Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Raising a Glass


I've discovered that I'm that kind of writer. The kind I look down upon: the amateur who gets into a groove and coasts for a while and then realizes that they only have one trick up their sleeve. My friends have been trying to describe that trick, and have done so in ways that make me laugh. Joni says that my game is this: depress my readers with heart-wrenching tales so that they want to eat to stuff the pain back down deep inside, and then tell them what to eat to get the job done. A perfect feedback loop. Another friend, Brad, proposed the following title for my future bestseller: "Women with Balls, Men Without Shirts, and Food Salted with Tears."

Both are pretty close to the mark.


I've wanted to avoid a certain cliché that I see in food writing -- from the well-crafted book to casual blogs -- which is to see food as somehow this magical thing that brings us together as a family or a community or as lovers or as friends, that imagines meals as sylvan moments where we create the joyful and special and poignant memories of our lives. The thing is, maybe that's true for some people, or to some extent -- but to be honest, my memories of food are as caught up with sadness and trauma and anger and shame as often as they are with love and satiety and happiness. This could be because I have an unhealthy relationship with food; that's a post yet to come. Or it could be that food, for those of us in the world lucky to have access to it in sufficient quantities, is ambivalent: the cure and the disease at the same time. Think of our caveman ancestors, contemplating the wisdom of trying out that tasty-looking berry, or taking a chance on the disgusting-looking mushroom or the horrible-smelling fruit. Hard not to think that we carry some of that hesitation somewhere deep in our wiring when it comes to putting things in our mouth, some residual fear. For different reasons now, but still.

The problem is, of course, that in trying to avoid one trap -- food as the thing that bonds us in eternal and fraternal and maternal and vernal happiness -- I've fallen into another: I seem to be most comfortable writing about sadness and pain. Which has its place, of course, except that when one is actually happy it becomes really hard to write. And, perhaps as a result of writing down all these stories, especially the ones that make some of my readers squirm for their rawness, but more likely as a result of my lovely trip to Paris with my daughter, time spent with friends, my garden, the forest, and other various and sundry occurences in my life recently, I'm pretty happy at the moment.

This is all a long preamble to say: I have nothing much to say today. What I have instead to offer is a toast to you all, and especially to my friends Ulrike and Rachel, who came over tonight to talk about art and film and life and fear and not-fear, and who gave me a sylvan memory.

Lavender Drop

I never thought I would invent a cocktail, but it's amazing what you'll do when you have to figure out uses for a jar full of lavender syrup.

In a cocktail shaker, pour 1.5 oz gin (if you can get hold of my current favorite, G'Vine, use that; if not, Bombay Sapphire or some other good brand will do), 1 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and 0.5 oz lavender-infused simple syrup (see below). Add ice and shake. Strain into a glass (a martini glass is probably appropriate, but I like the old-school small ones, not the more-appropriate-for-college-sized-frozen-margarita ones, which are hard to find, so I use a lowball). Garnish with a sprig of lavender flower.

Lavender Simple Syrup

This is a lovely thing to have around. I often macerate honeydew melon balls and blueberries in it for a cold and refreshing and sweet and floral summertime dessert, or (as above) for using in cocktails.

In a small, heavy saucepan combine 1 c water and 1 c sugar. Add a big handful of fresh lavender sprigs, with flowers attached. (If you don't have fresh lavender, use about 3 TB dried.) Bring to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes, then turn off the heat. Let steep for an hour or so until the syrup is cooled completely. Strain into a jar and keep in the fridge; use within a week or two.

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