Writing this post has proven harder than writing any other post so far. It is not more personal than the rest. It may just be something I have not yet made peace with. My age. Two weeks ago I turned 30. I wanted to write this post the day after my birthday. I could not bring myself. Instead, I wrote nothing that Wednesday. I had made the recipe, I had the pictures, I just could not write it. I am 30 and I was not ready to be 30. There. Phew.
The day came, it went, and truly not much changed. I still got carded occasionally when I ordered a drink- a compliment. I still fit in the same clothes I fit into the day before and still have the same cravings, the same mood swings, the same wrinkles under my eyes. No overnight change occurred, of course. No, I did not think it would. It is not a calamity - I understand that. I just was just not ready.
I almost made a list of things I have done, haven't done, will never do, might consider doing, etc. Then I contained myself. There's lot behind me, good and bad, that has made me who I am. The most important thing has been the constant learning, the continuous challenges. Cooking falls right in there. I have enjoyed more than ever the process of cooking, of building flavors, slowly, never rushing, always doing it right, never skipping a step. I have enjoyed this so much that my mother took one look at this little tomato salad I threw together and exclaimed that it is borderline indecent. I admit, I did not expect that. Indecent? Of all things?
At the ripe age of 30, the indecency I engage in is on a little salad plate topped with a French Laundry summer tomato salad. An indecent tomato salad! I made it again, for my birthday -- as much as I wanted to deny the existence of the birthday.
A year ago, I was deprived of a birthday wish. I found myself obligated to use it on the results of the bar exam. I couldn't wish for anything aside passing the bar exam. I felt robbed. This year I had a wish- and wished it wasn't my birthday yet. Thankfully I passed the bar; unthankfully, it was still my birthday.
So I had to come up with a different wish. A big important wish that a 30 year old should make. I still want to make mistakes, only new ones. I still want to love fearlessly even if I'll get hurt. I still want to be able to give and not expect anything back. But this year, I suppose, I want to learn- to be more flexible, more kind, and more forgiving to myself. And to make grotesquely indecent meals!
Indecent Tomato Salad, a French Laundry recipe
Ingredients: 1 cup packed basil leaves, 1/4 cup olive oil.
Bring a pot of water to a high boil. Place the basil leaves in a strainer and dunk the strainer (without letting the leaves escape it) in the high boiling water for 10 seconds. Seriously, count the 15 hippopotamuses, and promptly plunge in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Place basil and oil in a blender and blend until very smooth. Place the mixture in a strainer lined with a coffee filter and allow it to drain without touching it- messing around with it will make the oil cloudy. Store the oil in a small squeeze bottle ($1.40 at Sur la Table) in the fridge for up to 2 days. After that it loses some of its brightness but I admit, I kept it longer and it was still delicious.
Ingredients: 1 lbs tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped into 1 inch pieces; 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar; 1/4 cup olive oil; salt and pepper to taste.
Squeeze any excess liquid out of the chopped tomatoes. The less liquid, the silkier it gets. Place the tomatoes in the blender with the rest of the ingredients and blend well. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. I strained twice, but that is not necessary. You can refrigerate, but be sure to allow the coulis to return to room temperature before serving.
Ingredients: 6 brioche slices.
Cut them up into pieces 2 inch round and 1/2 inch thick- no crust. Then toast in the oven until golden brown.
Cherry Tomato Castle (*smile)
Ingredients: 4-5 dozen mixed cherry tomatoes
All you need to do is flash boil these, dunk in an ice bath and peel them. It is so tedious even I thought it was ridiculous. Before serving, toss with a little salt and olive oil.
Ingredients: 2 1/4 lbs tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped into 1 inch pieces; 1 tablespoon canola oil; 1/3 cup finely chopped onion; 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar; pinch of cayenne; 3/4 cup simple syrup; zest of 1/2 orange julienned and chopped, boiled twice.
Simmer the tomatoes for 45 minutes or until they reduce by half. Add the oil to a skillet and place over medium heat. Cook the onions for 8-10 minutes or until tender. Place the reduced tomatoes and cooked onions into a blender and blend until smooth. Press it through a fine sieve or tamis. Return to the blender and add the remaining ingredients. Strain again and place in the ice cream maker.
Ingredients: 2 tablespoons flour; 1 tablespoon sugar; 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt; 2 tablespoons butter, very slightly softened; half egg (probably the tricker part- eye ball it!); 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh garlic, almost into a paste; 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano- Reggiano.
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. In one bowl, mix flour, sugar, and salt. In another bowl, cream the butter until smooth. Beat the egg into the dry ingredients. Whisk the butter in a little at a time. Add garlic and Parm and mix until smooth and silky. Place a Silpat on an cookie sheet and start spreading the batter into 2 1/2 inch rounds leaving about 1 inch in between them. Perfect rounds are not mandatory. Bake until brown and crisp- about 10 minutes. These are the tastiest little snack!
To assemble: draw a circle with the basil oil on your plate of choice about 4 inches in diameter. Don't worry if it is not perfect- it will shape up. Place a couple of tablespoons of tomato coulis inside the basil oil circle. Center a brioche crouton in the center of the coulis and build two small layers of cherry tomatoes on top of it. Top with a pretty tomato sorbet quenelle and a garlic tuile and voila- the indecency! It is outrageously delicious, even my mom agreed.
Be kind to yourself and get as indecent as you can.
Photography by Jennifer Olson.