Saturday, March 6, 2010

My world is small, but my kitchen is big

This is how I know I’m crazy, if crazy can be defined as thinking about desserts every waking minute. You see, this is the story I wasn’t supposed to post. Explanation: for most of January and February, I’ve cranked out ice cream and cookies and all manner of sweets for the Salon Kitchen Challenge. After last week’s entry of Baked Alaska with Roasted Banana Coconut Ice Cream and Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee Ganache, I thought I’d lost my mind. It was something that popped into my brain the previous Wednesday and, like an earwig, just wouldn’t let go until I finished the story Sunday night. The challenge has transformed me into the Sweet Tooth Fairy, who dreams in ganache and meringue.

After hitting “publish” in last week’s Frozen Treats challenge, I’d had enough. Please, oh, please, I telepathically conveyed to Francis Lam, please choose a green vegetable for the next challenge. And I think my Carrie-like telekinetic powers must really work because this week’s challenge is a vegetable that is sometimes green, beans, specifically soups and stews that include beans. When the challenge was announced Tuesday, my first thought was green bean soup, which I make mostly for myself from the weekly CSA box bounty. I’d been thinking about the soup for awhile, in anticipation of spring. Make it vegetarian, put some Cheddar crackers alongside, a change of pace from the hearty fare that was sure to be submitted. I even had the longing-for-spring headnote already composed. Done deal.

And then Linda Shiue sent me a message through Open Salon. Linda is one of my first OS friends and I look forward each week to her stories about food, travel and medicine. I’m amazed that she accomplishes so much so well - she’s a physician, mommy, writer, cook. Linda and I trade messages each week wishing each other luck in the SKC. She says it with style - bonne chance. I wish her the same. When the winner and runners-up are announced on Tuesdays, we trade comments and messages and act like we have no clue what we’re turning out for the next challenge, when (I think) we know pretty much know what our stories will be.

In this message, I joked to Linda that maybe I would turn the bean soup into a dessert and she mentioned the Taiwanese treat of red bean ice cream. Well, that got the wheels of my brain turning, I’d heard of red bean ice cream, but had never tried it. How to make that into a soup? Maybe a fruit soup? What goes with red bean? Mango? Guava? Passion fruit? Bingo! Turns out there are recipes online for passion fruit soup and I took a little bit from here and little bit from there and mentally constructed my soup. Found a recipe for red bean ice cream, too. Then to the grocery store to find red bean paste and passion fruit. And I got bupkis. Three stores. No red bean paste. No passion fruit. Not wishing to expand my carbon footprint any more than necessary, I thought about giving up and just submitting the green bean soup story alone. But I couldn’t turn my brain off. Then I thought about red beans and rice, and decided a riff on rice pudding might be clever and yummy. That seemed like sweet on sweet, so I added chunks of cinnamon-dusted mango. Thanks to Chow, I found a recipe for homemade red bean paste, so I bought a bag of beans and started cooking.

The result is tasty, but to be honest, but it needs some work to take it over the top. I’m not sure what red bean ice cream is supposed to taste like, but mine tastes like vanilla with pleasant little chunks of bean.

red bean ice cream and rice pudding and mango chunks

Recipe notes: the rice pudding/soup is from the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. The red bean ice cream and homemade red bean paste are from Chow.

As I hit “publish” on this, probably the only sweet entry in this week’s SKC, Red Beans and Rice with Cinnamon-Dusted Mango, I‘d like to channel the Sage of the Airwaves, the immortal Casey Kasem, and send out a long-distance dedication to Linda Shiue. Bonne chance, mon amie.

My world may be small by some folks’ standards - I live in a suburb of a sprawling metropolis. I rarely drive more than 30 minutes from my home, and that’s usually a big deal. The local supermarkets are, shall we say, somewhat lacking. I will say this - I found red curry paste and red chile paste, but no red bean paste. I didn’t find passion fruit, but I came home with carambola, kiwi, pineapple, mango and Meyer lemons. My kitchen and my imagination are huge. One of these days, I’ll taste real red bean ice cream, but I guess until then I’ll take Casey’s advice, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”

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