Saturday, March 24, 2012

Judy sucks a lemon for breakfast

I can't be bothered to take a photograph, because it's been a lazy Saturday today. Not really lazy altogether, but lazy in the sense that I haven't been doing what I'm supposed to be doing. But then, isn't that the story of my life?

Last week, I'd discovered a tree in my backyard pregnant with ripe Meyer lemons, bursting off the branches, begging to be picked. The spring, as much as it is vibrant with life and promise, is not always a happy time. It conjures up some bad memories. It also assaults me with allergies that make my head foggy.

But when life hands you lemons, well. Problem is, I can't really drink a pitcher of lemonade.

I'd bought some ginger root that I'd been planning to grate into soy sauce and simmer with broccoli and water chestnuts. But there it was, taunting me. I took the dare. In the past, every time I'd tried to bake or cook with ginger or lemon zest, I was always annoyed to discover the fibrous little bits interfering with the finished product. I was not about to dive into an adventure of sorbet-making with the same outcome.

When making sorbet (or lemonade for that matter), you have to make a simple syrup, which involves dissolving sugar into water, evaporating a little of the water off in the process. It's the perfect vehicle for infusion. So I sliced up the ginger roughly and threw in lemon peel, added the water, and then the sugar, and heated up the witches' brew. When it had come to a simmer, I set it aside and covered the pot, and let all the ginger and lemon essence seep into the syrup. When it was fully cooled, I strained it into the freshly squeezed lemon juice. At the time, I didn't think it tasted like much, but I thought, well, at its worst, it'll just taste like plain lemon sorbet. Worse things in the world.

When I make fresh sorbet or ice cream, it's rarely a whim that just comes to fruition in an afternoon. It's a stepwise process. It teaches me patience, and also makes me believe in faith, and gives me the capacity to hope. It gives me a future to consider. All in a simple sorbet. I've stumbled in the past with sorbets. When I'd been timid and a purist about them, I'd arrived at frozen blocks that essentially amounted to shaved ice. I'd read a trick about vodka softening the sorbet. And anyone who knows me knows how quickly I'd take to that tip. Indeed, it works if you are going to serve the sorbet in a few hours after making it. And that is seldom the case for me. I tend to make sorbets when I have fresh fruit that is in season and needs to be used.

I'd read a tip some years ago about adding an egg white to the sorbet, as it stabilizes the sorbet and makes it a scoopable consistency. But I don't think I could ever risk making someone sick from raw egg in their sorbet. At the same time, over the past couple of years, I had been developing a relationship with meringue. First baking it, then making homemade royal icing with it, then making buttercream with it, and even making macarons with it. Even then, I stumbled along the way. The first time, I put nearly a 1/4 cup of sugar into an egg white (or two) and beat it frothy in a double boiler, so that it cooked into a meringue. Problem with that was 1) it made the sorbet far too sweet, and 2) it turned out to be too much meringue and the resulting sorbet was a tad too creamy.

That's the nice thing about failing- it opens up an opportunity to get it right. And the nice thing about the kitchen is that the failures can be analyzed. It's relatively simple to figure out what went wrong. If only that could be said about all the other failures in life.

This time, there were no strands of ginger root or bits of zest. This time, there was a mildly sweetened meringue, and just a sparing amount of it folded into the sorbet to give it some structure. A slight splash of Grey Goose for good measure. And as it all had a chance to chill together, the lemon and the ginger combined to pack a strong punch. The result was not too sweet, tart and tangy, with a killer zing of ginger.

It may seem awfully dull. After the letter I'd received earlier this week, that filled my head with confusion and questions with no answers, that had made one particular failure a burning cloak that I could not seem to shed, it was just the dullness I craved. Outpatient urgent care clinic, which sometimes drives me bonkers with its banality, was a welcome opportunity to diagnose a man with a viral respiratory infection, a tired housewife with muscle cramps of her calves caused by chasing her children all day, and a woman with high sugars because she wasn't taking her prescribed insulin. I needed simple problems, codes I could crack. Usually, I revel in the more complicated. But this week, I just needed to fix things.

And the sorbet came out just as I had hoped it would.

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