Happy Spring! Up here in Lake Snowbegone, it was 7 degrees at 6 am when K. left the house. Some spring morning...
I was happily cuddled up under the covers with a bowl of oatmeal and a hot cup of coffee when she came back at 7:30am to resume the sleep that was so rudely truncated by the alarm some two hours before.
But there are red-and-yellow tulips in the blue marble vase on the kitchen table and salmon and asparagus in the fridge, so that's a couple of sure-fire signs of spring, at least. Two loaves of whole wheat/cornmeal bread are in the oven, too, courtesy of a fifty-cent copy of Beard on Bread that I picked up at the library's Book and Cookie Sale a couple of weeks ago, along with a mixed dozen of very tasty homemade sweets--molasses cookies, chocolate-chocolate chip, toll house, lemon shortbread, snickerdoodles, a tiny pecan tart. There were chocolate-chip cookies dyed green, too, but that was too freaky for me, even with St. Patrick's Day around the corner.
Just last week, it was really looking like spring. The thermometer was up, the snow was receding, pink Peeps and green asparagus were on display. My old San Fran pal Queen Christina (aka the Red Meat Ranger, for all you old-school Bay Guardian fans) called to say that she was a mere 8 hours south, brushing up on her Sanskrit down the shore in pretty Spring Lake, NJ. Well, that's all the invitation I needed. With a couple pairs of socks, a toothbrush, and the little half-knitted toddler hat that I've trying to finish for the past 8 months stuffed into my backpack, I jumped on a bus to NYC and then a train to Jersey.
Robins were strutting across the lawns of the big Victorians with their wrap-around porches, and whorls of tulip leaves were prodding up through the black earth. We headed towards the beach and then met our downfall in Linger. Now, when it comes to lingerie, QC stands firmly in the matching-set camp, while my quest leans more towards something--anything!-- fabulous sans underwire, the invention of the devil. And after many, many try-ons and entertaining chat with Robin, the owner, we both found scanties to make ourselves look gorgeous.
Later, we drove to Edison with Goda, one of QC's classmates, and several of the other students. This town has become the Jackson Heights of central Jersey. The strip malls are packed with subcontinental supermarkets, restaurants, DVD and music shops, and jewelry and sari stores. With Goda as our guide, we cruised through a Pathmark-sized store stocked with huge bags of rice, boxes of ground pomegranate powder, dozens of spicy-salty-sweet snacks, and wonderful produce, from thumb-sized fresh turmeric rhizomes and green mangoes to eggplants the size of marbles, stalks of fresh sugarcane, and four kinds of fresh ginger. Having worked up an appetite, we slid into a booth at the busy Saravanaa Bhavan for fluffy idli in sambar and arm-long dosas. (More details to follow).
The next morning, I found myself rooting through the rented-house cabinets for something to bake. But while there was sugar, steak sauce and many, many batteries, there was no flour to be had. But there was a half-used box of Cafe du Monde beignet mix, the sort of thing that, like a Nora Roberts novel, can linger for years in a summer house cabinet. Next to the beignet mix, just enough vegetable oil for deep-frying. Voila! Beignets for the masses! As I was pouring water in the mix, QC pulled a couple of apples out of the fridge. Could we add these to the beignets, she wondered. (Did I mention how healthy she is these days? All vegetarian and stuff, corned beef hash--more on this later--notwithstanding.)
Well, no. We couldn't put apples into the beignets, but we could put the beignets around the apples, by turning the beignet dough into fritter batter. What a hit! The plain beignets were cute but rather spongy and bland, especially once the fresh-fried heat had faded. But the apple fritters were fantastic, and so easy.
How to do this, should you have your own half-used box of beignet mix:
Throw the mix (about a cup's worth) into a big bowl. Add a tablespoon of sugar and 1/4 tsp of cinnamon (more or less to taste). Add enough water to make a very gloppy batter. Core apple (no need to peel) and divide into wedges, approx. 3/4" thick. Over medium heat, heat about 2" inches of vegetable oil in a medium-sized saucepan, until a bit of batter sizzles when dropped in, sinking to the bottom and then rising quickly. Line a plate with several layers of paper towels for draining the finished fritters. In a shallow bowl, stir 1/2 cup of granulated sugar with cinnamon to taste.
Now, dip the apple slices into the batter. Some of the batter will coat the apple, some will run off in a gloppy mess. Don't stress! Just try to keep a reasonable amount of batter on the apple. Drop each slice into the oil after dipping. With a slotted spoon, flip the slices over once they are golden on one side. Scoop out as soon as they are golden brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels, then quickly roll through the cinnamon sugar (the residual oil on the outside will help the cinnamon sugar to stick). Put on a plate and continue frying until you have as many fritters as you can eat. If the oil gets too hot and the fritters start scorching, turn it off for a couple minutes, then reheat and continue. Use the fan/vent over your stove if you have one, so your house doesn't smell like a Krispy Kreme for hours afterwards.
A big hit with any Sanskritini you might find in your kitchen at 8AM!
To Come: A Huge Storm Arrives! QC teaches PQ How to Crochet. We Find Sublime Corned Beef in Belmar, Then Suffer the Slings and Arrows of the Mean Yarn Lady. All this, and Mango Ginger Lassis, Too!
But in case you were wondering just what this whole equinox thing is, anyway, it's all explained in this poetic little science article. As Natalie Angier writes about this year's March-20-or-March-21 confusion,
"Whatever the date, go on and celebrate, for the vernal equinox is a momentous poem among moments, overspilling its borders like the swelling of sunlight it heralds."