Friday, December 30, 2005

The New Year

Here at anapestic, we believe that new year's resolutions are for people who can think of nothing else to say at a New Year's Eve party (or, maybe, who have nothing better to say on their blogs, but who are we to judge?). We have no problem with taking a look back at the year just past, and we find it perfectly commendable to set some modest and, most importantly, achievable goals for the year ahead. (My goal, for example, is not to smoke any cigarettes this year, a goal that I have achieved no fewer than forty-four times, my perfect record having been broken only in 1979, when, as a high school senior, I went with some classmates to France for a couple of weeks and smoked during the four days we were in Paris. Hint to parents: if you don't want your kids to smoke, try to make sure that their first pack of cigarettes are unfiltered Gitanes; anyone who buys a second pack of cigarettes after that experience was clearly born so hardcore that he was unlikely to reach thirty without having perished in a fiery car crash, anyway.) But creating a list of resolutions, of things that one must always or never -- as the case may be -- do and that one knows one will eventually not do or do -- as the case may be, respectively -- in spite of one's best intentions strikes us as the sort of rank hypocrisy about which we feel compelled to maintain plausible deniability. (We also, apparently, have no trouble using the first person plural when there are only one of us, but we confess to having difficulty sustaining that usage for more than a paragraph.)

This has been a pretty good year for me and for my immediate family. As usual, there are things that I might have done better and that I hope to do better next year, but on the whole, life is pretty good and complaining about anything (except maybe that whole raw foods phenomenon: I was in Borders the other day, and I picked up a beautiful cookbook written by two beautiful people, and then I started to read the recipes, and I thought, well, I can't really write exactly what I thought because the language is inappropriate for polite company, but what's up with that?) in the life-in-general category would be ungrateful.

But, of course, the kitchen is a different matter, entirely. The culinary arena is no place for resting on one's laurels or for modest goals. Complacency, after all, is what landed me in my current sorry situation. Do you realize, reader, that I am nearly forty-five years old, and I have never (not even once) made a croquembouche? What possible reason is there for this oversight? I can make pâte à choux. I can make crème patissiere. I can make caramel. I have even gone so far as to combine these elements in a gateau St. Honore, which is what you'd have if all of the cream puffs from your croquembouche gushed their pastry cream to the inside and someone ate off all but the bottom two rows. Still, the fact remains: there are no croquembouches in my personal culinary history, and how did this come to pass? (And you may ask yourself/ Where does that highway go?/ And you may ask yourself/ Am I right? I wrong?/ And you may tell yourself/ My god!...what have I done?) Complacency.

I don't, as it happens, plan to put croquembouche on this year's list of goals. I might consider it if I do a large holiday party next year, but while it's something that I'd like to do eventually, there are other things that have a tighter hold on my soul. For instance:

Spiced beef. I want it on my table next Christmas. It sounds entirely delicious, and any main course that you have to start two weeks in advance is my kind of main course, especially since it will have the amusing side benefit of causing V. to whinge about me taking up so much space in the refrigerator for two whole weeks. Woohoo.

A real, honest-to-goodness Pithiviers (the pedantic-Frenchmen-masquerading-as-Scottish-solicitors among my readership will kindly note the correct spelling) made with the traditional almond filling and, naturally, my own puff pastry.

Cannoli. Oh, how I love them. The last time I was in New York, V. and I tromped all over Greenwich Village at two in the morning (I was wearing a pair of fabulous harness boots, which, alas, I had not hitherto broken in and which left my feet in blisters for the rest of the weekend) so that I could have a cannoli (we can leave aside for the moment the undisputed fact that it's not exactly difficult to find cannoli in NYC). It's high time I made my own. I'm not sure that I'm actually going to deep fry the shells, but I have a silpat, so I can make something similar to a florentine, wrap it into a cylinder, and then stuff it with the cannoli cream.

Crème brûlée. Yes, yes, I know. It's hard for you to believe that I've never made crème brûlée, but it's true. I do like it a lot, but my real reason for wanting to make it is that it'll give me a good excuse to finally buy that kitchen blowtorch I've been wanting forever. I was reading somebody's (I forget whose post it was; I apologize) post about café brûlée the other day. She (or he, perhaps) had tried to put a caramel crust on top of a cup of coffee. That sounded difficult to me, but then it occurred to me that I could just as easily use a ring cutter to lay down a circle of brown sugar on my silpat, remove the cutter, caramelize the sugar on the silpat, let it cool, and then transfer the brûlée to either the café or the crème. I know, I know: I'm a genius.

Springerle. I have a pretty good collection of springerle molds, and I've made the cookies more often than not over the past fifteen holiday seasons, but I didn't make any this year, and I don't want the omission to become a habit.

Cooking lessons for A. My little girl's all grown up, and I have always said that I would not send my children out into the world without making sure that they knew how to take care of themselves. (I still have a very vivid memory of being in the laundry room at my dormitory and staring incredulously when one of the freshmen approached me and said, "Um, how do you do laundry?") She's starting the second half of her junior year, and while she's already a fierce baker (she makes cookies and sells them at school for spending money), she has a lot to learn about basic meal preparation. Besides, A.'s already decided that she's going to go to the University of Maryland at College Park, and she can save money there by spending slightly more rent on a kitchen-equipped and skipping the meal plan. She will, of course, need groceries, and I'm sure she won't want to pass up my kind offer of stopping by every Saturday to take her to the supermarket. Ok, so I have an agenda.

I realize that the above list does not seem tremendously ambitious, but you must bear in mind that one of my objections to new year's resolutions is that it seems silly (and a bit of a cheap excuse) to not just make resolutions whenever you feel like it, so the list is always a work in process. You must also bear in mind that in addition to all the new things, there's a long list of old things that I've done for years or that I did this year and that I want to continue doing. So there'll be more clementine ratafia this year. There'll be vin de noix. There will (always) be lebkuchen. There will be strawberries and sour cherries, each gathered at the moment of perfect ripeness. There will, friends, be black cake.


Anonymous lindy said...

This very day I was comparing kitchen blowtorches on the internet!

I have returned one of the two perfect (and identical) kitchen scales I received for XMas, and when my Amazon credit clicks through... no custard will be safe from the fire at the Toast household.

I hadn't gone so far as to make a resolution...but I was seeing it in my future....

I have also been contemplating the spiced beef project.

2:01 PM  
Blogger bhoygary said...

quote "(the pedantic-Frenchmen-masquerading-as-Scottish-solicitors among my readership will kindly note the correct spelling)".

Do yo know more than one of those or should it read the "pedantic frenchman..."

Is that how you thank me for my Christmas eve menu?

à votre service anyway"

4:09 PM  

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