I stayed up about an hour too late on Sunday night, worrying about the next few weeks of work, which are going to be very busy, and I’m still paying for it in fatigue. It probably didn’t help that I dug up an eight-foot by two-foot planting bed that day as well, trying, very late, to get some annual herbs in. It doesn’t matter too much if my basil goes in now; it’ll grow until November here.
I got started on the Eat Local Challenge this weekend; unfortunately, I managed to frustrate myself right off the bat even though I had asparagus from the Sacramento Delta, about 150 miles from here, and I was just trying to come up with some local seasoning to put on top of it.
You will notice that the picture above is not of asparagus.
The idea of the Eat Local Challenge is not for it to feel like a trial or a hardship, but my diet is already limited by dint of being a vegetarian, and right off I was starting to feel resentful. I want to eat local, but I also want to cook something worth eating, something that looks beautiful and is worth saying something about. I want to be creative, and the smaller the palette gets, the harder it can be.
I thought of almonds, which are one of Fresno County’s major crops, but almonds all by themselves on top of asparagus sounded pretty everyday – not very exciting, certainly not worth blogging about. But I had bought some phenomenal oranges at the farmer’s market on Saturday.
“How about a citrus-soy dressing?” Chimp suggested.
“That would be good, but my soy sauce isn’t local. We do have some cream, though – I could try a citrus cream sauce.”
I mixed up a little bit in a ramekin.
“How is it?” Chimp asked.
“Not going to work. It tastes like dessert. Here.” I reached into the cabinet for the bottle of vanilla and splashed a little into the cream and orange mixture.
“Yep,” Chimp said, tasting it. “Creamsicle.”
“Yes. Very good, but not on asparagus.”
“Did we just solve Belnap’s Incompatible Food Triad?” he asked.
“Let’s see – asparagus and cream work, it seems like asparagus and orange should work, orange and cream work. Asparagus, cream and orange? That could be a solution. It doesn’t work at first glance, but there might be a way to make it go.”
What about the flavors of almonds and oranges together? I thought. A little reduced orange juice, a little orange zest, maybe some finely chopped almonds – maybe it would all add up to a crumbly, delicious topping. And with orange zest and the buff-colored almonds, it would have to photograph well.
It was an utter failure.
While I chopped the almonds in the food processor, I put the orange juice on to reduce. When I tossed the orange juice in with the almonds and began to stir to combine the mixture, I realized that I had chopped the almonds too finely for it to work. The whole thing turned into orange-almond paste in a matter of moments; not crumbly, not able to be tossed over asparagus, not going to work, I thought. Paste. There are very few foods that you want to eat that come in the form of paste.
What do I do with this? I thought. Well, it’s effectively a very rough marzipan – why not throw in some powdered sugar and see where we end up? And it wasn’t half bad. So I added a little vanilla and orange zest, then made small balls, rolled those in more zest and chopped almonds, and tucked in an almond apiece. Okay, they’re sweetmeats, I thought. Fine. But what about this damn asparagus?
Chimp liked the new direction. “Can I eat these?”
“Let me take a picture first.”
He’s in favor of these experiments. He has generously expressed his willingness to eat failed chocolate yogurt popsicles until I come up with a working chocolate yogurt popsicle recipe. He’s selfless, that husband of mine.
The almond sweetmeats had a wholesome mild sweetness like that of oat-nut haystack cookies. I described the failure and small outgrowth of unintended success to my mother-in-law, and she said, “What you ended up with sounds almost medieval.” I had to agree. It isn’t baked as a marzipan would be, but the almonds and orange flavor, which would have been orange flower water or rosewater at the time, certainly lined up.
In the future I would use blanched almonds if I were to do something like this again. The skins are good for you, but they are bitter and distract from the texture too.
And the asparagus – I gave up. We just roasted it, as usual.
1/2 c. blanched almonds, ground into fine powder and sieved to remove any larger chunks
3 T. powdered sugar
1 T. orange zest
1/4 t. vanilla
To roll finished sweets in:
– more orange zest
– finely chopped almonds
– blanched almonds or almond slivers to garnish
Mix first four ingredients together; form mixture into small balls. Roll in zest and chopped and almonds, and gently insert an almond into each. Makes about 10 sweetmeats.