November 8, 2008

Lavender Ceremony: Creme Brulee*

We have long closed the blinds on summer. With legs firmly knotted into the pumpkin vines & old sticks & dried-out cornstalks, we still catch ourselves looking back over our shoulders to make sure it really happened--that one season stretched like 100 cat backs and then relaxed itself into this new season. That one thing arced & eased itself into a new day. Maybe I'm not talking about summer here, but of other things--and people--we can lose under sheets & soil.

But what logic is there in looking back, in recalculating these losses with the same broken calculator? What logic is there in looking under the blanket just one last time? What logic is there in digging the plowed dirt until our shovels reach that layer of bedrock we knew we'd inevitably arrive at?

And after all of this--all this searching & formulating & shoveling--what peace are we left with? What one, whole, golden skeleton are we able to reconstruct in the museum? And if none, then how to we reconcile that constant loss?

First, I need to slough off all metaphors, all cliches, and simply state that last year I lost a beautiful friend. A friend who, when I am not too pained to remember him, I remember in the kitchen. A friend who, after getting paid, once came home with close to $40 worth of berries. A friend who knew how to eat a pomegranate. Who was never satisfied with my dicing skills and so would always re-dice. A friend whose re-dicing did not annoy me but made me smile. A friend who was never a slave to simplicity and so would one day spend a Saturday making homemade pizza dough & pizza sauce with a splash of wine & would top those 7 pizzas with 4 cheeses & fresh herbs all while drinking an entire bottle of $20 Zin...and a few bottles of IPA. A friend who once whipped up a vegetarian meatball sub with chipotle sauce I will always remember as one of my favorite meals. A friend who was always a somewhat haphazard cook--always spilling and dropping and forgetting. A magician--always making those spills seem like part of the act. Who was always singing John Lennon in front of the stove. A friend who I choose now to remember in the kitchen because in other rooms, in other places, we were not as synchronized.

This weekend, as a form of ceremony, I made my very first creme brulee, a dessert my friend and I had always planned on making. As corny as this might sound, making this dessert brought me a sense of peace. This dish is sensitive, always threatening to curdle, overcook or become too dense. He would have loved taking on these challenges. After eating a spoonful of this creamy pot of lavender, I felt as though it might be possible to put down the shovel and the calculator. This ceremony gave me the chance to take in his memory, whole and delicious. Each time I spill a sauce, or dice a clove of garlic with the precision of a surgeon, or make a dish that has the power to make my body and other bodies happy, I need to remind myself that he is, in fact, present. These small acts of ceremony give us the ability to stop the questioning and remember without the uncertainty of decimals.

Lavender Creme Brulee (from this Rocco DiSpirito recipe) 4 servings

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons culinary lavender
6 egg yolks
1/4 turbinado sugar
more sugar for torching

1. In a small saucepan, bring milk and cream to a boil, monitoring it closely so it doesn't boil over. Remove from the heat. Add lavender, and allow lavender to infuse the cream for one hour at room temperature. Strain mixture into a clean saucepan. Bring to a boil again and remove from heat.

2. Preheat oven to 275°F. In a mixing bowl, whisk the yolks and granulated sugar until just combined. Temper the egg mixture by very slowly whisking a small amount of warm lavender cream into the eggs. Take your time with this step so that the yolks don't scramble. Once the egg mixture and cream are roughly the same temperature, whisk the remaining egg mixture into the cream.

3. Divide custard among four 4-ounce ramekins. Place ramekins in a baking dish or roasting pan. Fill dish or pan with water so that water comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins and transfer to the oven rack. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes. During the last 10 minutes, check frequently for doneness: when fully baked, the crème brûlées will be firm and will wiggle just slightly when shaken. Remove ramekins from water bath and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours.

4. Before serving, sprinkle each dessert with 1 1/2 tablespoons turbinado sugar. If you own a propane torch, hold the torch about 8 inches from the custard's surface and flame the sugar into a golden brown, brittle curst. Alternatively, place ramekins under a preheated broiler and broil until sugar has caramelized, 1 to 3 minutes. Watch carefully: sugar turns from light brown to black quickly. Serve immediately.

*Photos forthcoming. The lovely photograph at the top is from here.


Hadley Gets Crafty said...

You should leave a ramekin of creme brulee out for him, Dia de los Muertos style. Sounds like he'd love it.

On another note, the word verification for this comment was "tear".

The Furie Queene said...

There's a Peruvian drink, chicha morada, that's made from purple corn. It's delicious! Just thought I'd share that with you, knowing your tastes for purple foods.

I'm making it this coming weekend. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Breedale said...

OOOO! I thought I had seen it but I guess I had just glanced at it. That looks so good. I cannot believe how mouth watering that is. YUM!

Zoe Francois said...

I adore lavender, especially paired with the creaminess of a brulee. This is gorgeous!