it inedible. I, however, feasted on it every morning, and thought it was excellent.
There is a picture of my mother standing under the apricot tree in full fruit. Now when I see an apricot in a supermarket, I think of the branches of a family and the neighbors who make up a community in a way that says sharing makes a bond in a way that a family can.