swan song

So blue. When I snapped this shot, dear one, I had no idea that it would be your swan song. I shudder to think that last weekend in New Haven the events that would lead to your demise were already in motion.

Last Friday, Eli and I drove to New Haven to visit Deenie and Levi. These friends of ours are such sweet peas. In addition to being brilliant and hilarious, they are expert, and I do mean expert hosts. Their trick, it seems, is that they manage to host without making you feel like a guest. A cup of tea? An extra blanket? The book that I've been meaning to read (that happens to be on your bookshelf)? I swear, before I had even realized just what it was I fancied -- or was about to fancy -- there it was. We felt so cared for, yet never smothered, by our hosts' constant but gentle attention.

The food was no small part of our pleasure. Something you should know about Deenie: the woman can cook. Silver tip roast, vegetable tian, Israeli couscous... We ate well last weekend, we did. But what really stole the show was an unassuming little bowl of deep orange that appeared on the table Saturday afternoon. One bite, and "What. Is. THIS?"

This, my friends, was Muhammara, a sweet and spicy spread that originated (according to the Washington Post) in Syria.

A week later, while considering what I might bring to my friend's thirtieth birthday bash (Happy Birthday, Ms. Muffin!), I decided to try my hand at the dish. Deenie graciously sent me the recipe together with her alterations, I adapted it just a bit further (didn't want to mess too much with perfection), et voila -- Muhammara.

By 7:30 last night, we were on our way, dressed in our cocktail party finest. I must pause, momentarily, to show you the delectable little number that I wore for the very first time. It's not edible, but at seventy percent off the original price, it sure is sweet:

We were quite a crew, Eli in his fancy shoes, me in this steal of a dress, and the Muhammara cradled in my favorite blue bowl. Ever the gentleman, Eli brought the car around so that I wouldn't have to brave the icy sidewalk in my heels. But sadly, even Eli is not immune to the treacherous winter streets. As he made his way from the car to the sidewalk to help me into the passenger seat, poor Eli lost his footing. (Perhaps it was the fancy shoes, but I really hate to blame such lovely footwear...) Down he went, with the Muhammara in hand. So heroic is Eli that the blue bowl actually never left his hands. Still, the impact was too much, and the bowl broke into several neat pieces. The most important part of this story, of course, is that Eli was decidedly not broken, or even bruised, at all. And fortunately, I had wrapped the bowl so tightly with plastic that the Muhammara was salvageable.

What can I say, blue bowl of mine? Just a few years ago you emerged between my hands from a lump of spinning clay. You held many a spread, a dip, a tapenade in your too-short life. Bravo on your farewell performance. I dedicate this recipe to you.

Adapted from Bon Appetit

1 12-ounce jar roasted red bell peppers, drained
1.5 cups walnuts, toasted
3-4 slices of sourdough bread (for 1/2 cup breadcrumbs)
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus extra for drizzling)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (or pomegranate molasses, if you happen to have it around)
1 (heaping) teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On one rack, toast walnuts on a baking sheet until fragrant (about 7 minutes). On another rack, toast the sourdough bread.

Grate the toasted bread to produce 1/2 cup of crumbs.

Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend to form a coarse puree. If you want it chunkier, add more crumbs and/or walnuts. If it's too dry, add a bit more olive oil.



Rupinder Bisla said...

That Eli and his fancy shoes...

I had no idea you were so proficient at ceramics! That bowl looks great. You may recall from high school that my arts and crafts skills are minimal. Perhaps you can show me a trick or two next time you're in NYC? There's a studio a block away from my apartment.

Speaking of hobbies, I was a phone call away from purchasing a violin this past Saturday. I had the sudden urge to teach myself how to play. Think it can be done? Nothing fancy, just a couple of good songs (like on piano).

jess said...

I'd be happy to throw some clay around with you, Rupinder. And if there's anyone who can pick up a violin on a whim and figure out how to make some music with it, it's you.

megan said...

That's it, I'm buying you both Yak Trax. The bowl will thank you beyond the grave...