It was a singing-out-loud kind of weekend. You know the type: You wake up, and because the sun is doing its darnedest to peek through, or because you know there’s a really sensational pastry in your near future, or maybe because it’s finally – finally – time to plant the garden you’ve been dreaming about all winter, those words just come blasting out.
Saturday morning, it was all three, and as I drove to meet a friend for a walk, Counting Crows flew right out my sunroof. (House rules: In the spring, the sunroof gets opened above 45 degrees.) I skipped through the day, planting early vegetables in my very first ever non-potted garden and moving dirt from here to there, cooing at the way the tulips were bursting out to greet the sun. I’m sure I saw them growing.
We’re not the only ones who feel spring, me and the flowers. My cat’s informed me that baby bird season is upon us. I’m only reading in feathers, but I believe there have been three catches this week: First it was that poor bird that got trapped inside the bedroom with us. I’d been fairly certain Jackson brought a playmate home, but didn’t expect the bird to be sitting on the windowsill inside my bedroom when I returned from the shower. It was quite the commotion, all of us flapping and squawking, me and the dog and the cat and the bird, until the one of us with opposable thumbs remembered that the windows open. (Here’s the video of the rest.) Then there was a teensy hummingbird, left on my office chair as an offering on Valentine’s Day. The evidence of Saturday’s kill, number three, is still fluttering around my feet when I walk through he house. I haven’t found the victim yet.
It’s great to have spring in my step, but honestly, there’s nothing of the sort going on in my kitchen. Jim is still gone, which means simple meals, like quick pan-seared fish with a squeeze of lemon, and mesclun salads with random cheese and fruit and nuts, whichever ones shout loudest.
Satisfying? Sure. But not inspiring. Almost boring, in fact. I’ve been combing through the freezer, past months-old clam chowder and homemade pasta sauce, only to find myself sitting down to a bowl of salt-flecked edamame for dinner. There’s just not as much fun in cooking up one of something, no matter how good it is. And every time I look outside, I can’t help but turn around to pout at my wintry produce drawer. I’m in a holding pattern: Kale. Potatoes. Grains. Soups. Stir-fries. Meat. Start over. I’m actually starting to fantasize about local asparagus.
All week, I’ve been paging through lists of ideas I’ve jotted down over the last few weeks, and nothing has sounded good. Nothing matches the spring I see outside. Macaroni and cheese? Too heavy for a sunny day. Ginger cream pie? I shouldn’t eat that whole thing myself. Maple walnut cake? Ditto. Eggs provencale? Too . . .something. It’s like my palate has PMS.
I’m sure you recognize the symptoms of a dinner rut. The books you open may as well not have text, for all you’re absorbing. You hit the markets, and wonder whether you dreamed your ability to cook. Your best knife feels foreign in your hands. And every time you journey through your refrigerator, you wonder when, and why, and how could you have possibly purchased all those condiments?
I was on that trip this afternoon, paddling through my jams and mustards and wondering how long does tamarind paste last?, when I stumbled upon an old friend:
Wait, did I forget to tell you about The Pears?
It’s dessert, from last weekend.
It was a last-minute thing. We had a guest for dinner, and the notion of dessert tiptoed quietly across my mind, just a few minutes before said guest was due to arrive. Suddenly there were four peeled pears simmering gently away in champagne, saffron, and cinnamon. They cooled while we ate dinner, then stood up tall and sultry in our bowls, demanding affirmation that they looked just fabulous in yellow.
“Yes, you look fabulous in yellow,” I said, and made a mental note to thank them later for looking so darn fancy after only ten minutes in the dressing room. Oh, and for wearing the perfect perfume.
We piled them with Greek yogurt, sprinkled them with freshly grated cinnamon, added a drizzle of honey, and dove in, happy for the sweet bites but relieved they wouldn’t moor us to our chairs for the evening.
This afternoon, with warmth beating into the kitchen, I opened the remaining pear, and walked out onto the porch, balancing its glistening, sunny body on a plate next to the primroses I planted yesterday. I knew it had been a whole week, but figured I’d give it a try – and the first incarnation had been so. . . darn . . . good.
Honestly: It was like eating a poached pear rolled in yeast. The champagne had turned. Totally inedible. (Shoot! I never thanked them.)
I know not why I might have expected something different, after a whole week, but I did. And now I’m pissed. At 4 p.m., they seemed like the harbinger of a happier kitchen, a way to make winter taste like sunshine, but in my mouth, they offended. The rut remains.
But you – you can forgive them. Make them, when you need a dessert that’s light and quick and healthy but still quite the looker. And oh – of course – don’t wait too long to eat them.
Champagne-Poached Pears with Saffron and Cinnamon
Bring a cup of water, a cup of sugar, and three cups of champagne, along with a good pinch of saffron and two cinnamon sticks, to a strong simmer over high heat. When all the sugar has dissolved, snuggle four almost-ripe Bosc pears into the liquid on their sides (with the stems still attached). Cover the pears with a round of parchment, then a small plate, to keep the pears from bobbing out of the liquid. Simmer on low heat for 30 to 45 minutes (depending on the pears), or until soft all the way through when poked with a skewer. Cool the pears in the liquid, overnight if necessary, and serve at room temperature, with Greek yogurt or ice cream, fresh cinnamon, and honey.