Friday, September 24, 2010

NECTARINE CRISP

EATING MY WORDS


I spend my days at the computer click-clacking across the keyboard, playing. You see, since I began my blog I have fallen in love with writing. Oh, I have always loved words, sentences, ideas, searching them out, chasing them, grabbing them as if they were butterflies and I was romping across fragrant, wind-tousled fields, butterfly net in hand. I have always been a great reader, spending most of my childhood, youth, adulthood curled up with a book. I love a great plot, fascinating characters, but not only. Mastery of language is a rare skill; making words dance in the reader’s head like music is a treasure rarely found. Many aspire to greatness, so few achieve it. But when they do, it is exceptional, stunning! Placing word after word, just the right ones in just the right order, is magic and I have read such stories that simply the words chosen, the ideas created, the mastery of the language has taken my breath away. I must close the book, lay it gently beside me, shut my eyes and catch my breath as I savor the beauty.


Yet I never wrote. Oh, don’t think that I didn’t try! Grade school reports, high school assignments, university creative writing classes, diary, stories, yes, I’ve tried. Many times. But it was always a chore. Should writing really be this difficult, I wondered? I didn’t think so. I saw others around me churn out poems and stories, letters and papers as easily and quickly as I can push soft mounds of dough off of a spoon onto a cookie sheet, creating something tender, warm and scrumptious or tart, crispy and intriguing. “Ah,” I decided, “it is obviously genetic!” and I thought that I had come to some grand truth! “One must be born with the talent, like my brother was born with the talent to draw or my sister to make straight A’s.” So be it. Yet something was churning inside of me, something aching to get out.

Yet that creative writing class was an eye-opener. Each assigned subject, each time limit was a laborious struggle, a mind-achingly stressful task. But once I closed my eyes, slid into the body of a character and was able to capture in black and white every movement, the feel of a breeze on my skin, the smoothness of velvet as it brushed against my cheek, the brash odor of cigarette smoke in a roomful of men in fedoras, the vibrations of jazz music as they shimmied up from the floor through my body, each time I could dig down into my soul and pull up the perfect words, create the perfect sentence to describe each sensation, each sound, each scent as I experienced it in my own private inner world, I felt something indescribably satisfying, a feeling palpable and luxurious, temporarily slaking the thirst pulsing through me. But sadly I imagined that this effort should be no effort at all, that I simply was not a born writer. So I stopped.

And then I began my blog. The day my husband finally conceded that food was the driving force in my life, that my obsession was not to be controlled by anyone or anything, I knew that I had finally found my inspiration, my purpose, my goal. And I sat down in front of our computer and, well, started writing. And I’ve never looked back.


Food may be my obsession but writing, as I soon discovered, is my passion. With meals as a starting point, I take off, swimming through a sea of smells and sounds and sensations, flying through a world of tastes and textures, butting up and bouncing off of memories and images. I sit in what has become my office, my work space, and plunge into my private universe of words, a clean, white page my playground, adjectives and verbs my toys, description the music that gets me moving. Coaxing out just the right description, the right word, the right mixture and balance as I line them up one after the other is like caressing a secret out of a friend, teasing a smile out of a sourpuss. The page gets splattered with a smattering of words, lists of them, then slowly, carefully, the words, fragments of sentences, bits and pieces of thoughts get moved around, pushed up and down the page, paragraphs erased and replaced with others, and on and so forth until the magic happens, until that EUREKA! moment and every single detail has fallen into place. It is a vibrant, active endeavor and it is not always easy. No, I have learned that this is indeed a task, a job, and I often feel like Jackson Pollack standing over a tremendous canvas splattering paint this way and that in a seemingly incoherent, random way when in fact it is a well-thought out on-going process that takes hours, days or even sometimes weeks while the work unfolds. No, not one part of the process can be rushed and there are entire days when I spend more time pacing the floors, tugging at my hair in frustration, fixing myself snacks, talking aloud to myself than actually writing. But when it works, when the words flow, when the process has been a success, the result is so utterly satisfying, so incredibly exhilarating that all the stress, frustration and work are not only worth the effort but completely forgotten. I may never achieve that greatness that I so admire, but I certainly do have fun trying.


And so, with Mr. Roget’s Thesaurus within easy reach, my small stack of dictionaries close at hand, I pull my chair up to the table, flip open the laptop and click onto a clean, white page.

It saddens me to watch as the end of the summer stone fruit season draws closer because this has been the most amazing season I have experienced in years! I buy crisp brown bags of peaches, nectarines and plums four at a time, going back a day or two later for more. Cherries are long gone and now each day that I slip off to the market I see the autumn fruit, the tumbles of grapes in translucent, pale green and deep bluish purple, nearly black, figs and early apples gradually taking over the space so recently reserved for the pyramids of summer’s favorites. I have used the fruit to make cobblers and crumbles, cakes and even savory dishes, and I am being as insistent as I possibly can in enjoying them until the last single, lonely crate of peaches, nectarines or plums gets carried away.


A wonderful dessert, this Nectarine Crisp is a perfect layer of summer’s sweet, tender fruit, nectarines or peaches, cooked down to be wrapped in her thick, rich syrup with just that perfect hint of Amaretto, blanketed by a cinnamon-kissed crispy, streusel-like topping laced with the crunch of slivered almonds. Serve it warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream or freshly, barely-sweetened whipped cream.

NECTARINE CRISP

8 just-ripe nectarines (or peaches)
2 Tbs Amaretto
¾ cup (90 g) flour
½ cup (110 g) packed light brown sugar
½ cup (110 g) packed dark brown sugar
½ to 1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
½ cup (8 Tbs, 115 g) unsalted butter
½ cup slivered almonds

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Gently peel the nectarines if you like. Cut each fruit in half and cut into chunks. Put the chunks of fruit in a 1-quart (1-litre) baking dish. Sprinkle on the Amaretto, toss and set aside while you prepare the topping.


Stir together the flour, two sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a medium-sized bowl, breaking up any lumps. Cube the butter and toss the cubes in the dry ingredients to coat and separate. Then, using only your fingertips and working very quickly, rub the dry ingredients and the butter together until the mixture resembles damp sand and there are no more pieces of butter visible. Toss in the almonds until evenly distributed. Sprinkle this mixture thickly and evenly over the fruit in the baking dish all the way out to the edges.


Cover with a sheet of aluminum foil and bake for ½ hour then uncover and bake for an additional ½ hour. The top should be crisp – thus a “Crisp” – and the fruit syrup should be bubbling all around the edges.


Eat warm with ice cream or whipped cream. This is still wonderful with a crispy top for a day or two, even refrigerated.

47 comments:

MeetaK said...

having a way with words come easy to some - and you have a wonderful eloquent style. writing has always been my secret passion - you know - and whenever i come here i am sure that you will be whisking me away to a place where i will be inspired to have a way with my words.

i too am holding on to the last of summer's fruit and finding it hard to let go. the crisp looks fabulous

Jamie said...

@MeetaK - you know that your words have that same effect on me and so inspire me to push myself, dream, feel, think. xo

Jenn said...

Wonderful post and beautiful crisp! I love how food has been a starting point for me as well. I never really thought of myself as a writer and maybe I still don't - a scientist at heart, incorporating art form into writing does not come easily (or even with difficulty sometimes) to me. But food blogging has taught me that I can enjoy writing, and it has awakened my own passion - photography. I don't think I'd ever have known how light filtering into a lens can be an extension of myself and the beauty I see in the world if I hadn't started with my humble food blog.

Jamie said...

@Jenn - that's such a beautiful way of putting it! An extension of yourself! Yes, I feel that! Thanks!

Juls @Juls' Kitchen said...

Inspiring! Such an inspiring post!
I recently discovered my passion for writing - thanks to my blog indeed - and everytime I face my white paper (or white Word document) I try to figure out which emotion I want to communicate, which part of myself, thorugh a recipe...
So, inspiring, once again, have I said it alteady?! :P

Jamie said...

@Juls'Kitchen - Thanks, Giulia, and you've described it exactly!

catty said...

I'm so glad that your blog opened up your writing - I love reading your posts! And right now I have an obsession with nectarines! What a delicious recipe!

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

What a lovely dessert! I definitely have to try that soon.
Having a blog is a wonderful outlet to write, I just wish I'd discovered it, and yours too, sooner!

Peter M said...

You have a knack for putting pen to paper your stream of thoughts without rambling!

On to the crisp....the key here is the amaretto...booze! I'll have a small bowl for fear that I may get tipsy.

Jamie said...

@PeterM - I now find myself sloshing on the Amaretto every time I make a dessert these days.

Nanette said...

Mark my words, they're be calling you the greatest food writer of our times, in no time at all!

xxx

Barbara said...

Bring on summer. I'm so looking forward to our stone fruits.

Reading is one of my greatest pleasures. I'll often reread a paragraph several times when I like the way it is written.

It is good to have a passion and writing is a wonderful passion to have Jamie.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

You are a very talented writer! since I have a blog I have also developped a love for that activity, although I'm far from being as good as you...

Yes, it is saddening to know that it is the end of the summer fruit season, but fall also offers so many delicious things! That is a gorgeous crisp!

Cheers and have a great weekend,

Rosa

Nancy @ The Sensitive Pantry said...

Words and food. Maybe a good man and a glass of wine. That's really all we need. Since I love nectarines they have never made their way into any recipes of mine--odd I know. It's just that I eat them before they can be considered for something more. This is such a simple and wonderful dessert. Love it.

Cherine said...

Great post and a wonderful dessert!!

Jamie said...

@RosaYummyYums - I absolutely love reading your post, they are wonderfully written with a dash of sly humor and they always make me smile!

sunita said...

Dear Jamie, you never cease to delight with your writings.I adore your style, it's always.

The crisp looks delish!

Sarah said...

You worded it perfectly with your analogy of Pollock. I never plop out ready made words on a page, but incubate my thoughts over time. Its still unbearably hot here and am very jealous that you feel the first hints of autumn.
Love your work!

Michele said...

Beautifully written, Jamie. I'm one of those people who is more into the words than the visuals in a blog (although a few good photos are obviously necessary) and I always look forward to sitting down and reading, really reading yours. And thinking about what you've had to say. You and a few others give the rest of us something to aspire to.

And on the food, I'm glad that you've called a crisp a crisp, and not a crumble!

Tangled Noodle said...

Your obsession (food) and your passion (writing) complement each other as a scoop of vanilla ice cream tops a bowl of this scrumptious crisp, warm from the oven! I, too, love cooking (well, eating really) and writing, though both do not come to me as naturally or with the kind of ease I see in others. But trying to reach that state is such an enjoyable and satisfying journey!

Jamie said...

@Michele! Wow I am so touched and honored you feel that way about my work! This motivates me! Yay! And this IS a crisp Ha Ha Ha!

Jamie said...

@Tangled Noodle - Absolutely! I've learned that depending on the kind of writing, it really is work for everyone. It's the passion that makes it easy!

Nina Timm said...

Jeanne said at our conference last year, you are either a good cook who has to write or you are a great writer who loves to cook. You clearly fall in the last category and it is reflected in how well you do it.
As for this delightful dessert....I still have lots to do at my computer, but if I get up, I will go and find a dessert, this is making me hungry for something sweet!!!

Sally said...

You are so right - you have to find the passion that makes the words flow. Lovely imagery in words and pictures.

Cathy said...

Your posts are always a joy to read, Jamie. And this nectarine recipe is irresistible. I love all those sweet juices bubbling around the edge of the topping. It just calls out for a scoop of vanilla.

Sara said...

I love your style of writing, suddenly I become Nostalgic after reading your posts! Love the Nectarine crisp!!!

Jeanne @ CookSister! said...

A great post Jamie. It's true that people think you are born a writer or born an artist or whatever, but even with natural talent, creative endeavours require HARD WORK! For me, that blank page has never been a problem as I spend pretty much the entire day constructing sentences and poems and paragraphs to put on it as soon as I get home. For me the work comes in shaping the raw materials into something fit for public consumption!! Love the crisp (or crips, as we discussed, LOL!) - I made a nectarine crisp a couple of years ago that was just such a fabulous showcase of the fruit. Farewell summer :(

Jamie said...

@Jeanne @ Cooksister! - You keep on inspiring me and I've learned so much from you! In a lot of ways you and I think alike in the sense that as our life happens words pass in front of our eyes, through our brains. And me got me some crips, baby!

Asha @ FSK said...

hard to believe that YOU find writing a chore!!! words flow so eloquently from you that it seems but a natural unbidden flow of passion....Love reading your stories and love that whenever I come here I get a piece of wonderful prose to savor along with a luscious bite

Greekfoodlover said...

That looks easy and yummy and your writing flows like a wonderful poem!

Mary said...

I always love the places your words take me. To have a serving of that delightful crisp as I read them would get my day off to a perfect start. Blessings...Mary

lisaiscooking said...

I was just complaining about how stone fruit season is almost over! Your crunchy almond topped crisp looks divine.

Jennifurla said...

Lovely post and your pictures are so subtle and gorgeous

SMITH BITES said...

Oh Jamie ~ I do love you so! This post is so near and dear to my heart as I too aspire to be a writer, a real storyteller but I have yet to master the skill. To strings words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into a story is my dream; to touch people at their core, to tell a good story or to give a reader something to ponder, to chew on, to wonder about . . . oh that is such a gift. And you have that gift in spades!

But my favorite part about coming to this blog is this: you inspire me to stretch, to keep practicing, to reach for what seems impossible. I hear you in my ear when I sit down to write even though I'm in Indiana and you're in France - you are cheering me on and encouraging me to do my best!

Our markets have moved on to apples and pears so summer is officially gone. But my, oh my, the addition of amaretto to this beautiful crisp has me longing for next summer already!

Deeba PAB said...

You, my dear, were born to write and bake, and bake and write... and cook and feed ... etc! Your style is yours alone, you very talented sistah of mine! I ♥ it so, and I walk with you as you write. That's the beauty of your words! I want some crisp now, if you don't mind, coz we have no stone fruit left here & I love what you made! xoxoxo

El said...

You definitely found your place with food writing. I love reading your blog. And this recipe looks sensational too!

elra said...

Sounds scrumptious Jaime. Crisp is always give such a comforting feeling.

Barbara Bakes said...

Now I'm missing the summer fruits as well! Fruit crisp is one of my favorite desserts. Love the addition of almonds. So a Thesaurus is your secret!

Joy said...

Jamie, whenever I need a mini-vacation at my computer desk, guess whose site I turn to? Yours. I always love reading your work because you take me to places. You are that kind of writer, and I truly admire that. I've always loved writing, but my goodness, how I want to write like you. I've written way to many scientific and technical papers to let go of that rigidity. Haha. But someday, someday! For now, I tread on, practice and practice.

Now please, shall we meet up for coffee or tea and let's share that nectarine crisp?

Hope you're having a nice weekend, hun.

Jamie said...

@Smith Bites & @Joy - Lovely, lovely friends. Tears well up in my eyes. I am stunned that I can have such an impact! It is friends and readers like you that make me sit up a little straighter in front of my computer, smile and make that much more of an effort - and friends like you that keep me going. Love you both!

@Barbara Bakes - (he he he) I am having an affair with Mr. Roget. He drives me wild!

5 Star Foodie said...

You are definitely an amazing writer! Loving this nectarine crisp - and the addition of Amaretto!

Heavenly Housewife said...

What a delicious way of celebrating the end of summer. I'd love to tuck into this beauty!
*kisses* HH

Beth said...

I love fruit crisps as much as I love to write. Great post!

sanjeeta kk said...

Lovely crisp! Beautiful read, love the flow of words, made me nostalgic. You filled colors to the so called tech world of blogging. Best wishes.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Great post Jamie! I've always like words better than numbers and yet like you didn't write much until now. And look where your writing has taken you! :D

OysterCulture said...

I'm so happy you developed this obsession and have shared your words and experiences with us, and not least all these wonderful recipes Thank you for this gift.

asiangrrl said...

It surprises me, Jamie, that you struggled so with writing because I find your blog entries to be beautifully written. I am glad you found your voice and your passion. You wear it well.

Oh, and the nectarine crisp looks so delicious.

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