A Season of Voluptuousness

“Somewhere between the putative training in self-control and the unflagging discipline against wild cravings lie the sensual and voluptuous gastronomic favorites of a lifetime,
the nostalgic yearning for flavors once
met in early days…” 

–M.F.K.  Fisher, “Once a Tramp, Always…”

“Be not afraid of [the] body.” 

–Walt Whitman
It’s the season of indulgence. The dark time of year when we comfort ourselves by stringing tiny white lights and drinking too much bubbly.  Anything to keep the darkness at bay.  It’s for this reason that this time of year makes me think of memorable food– “the sensual and voluptuous favorites of a lifetime”—meals whose flavors and textures I can still taste and touch.    

When the wind roars against the cabin walls and the holiday lights clang in the bare aspen limbs outside my window like the ghost of Christmas past, I close my eyes and think of thickly salted and crispy potato chips melting with blue cheese.  My sister was trying to cheer me up after one of life’s bigger disasters (my house burned to the ground) and we had gone to Brasserie Ten Ten, a French bistro in Boulder, for dinner.  We’d ordered the chips because  they seemed so whimsical and decadent.  When the plate of perfectly fried curled and golden thins arrived, everything else was forgotten except the creaminess of the blue cheese on the crunchy chips.  We drank white wine and devoured the plate. 
And while I’m waxing poetic about the potato, which to my mind is almost a perfect food-…. (Just think of the calming, fat-induced pleasure of mashed potatoes or satisfying contrast of crisp and light found in French fries.) Another beautiful memory involves an inexpensive bottle of Cava and McDonald’s French fries. The city-dwelling boyfriend and I had a date for the opera, but I had to work late and there was only time to change into opera appropriate clothes before we were off.  I’d brought the bottle of bubbly and some plastic cups, so we swung by the drive through on the way down town.  Thirty minutes to curtain, we sat in the parking garage in our finest and dined on two large red boxes of  perfectly salted and crispy fries, exchanging Cava-laced kisses.  Turns out sparkling wine and French fries is a perfect combination.  The fizziness of the wine lightens any trace of potatoey heaviness, while the salt makes the bubbly pop. 
Another indulgence is bordelaise, a journey all its own. The sauce requires patience to build flavors and achieve its voluptuous burgundy translucence on the plate. Work too quickly or with a hurried hand and the sauce will be muddy looking and the flavors under-ripe. When I decide to make bordelaise, I put on Beethoven–big rich music–and calmly begin the process of “sweating” meat, while chopping shallots.  By the time I’ve reduced the sauce twice, using both beef stock and a bottle of good red wine, and mounted it with demi-glace, an hour and a half has gone by, but my mind is calm and focused, and the noisiness of the world has fallen away.  And the result is worth every minute of my attention. The first time I made bordelaise, I served it with lamb chops and creamy polenta for a celebration dinner. The sauce, with its deep, meaty undertones bridged the two main components of the dish effortlessly and  I kept running my fork between the grilled chop and the polenta, picking up the sauce in between.  Each bite was perfect and satisfying.
Karen’s Mini Moon Pie Cookies
I suppose I’d be remiss in my gastronomic memory if I didn’t mention chocolate.  While there are any number of chocolate memories—mousse, my first Buche de Noel or chocolate souffle, or the sublime and heavenly light triple chocolate cake I ate with a twenty year old tawny port—the most memorable indulgence was a simple one.  It was a warm fall day, and the city-dwelling boyfriend and I were picnicking by the peeper pond behind my house.  We’d eaten Maytag blue wrapped salami, and herbed goat cheese and marinated artichokes spread on French bread, along with strawberries and grapes.  The sun was hot, and I wrote, dozing a bit while Greg painted an image of the place where the blue blue sky met  gold-leaved aspens.

Absent-mindedly, I put a piece of good dark chocolate in my mouth, letting it melt, and then I rolled over and lazily pulled Greg to me. Surprise blossomed into delight as the chocolate–of its own mind–made a number of saucy promises. That kiss lingers with me still. 

Wishing you a season of sensuality and voluptuousness, of light among the dark days, and of good meals and more memories waiting to be made.

Happy Holidays!
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