Echoes and Mementos

Thoughts and pictures about cooking, eating, reading, writing, and living.

Month: September, 2012

Souping the Pumpkin

Recipe for Pumpkin Soup: When you are walking past the grocery store and dusk has fallen early, the air perplexes you with its coolness, and the loudest sound you hear is the surf of leaves, check the corner of your eye for squash shaped like a basketball, and there the early pumpkins are, only few laps of the hour hand past Labor Day, but oriole-orange, fluted, and

fat. Take the tiniest, sweetest pumpkin, and take your knife to a length of sharpening steel. Cut off the squash’s top, lifting it by the grip of hard, curled vine, and scoop out the seeds; quarter the topless squash into wedges, halving and re-halving them into crescents, arranging the rearranged pumpkin on a metal sheet, and baking

the whole show; when a fork slides with ease through the pumpkin’s flesh, and when your kitchen smells like Halloween, remove the slices and scoop the pale meat from the orange rinds, whirl the meat in a blender, sprinkle in spices (cinnamon, chile-heat, nutmeg, s+p), whirl again, and pour the soup into bowls. Douse with olive oil. Chop the roasted seeds and splash them on. Before tasting the first spoonful, remember the summer’s river-breeze and lusty evenings, amber like a pumpkin, and, seen looking back from the early days of fall, looking quite like soup.

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Cooking Chinese in Queens

On Saturday, Allie and I went to Queens for a cooking lesson with her Chinese co-worker, and on the front-right flame in the kitchen was a timeworn cast iron wok.

Its parabolic walls curve up like an umbrella. They’re black and scarred, mossy with char build-up, and looking as if molded from the same rock as a cannonballs. You see an old wok, and you think: Here is a tool that cavemen used used to stew mastodon.

They very well may have. Woks are designed for efficiency. The parabolic walls vortex heat inward–directly onto the food. Vegetable oil goes into the hot wok. In a heartbeat the oil ripples, and Trudy shovels the oil along to higher parts of the wok’s walls. She drops in a dozen garlic cloves, they brown in five seconds, and the orange peppers are cooked through in 30.

By far, the most fascinating wok-action from Saturday was watching eggs go from liquid to fluffy in no more than 15 seconds. To start, Trudy beat the eggs with chopsticks. She poured them into the molten oil. The eggs appeared to be spongy and cooked in an instant, but Trudy rattled the spatula-shovel in the iron bowl in a circular motion, breaking the eggs’ cooked surface, showing the raw center, and introducing that raw yellow to hot oil and wok’s slick-hot upper walls.

A good wok can heat up past 1,000 degrees without breaking a sweat. At this temperature the eggs were done in a blink. Cooking the eggs was the first step to fried rice, which, in China, is a Tuesday night meal that takes all of three minutes to cook.

In the wok Trudy made fried rice, a shrimp platter, and brown garlic for bok choy. We also had dumplings, hand-rolled. Some were steamed, some were pan-fried, and I ate none of them, for the filling they encased had two kinds of shrimp. The table was filled with pork spare ribs, mochi (rice cakes filled with ice cream), savory rice cakes, and sweet olive juice. It was enough to inspire us to heat up our carbon steel wok tonight–practice for the day I graduate to cast iron.

End of Summer


 

I know summer is ending because the calendar has flipped to September, but also because I can now go outside without sizzling over-easy on the sidewalk. This past July set a record for heat. Bring on Thanksgiving, I say. But if there was a silver lining to summer, it was that I ate more ice cream than I did in my previous 23 summers put together.

Why? It was hot. The AC is taboo in my apartment. But not in the hallways, where it feels like January. Exit the building and you leave the cool halls for a choking breeze and a desert sun. Not to worry–there’s an ice cream store right across the street. There, they scoop graham cracker ice cream and a chocolate peanut butter that must be two-parts peanut to one-part chocolate. And finally, I ate so much ice cream because my freezer is full of it. My office’s test kitchen had leftovers and I couldn’t let them go to waste.

After days at the beach, there was ice cream (dark chocolate gelato, coffee with chocolate chips). At the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, there were “regular flavors” (ginger and black sesame) and “exotic flavors” (vanilla and strawberry). And from The Bent Spoon in Princeton, there were truly exotic flavors: Sriracha-peach and quail egg, pictured above. The flavors aren’t nearly as eccentric at the shop across the street, but there the flavors change with the seasons, which means that maybe my ice cream habit won’t.