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on the downward side of the age mountain.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

For Once in Your Life

The first wild mushrooms I encountered were dried porcini’s in a cooking class. We made veal scaloppini with a reduced cream porcini sauce. It was ridiculously easy to make. Pour the cream in a pot. Re-constitute the mushrooms in Madeira strain chop add to the cream and reduce by half. I then graduated to dried morels. Now, living in the Pacific Northwest I have moved up to fresh porcini’s, morels, and recently matsutakes (which are to the Japanese what truffles are to the French).

Truffles have always lingered in the deep recesses of my mind. They were the imaginary ghosts of the fungi world. Expensive, short season and not found in your basic A&P. Any impassioned food person had to try them and love them. It was required. But truffles eluded me. It wasn’t until I started to circle expensive food items that I finally “got” truffles. As with champagne and caviar, truffles are acquired. You have to slow down and turn yourself over to the experience itself. This isn’t pork barbecue the hits you between the eyes and you are bowled over into a lusty culinary orgasm. Some of the classic preparations are only sensory vehicles to turn on your mouth. Risotto, soft scrambled eggs glide the truffle taste around your tongue. A shaving here a shaving there, it’s all about awakening your taste buds to the heady aroma of this delicacy. Close your eyes and give way to the taste.

Champagne for me is all about the size of the bubbles, how fast they race to the top of the glass and their effervescent feel as they explode in my mouth. Using the perfect glass for the bubbles to race up and most importantly the right way of opening the bottle adds to the champagne experience. None of this flamboyant twisting of the cork so the champagne explodes all over you or is soaked up in a towel. Just a very slight twist of the cork to loosen it and then it is all bottle action. Holding the cork perfectly still with one hand and a thumb in the bottom well and fingers gripping the bottle at the other end it is twist, twist, twist until there is a slight “puff” sound as if a woman has taken an intake of breath when she has seen something particularly beautiful. And with that, the champagne is poured into chilled glasses and drunk. If a toast is to be made clink the glass at the bottom where there is liquid not at the top where there is a greater chance of chipping the glass.

Caviar? Those plump tapioca shaped orbs, when pushed by the tongue to the roof of the mouth are all about squish and a delicate hint of fish and saltwater taste. It is a perfect two dimensional taste that isn’t about gorging into bliss but about a very sexy eating experience. The whole ritual can be charged with accoutrement's. Caviar on ice, mother of pearl spoons, little blini’s and cream cheese to transport those vessels of taste. These vehicles melt away once a dollop of caviar hits the roof your mouth.

What do these three delicacies have in common? You can’t make a whole meal of the single item, you will go seriously into debt to satisfy your habit, and halfway to Debtors prison with mouth gorged in sensory delight you will realize there is nothing better in the world and you have experienced perfection.

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