March 31, 2012

Eating Cherries in Winter

Well, here we are. It’s Saturday. I woke up very early this morning to a still house and a dark sky. Why was I up this early on a Saturday, I lay there wondering to myself?

Within a couple of hours it had begun to rain. It’s now pouring. But “raining” and even “pouring” are too delicate to describe what is really happening out there. Droplets of water are being heaved from the sky haphazardly. The wind is tearing the branches out of a neighboring shrub and hurling them into my window. And the neon pink flowers on the camellia bush to the left of my bedroom are drooping and swaying, drooping and swaying, in ironic, uncharacteristic gestures.

This is what people mean when they talk about the rainy season in San Francisco. We’re getting it a bit late this year. I read there is even a “surf advisory” today—a phrase that hadn’t entered my vocabulary until very recently.

The real point here is that my trip to the farmer’s market, during which I planned to buy armfuls of blood oranges, hopefully some fennel, green garlic, salad greens with nasturtiums, breakfast radishes, and German butterball potatoes, is now but a mere fantasy. I’ll be honest with you: at the moment, I don’t even own a proper umbrella (mine broke for good during last week’s deluge). And, a raincoat, you ask? Something that I imagine those “prepared” people might have, those with “appropriate” clothing, who tend to think ahead, even when the sun is shining and it seems, for all intensive purposes, that the rainy season, this time, is finally over. Alas. Here we are.

So I’m trapped for the moment. It won’t be long. Eventually, I’ll wrap a scarf around my head and brave it to the corner store where I’ll buy a $4 umbrella, which will carry me through for the next week or so.

But in the meantime, I thought that this might just be the perfect opportunity to tell you about something that I’ve been holding on to for a while, waiting patiently for the right moment to write about—a moment, I imagined, when we (or at least I) needed something homey; something homey but also bright and cheerful. That’s what this is: It’s oatmeal, people, but it’s topped with warm cherries, toasted almonds, and demerara sugar. It’s what you want to eat when you’re trapped inside and it’s too early, or too rainy, to go anywhere.

If you haven’t discovered the pleasures of frozen cherries, now is the time to start. Picture this: It’s the dead of winter, you’re snowed in, you’re nutrient deprived because the only fresh thing that you can lay your hands on is shriveled supermarket citrus. You open your freezer door, and there, in that dark, buried corner of your icebox, is a little pink package—inside of this package are organic cherries, frozen at the peak of their ripeness, waiting to be simmered gently and then plunked on top of your oats, or your warm chocolate pudding, or your bowl of ricotta, or your tubful of Greek yogurt…

The possibilities, really, are potentially endless.

I know this isn’t seasonal eating, but it’s close. The cherries, in an ideal scenario, were picked when perfectly ripe and then frozen, their summer sweetness locked away under layers of ice, to be preserved for a later time—a time when, unlike summer, your options are few and your cravings are many.

I had this for the first time on a weekday morning a month or so ago. It was worth the time that it took—longer than it takes to make a piece of toast, but much shorter than the sort of time that you would need to make pancakes.

First, put the oats in a pot with water, milk, and a pinch of salt, and set this to a low simmer. In a few short minutes, they will be bubbly and milky, steaming and sputtering. While the oats simmer, place a handful of frozen cherries in a small saucepan, and turn the heat on low. The cherries will need a few minutes to lose their chill and become warm and steamy. Don’t cook them too much, though—it is ideal when they are still round and firm, rather than stewed and dilapidated (you want the whole fruit, not a compote). In a dry sauté pan, toast the slivered, blanched almonds until they are just lightly browned and fragrant.

Now you can set yourself up with a bowl—hopefully your coffee is at the ready, hopefully your neighbor has stopped doing Jazzercise next door (!!!). Spoon the hot oatmeal into your bowl, ladle the cherries and a tiny bit of their warm juices over the oatmeal, gently toss onto this your toasted almonds, and then sprinkle the whole thing with a teaspoon or so of demerara sugar (regular sugar, brown sugar, or even maple syrup would also be lovely here). Add a little drizzle of milk or cream, and you’ve achieved, after just a few short minutes, breakfast.

You’ll also have achieved the satisfaction of eating cherries in winter, which is a rare treat indeed, even if it isn’t pouring down rain just beyond your window.

Oatmeal with Warm Cherries and Almonds

For one serving:
1/2 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup (or so) frozen cherries
A handful of blanched, slivered almonds
1–2 teaspoons demerara sugar (Turbinado, regular, or brown sugar also works, as does maple syrup)
Milk or cream for drizzling

In a medium saucepan, combine the oats, water, 1/4 cup milk, and a pinch of salt. Put a lid on the pot, and turn the heat on low. Simmer for 5 minutes.

While the oatmeal simmers, place the frozen cherries in a small saucepan and cook over low heat for 3–4 minutes, until they are warm and steamy, but still firm and round. Set aside.

Turn the heat on under a dry sauté pan (about medium-low), and add the blanched, slivered almonds. Shake them around in the pan, tossing once or twice, until lightly toasted and fragrant (about 2 minutes).

Put the oatmeal in a bowl, and top with the cherries and almonds. Sprinkle the sugar over top, and drizzle with milk or cream.

P.S. A poem about being in summer in winter. 

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