Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Eton Mess

I hadn't had a perfect moment yet, and it's very important for me to have perfect moments in exotic countries like that you know? I always have to have them because it gives you a good sense of closure, you know, kind of lets you know when it's time to go home. And you never know where you're going to have a perfect moment, and you never know when you're going to have one. It's sort of like falling in love...with yourself, said Spalding Gray in the beginning of his monologue, "Swimming to Cambodia."
As it turns out, finding perfect moments is one of my specialties, especially during the summer when fate is more flexible. I've had a few that I can remember that materialized out of days when we packed everything we possibly could into an absurd amount of time. Luckily I am composed of the ones I don't remember consciously. The first perfect moment I had after I started realizing that they were happening was July 17th, 2009. It was the day before I going to leave for nerd camp at the university I am now attending to study neuroscience for a month.
With the prospect of dissecting sheep brains all summer fresh in my mind (although that turned out to be quite entertaining), I was determined to fit everything perfect into one day. So my father and I set out  on our quest, beginning at Marlow and Sons where we had some sort of pastries and ate them outside watching the trains rumble over the bridge. We made our way to Chelsea where we went to the market and discovered a warehouse that has sample sales where everything is marked down to within an inch of its life and then went to Greenpoint where we procured cannolis from Fortunato Brothers...the second best west of Italy.
We ate our cannolis on the grass field behind the Old Stone House in Park Slope where my old drama teacher, John McEneny, was putting on a production of "Hamlet" with his company, Piper Theatre. The sun set halfway through the already spectacular play and Hamlet climbed a ladder to deliver his monologue. The moon was a waxing crescent and appeared to be a prop hung specifically for that night. Tears streamed down Hamlet's face, a little more impressive than stage emotions usually were, and he spoke the words into the night air. When the play came to a close, the actor announced through more tears that his dramatic mentor had died that night just moments before the play and he dedicated the performance to him. That day was a perfect moment. 
Look I had a vision of myself by now as a kind of wandering bachelor, mendicant poet, wandering all the way down the beaches of Malaysia, eating magic mushrooms all the way as I went, until I reached Bali and evaporated in a state of ecstasy in the sunset...I realized I was out a little further and a little further until I was out further than I had ever been in any ocean, in any world, anywhere. I had never seen the shore from that point of view before. Suddenly there was no time and there was no fear, and there was no body to bite...I was also sad because I knew I'd had a perfect moment, and I would now have to go home, Spalding said halfway through his monologue.
The weekend of June 23 of this year, I had a series of perfect moments with my mother. Our two days together were unplanned but we ended up going to a roller disco together where she filmed me skating on my quads for the first time in an asphalt cul-de-sac for two hours in the hot June night. Efficiency isn't usually a goal when trying to initiate a perfect moment, but we happened to be very efficient that weekend, which allowed us to have more time together and more opportunity for the perfect moment to strike. We had belgian wafels from the wafels and dinges truck and ate them on the stoop while the nutella melted and afternoon approached, just talking. And after finding some dresses together at a second hand clothing shop, we had Lebanese food and again just sat for a long time talking over lentil soup, mint lemonade and semolina cake. 
Of course it's sad, like Spalding said, to have a perfect moment, because even in the moment you know it has an obligatory ending. It makes them bittersweet, but certainly does not decrease the levels of joy, nostalgia or adventure that they create. I'll write more on this in my next post, but I recently (July 1, 2012) had a perfect moment in the south of England, standing on the edge of a cliff I knew I would never be able to stand on again because of fear, looking down at turquoise waters cloaked in Cornish legends and an odd deja vu feeling that I couldn't quite shake.
But perfect moments require a lot of different elements to converge at once, coupled with timing, mood, and someone to know they're happening. It's a perfect storm of moments and so you can go years without seeing one. But Spalding had a solution to this. He said, After all, maybe Thailand would be the right place to have a perfect moment. I had heard that the next location was Phuket, where they had a lot of magic mushrooms, so if I didn't have an organic perfect moment, I could always induce one.
For practical and legal reasons, I recommend Eton Mess if you're in the habit of inducing perfect moments. I first discovered it at a restaurant in Shoreditch, a neighborhood in the east end of London and I am not ashamed to say that I ordered the dish with a bit of trepidation. Comforted by the wonderfully British name and armed with a confident recommendation from our waiter, I tasted it and proceeded to scrape any remnants off of my plate with my fork. Talk about a perfect storm of elements. Eton Mess is composed of meringue, cream and strawberries layered bottom to top in that order. It sounds a bit over the top at first, but the meringue cookies perfect the trusted strawberries and cream combination in a way that you cannot imagine until you have it. It also happens to be quite simple to make. The meringue takes about an hour to bake and ten minutes to prepare. Whip three egg whites until they have soft peaks and then gradually add 3/4 cup of sugar, a dash of vanilla extract, and if you want 1/4 tsp cream of tartar. 
Beat this on the highest speed until the peaks are stiff and can hold there own shape indefinitely. Dole the cookies out with a spoon on parchment paper clad cookie tins and put them in the oven at 250 F for 1 hour. In the meantime, you can chop the strawberries. When you are close to consuming your perfect moment, pour heavy cream into a bowl with just a tablespoon or so of confectioner's sugar and beat until you have whipped cream consistency. Arrange the dessert on individual plates (leave cream, strawberries, and meringue in separate containers for later consumption) and serve. As a side note, the first time I decided to make Eton Mess after returning home from London, I decided to watch "Swimming to Cambodia" for the first time.

1 comment:

  1. The flavors and textures are true perfection. Nika is correct when she writes you cannot imagine the combination until you have it. It's magical...on that note, there is still some left over. Off to have my share. Hope you enjoy yours!