June 14, 2012

Something’s Happened

There must be a term for it—for the sense of total euphoria that is also accompanied by sheer and utter disbelief and shock. I blink and it is still there. I sleep a full eight hours (bravo me!), and when I wake up it is still lingering around, clinging to the bed sheets, draping itself wildly around the curtains, puncturing even, the early morning light. I can’t shake it.

It’s what most young, burgeoning bloggers must feel when they discover that their tiny, secret, under-the-cover-of-a-great-big-internet-rock blog has just been posted to the Bon Appétit website. Bon Appétit, people! The single most amazing food magazine in the nation. I am still shaking my head in disbelief. I am also, and this one may be even harder to comprehend on an emotional level (so oblique the feeling can be, so occasionally far off): HAPPY. It takes a lot to get me there sometimes, but here we are.

You can find the momentous occasion itself here. We (that is, you, dear readers, and me) are image eight in the slideshow. We are beaming, can’t you tell?

It’s been almost impossible ever since to try to come up with what to make next. Oh my god, the soundtrack in my head plays, what will I ever make again? I’ve wrestled through a few ideas. I’ve called my mom about them—rattling off a list of spiraling, food-related thoughts (she is very supportive). I sit down with stacks of books and magazines and pour over them late into the night. In my dreams I bake galettes that are rubbery and stiff, or I make compotes that are gelatinous and murky. I’ve been in a bind. One that, I can only imagine, has been brought on by the celebratory joy and revelatory anguish of being noticed.

But it’s more than that, too. It’s that—no matter how many cookbooks I look through, or magazines I flip through, or food blogs I read—ultimately, the appetite always wins: one’s choice of what to make or eat can’t come from a carefully designed program of which meals will be popular, or what everyone else will feel like consuming in any particular moment, or how this specific dish will photograph, or how this entry will look next to that one. The choice of what to eat is dictated by some other thing—longing and nostalgia, weather and mood, memory and dreams colliding with seasonality, what’s available at the grocery store, which shops you will pass on your way home, who you may have spoken to on that particular day.

The appetite is elusive and intangible—what drives it is some mysterious combination of unseen factors, constantly changing and circling around that ultimate goal: to feed one’s hunger.

We do this in many ways, I think. Food is one of the least detrimental and perhaps also the one with the most potential for unfettered, uncomplicated joy. 

So I went through that list of prospective galettes and tarts and pies and cookies and shortbreads and brioche rolls and jams and chocolates, and then, when it was 76 degrees in San Francisco (a heat wave!), I made watermelon instead. Watermelon that was dusted with chiles and salt. Watermelon that you could slurp up in enthusiasm; whose juices would drip down your chin; whose spicy bite and sweet, cold crispness would glide, in ever-so-refreshing a manner, down your throat. Watermelon that would make the inside of your cheeks cold, and the tips of your fingers pink and soaked, and the picnic blanket a stained mess, and all of those other good summery things that make us feel, if only momentarily, like we are young again.

I thought perhaps you wouldn’t mind.

In the end, this is not a recipe: it’s a sort of incitement for pleasure. It’s something that will take you no time at all. It’s something that you’ll be able to do just by briefly looking at these photographs, by just barely skimming these words. But let’s eat it and be happy.

We have a lot to celebrate.

Watermelon with chili salt (adapted from Bon Appétit)

Watermelon slices
4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons chili powder
2-3 limes

Slice a chilled watermelon. In a small bowl or salt dish, mix together the salt and chili powder, adjusting to taste. Arrange the slices on a platter, sprinkle with the chili salt, and then generous squeeze a lime directly over top. Consume immediately, when cold and spicy and dripping with lime.

David Tanis, in Heart of the Artichoke, suggests dipping a lime in a chili powder mixture and squeezing this over a platter of jicama, avocado, and orange. I tried the chili/lime technique both ways—by sprinkling the chili salt and then squeezing the lime juice over top, and also by dipping a halved lime in the mixture and then squeezing out the juice. I think I prefer the first method—but this, really, is a matter of taste. Just employ the ritual that will optimize your satisfaction—all the better if you are basking in the sun while you do it.

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