Even though I have yet to feel like it has really begun, this morning when I woke up the heavy mist that signals impending August and its determined slide into September was hanging over everything.
By mid-morning, the sun burned through and now we're getting more of that crazy gorgeous big blue sky we've been treated to all season. But I know what I saw.
In a regular summer, I find it a little difficult to write about cooking. There is a lot of everything green, and not a lot of time. We can eat handsomely without much effort, and more often than not we eat in the dark. We eat a giant salad or we eat—as we have lately, almost every night, in this not-very-regular summer—some variation on greens and rice. Stir-fried greens with rice. Curried greens with rice. Fried rice, with...greens! Greens on noodles for a little excitement! Handful of green beans, handful of chard, kale, spinach, some of whatever weed is in the yard, all hastily gathered into the apron of my shirt and, just as hastily, minimally transformed into something to put on the fork. I am not ungrateful for this great good fortune: green things close to hand, and mouths to feed, and hands to do it with. But it's not a very poetic or photogenic situation.
The other day, in an unscheduled pause from the rapid to-and-fro that has been this not-summery summer’s theme, my mother and I went to a little tea salon that just opened nearby. It was a funny time of day, so we were the only ones in the place, and we were seated by the door. The tea service was lovely, and so much tender care had been invested in arranging it just so, that without nudging a single item into a better spot I could crassly snap this little photo:
As will happen in a town of this size, we knew a good portion of the people walking by, and most of them asked if we were enjoying ourselves, and we were happy to tell all the nice people what a lovely time could be had inside the shop. It did not escape the attention of the very friendly lady who owns the shop that circumstances had transformed us into spokesmodels, and she brought us over a little chocolate mousse to say thank you.
There was rosewater in it.
If there is one thing that has been tickling the back of my head as something I might tell you about this summer, it is rosewater. I have a bottle of it that I got in an Indian market for under two dollars, and what a time we have together. I’ve had occasion to be brewing up a good number of restorative herbal teas (burdock, yarrow, mullein...), and just about any one of them can be made not only palatable but strangely irresistible with the addition of a few drops of rosewater, a little bit of lemon juice, and a small amount of honey. Even the bilgey ones take on a certain irresistible, elderflower-y quality. So you can imagine what happens to the ones that are already delicious (oatstraw, clover, raspberry leaf...). And maybe just rest here a moment and ponder what rosewater will do for lemonade. Only good things is the answer. Only good things.
If you are a hardcore rose-eater like myself, you might want to indulge in some high-test rose elixir. I don’t cook with that, mind you. I don't add it to anything but my little open beak, or a glass of water. Like Rescue Remedy, this tonic is the gentlest, kindest re-set. I have a couple of sources, one quite local and one more widely available.
There is no shortage of reasons at home and abroad to be angry, grieving, braced for what lies ahead. I think I will start to carry my rose solution in a tiny barrel around my neck. The life I save could be my own.
But I digress. Rosewater! Maybe you have a bad Indian restaurant dessert experience that causes you to mistrust it as an ingredient. Even I, who have not yet found an outer limit on how often I would like to eat roses, acknowledge that there is a limit to how much is delicious. Very few of us enjoy the feeling that we are eating bubble bath. If you are not quite ready for a rose milkshake (I will give you another week or so to psych yourself up), maybe try this gateway combination with chocolate and cream.
I know, more chocolate. I got this far and realized it was in the last post, too. But there's no turning back now, unless you want to hear more about rice with greens and greens with rice. This stuff is rich, I won't lie. But not far, in most ways, from ice cream, which is a right and rite of summer.
I used a pretty mild-mannered chocolate (60%) here. To my mouth, there is a funny flavor battle that takes place as the chocolate gets darker and closer to the roses. With this lash-up below, the darker chocolate part is pure, and the roses mainly play with the cream, and you get two great tastes that taste great together instead of a little frizz of mouth confusion. I think we can agree it was heroic of me to try the three versions I tried in order to acquire this scientific understanding on your behalf.
chocolate mousse with roses in it
- 6 oz chocolate, chopped
- 1 3/4 c heavy cream, divided (I realize this will leave you with a pesky amount of leftover cream, but you might thank me later)
- 1T very fine best-you-can-locate olive oil
- 1/2 t rosewater (if serving immediately) or 1t rosewater (if chilling for later)
- 1/2 t vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
Put the chopped chocolate into a medium size mixing bowl. Have ready a larger bowl of ice-water, or a cold-pack large enough to rest the mixing bowl on, and six or 7 small cups (or more--shot glasses would work, too) to receive the finished product, as well as a folded towel.
In a small saucepan, heat the cream to a simmer (crowds of small bubbles at the edge of the pan). Add the olive oil and dump the hot mixture over the chocolate. Let this stand a minute, undisturbed, so the chocolate will melt. Whisk until smooth.
Place the bowl with the chocolate mixture over the icewater or coldpack, and continue whisking until the mixture cools and begins to thicken. This will take approximately forever, or about 6 minutes. It will not seem to be doing anything at all for the first 5.2 minutes, and then, when it is indeed finally chilled, your silky liquid will rapidly begin to thicken You want to stop as soon as beater marks are visible when you pause. You can use a rotary mixer or even an electric mixture, but you should watch things carefully in the latter case.
Immediately spoon the thickened chocolate into the waiting cups, and rap them gently on the folded towel to settle and even the mousse, which I realize is not a mousse per se and is really a whipped ganache, but I wager if you stick your finger in there to taste it you won't want to argue about terminology.
You can be careful and fastidious about making it tidy and level if you like, or you can be slapdash. It's summer, and there will be no grading.
DO NOT scrape the bowl out clean. Be careful to leave about 1/4-1/3 of a cup of chocolate in the bowl.
Add the remaining 3/4 c of cream to this messy situation, along with the vanilla and the rosewater. Beat this combination until you have softly whipped cream; if you over-shoot, use a little of the pesky leftover cream to set things right. Divide the whipped cream among the little pots of mousse and again, rap them gently to level them off.
I can't see why a handful of raspberries would be so wrong to serve along side here, but then again you won't miss them if they aren't there.
If you find you have to chill them until later, cover them tightly to prevent the top of the cream from drying or absorbing fridge odors, and let them come back to room temperature before you eat them. Promise me you will try, at least.