My wonderful old friend, Adam, is an artist, a maker of things, and has been my solace since I returned to the Bay. The other night we were having that "so...how's the (art) work going?" conversation. He told me that when feeling discouraged from writing, he started making mix tapes---making his own new creation out of existing sounds. It seemed like a perfect parallel to how I start cooking when feeling thwarted in the studio. I get this image of kids endlessly trying to block the trickle of hose water on the pavement just to watch the stream be diverted in another direction. Both of us in some way turn to combining, arranging, metamorphosing ingredients to fill the drive to put something out into the world. Truly, my chopping up and re-fusing 2x4s, audio clips and moving images is not that much different than what I do with vegetables for a salad. I'd been thinking that maybe I was mixing as an outlet because there's less pressure to create something "original" when working with what's already there. But Adam told me he thinks of everything as "scratch"--rather than nothing being new, everything is new. I love this idea. It's liberating.
As I've been gearing up for the New Year this weekend, I've been thinking about all those lists of resolutions I write then cache, hoping that keeping them forever tucked in sock drawers and books will make them come true. I write the same resolutions every single year. Even though I probably improve by a millimeter or so, it feels like an exercise in futility to keep hoping for the same changes in myself. Wouldn't it be wonderful to feel like I'm starting from scratch rather than repeating myself? Or that I could reconfigure what I already have to transform it? Perhaps I will always taste like the components I'm made of, but it's nice to dream for a possibility of transmuting the flavors.
Eggs seemed like an appropriate starting point because they are pretty much potential (chicken) in a shell. It makes me think about this iconic PSA demonstration. They can go from one form to another and completely alter what ever else they are added to. Snow Eggs (Oeufs a la Neige) starts off like it could be an omelette, a quiche, french toast, ice cream--eggs, milk. But in Snow Eggs, the transformative properties of eggs are exploited two ways--they become both an airy puff of poached meringue and a rich but thin custard. They get deconstructed and reshaped into something un-eggy entirely. It is surprisingly simple for how novel the result ends up looking. Since I'm having a little nostalgia for the Persian confections at Wholesome Choice, I decided to dissect those flavors and add them to my snow egg mix tape. I replaced the traditional vanilla with saffron (in the custard), rosewater (in the meringue) and pistachios (on the top). As usual, the weather turns muggy as soon as I'm about to make meringue....this time there was a thunderstorm (very rare in these parts) but I gave it a shot anyways.
Snow Eggs with Saffron, Rose, and Pistachio
- 3 C whole milk
- 1/2 C + 1 T sugar
- 4 large eggs, separated (best to separate while they're cold thenbeat the whites at room temp.)
- 2 tsp cornstarch (you don't really need this. Custard and I don't get along, so I cheat)
- a pinch of saffron
- 2 tsp rosewater, or to taste
- chopped pistachios for sprinkling
- sour cherries (optional)
Bring 2 1/2 C of milk & 1/2 C sugar to a gentle simmer in a large saucepan, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Meanwhile, in a metal or glass bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until they form soft peaks. Beat in the 1 T of sugar and beat until they form stiff peaks. Gently beat in the rosewater. With a spoon or ice cream scoop, scoop 2 smallish balls out of egg white into the simmering milk. Poach for 2-3 minutes, and gently turn. When they are slightly firm, remove them with a slotted spoon and place on a plastic wrap-lined platter. Continue this process until all the egg white balls are poached. Cover the poached meringues loosely with plastic wrap and place in the fridge until you're ready for them.
Dissolve the saffron threads into 1/2 C of cold milk and whisk it with egg yolks and cornstarch ( if using--cheaters!) in a small bowl. Whisk 1/2 C of the warm milk from poaching into the cold yolk mixture. Then add the cold mixture to the warm milk and bring to an almost boil while whisking constantly. Cook until thickened and coats the back of a spoon, about 2 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and transfer to a bowl to cool to room temp. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap onto the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming and chill in the fridge.
When ready to serve, spoon the custard into individual dishes, float a meringue "egg" in the custard and top with the pistachios.