For a variety of reasons too personal and too mundane to relate, I have had a harder time this year summoning up any holiday spirit. I’m not quite bah-humbugging, but I’ve been decidedly meh about the post-Halloween happenings, and I’m actively participating this time in His Lordship’s annual anti-giftgiving and no-carols grinchery.
That said, something, however limited, did finally awaken over the weekend, because I stayed up on Saturday night turning the overpriced and underwhelming quinces I bought at Thanksgiving into jam, complete with sterilized jars and heat-sealing. I also brought our one box of holiday decorations up from the basement and threw together a minimalist arrangement of blue, silver and white ornaments in our front window, and filled a few vases and bowls full of the remaining ornaments and scattered them around the house.
I can probably attribute it to the fact that we had our first snowfall on Saturday — to be more precise, it was our first encounter with the evil and invasive form of precipitation known as “wintry mix”. The finger-numbing cold and the dusting of white on the ground, however momentary, were enough to flip the switch. I’m also not discounting the effects of peer pressure, since a third of the residents of our very small block had already gone Full Metal Christmas by the time we left the house on Black Friday to catch a noon matinee, and we’re at over half the block lit up and garlanded a week later.
Whatever combination of factors it was, I can’t deny that it’s really and truly happened, because I followed the jam-making and decorating spurt by getting up Sunday morning and kicking off the cookie baking, and I didn’t do it by halves, either. I came up with the most insanely ambitious use I possibly could for the leftover egg whites that had been sitting in my fridge for a week, making my first-ever attempt at a cookie that came out of nowhere a few years back and rapidly become so common on food blogs that it’s practically played out. I speak, of course, of the macaron.
I imagine at least a few people will be shocked to learn that I had never had a macaron before. It is, in fact, possible for me to miss a food fad, although I smugly pride myself on having been-there-done-that with quite a number of things years and even decades ago that people are now acting like they invented, like dulce de leche, Mexican Coca-Cola, Peking duck, panettone, and salads made of fresh fennel, whole milk mozzarella, and/or roasted beets. (Along with the exponentially amplified teen angst and the unrelieved sense of never quite belonging anywhere, there are some advantages to growing up in a peripatetic immigrant household.)
This fad, though, I let totally pass me by. In part this is because my obsession with madeleines has always been too all-consuming to permit any French cookie rivals. The love affair began in Proustian manner when I chose one in a mid-afternoon cafe stop during my first visit to Paris when I was 14, and no tuile or sable has ever been able to turn my head since. I still mourn the loss of the one bakery I ever found in the U.S. that could produce a truly acceptable madeleine, which His Lordship used to bring me during my grad school exams, making regular expeditions for these much-needed fortifications in beribboned cellophane bags. Besides my madeleine monogamy, I also disdained macarons because they seemed like too much bother for not enough payoff, and since I never had one during any of my visits to France, I would have no baseline to tell whether I had succeeded or not.
However. I had this bowlful of egg whites that had been sitting in the fridge since their corresponding yolks had gone into Thanksgiving leftovers quiches, and I had an unexpected burst of energy. I could have wussed out and made plain old macaroons, or even my beloved cacao nib amaretti, but instead my crazy holiday brain said, “Hey, why not finally try macarons?” There was no one to act as the voice of reason, so I charged forward. (more…)