Destination Dessert: Nectarine Crisp
by Jamie Schler
EATING MY WORDS
I spend my days at the computer click-clacking across the keyboard, playing. You see, since I began my blog I have fallen in love with writing. Oh, I have always loved words, sentences, ideas, searching them out, chasing them, grabbing them as if they were butterflies and I was romping across fragrant, wind-tousled fields, butterfly net in hand. I have always been a great reader, spending most of my childhood, youth, adulthood curled up with a book. I love a great plot, fascinating characters, but not only. Mastery of language is a rare skill; making words dance in the reader’s head like music is a treasure rarely found. Many aspire to greatness, so few achieve it. But when they do, it is exceptional, stunning! Placing word after word, just the right ones in just the right order; it is magic and I have read such stories that simply the words chosen, the ideas created, the mastery of the language have taken my breath away. I must close the book, lay it gently beside me, shut my eyes and catch my breath as I savor the beauty.
Yet I never wrote. Oh, don’t think that I didn’t try! Grade school reports, high school assignments, university creative writing classes, diary, stories; yes, I’ve tried. Many times. But it was always a chore. Should writing really be this difficult, I wondered? I didn’t think so. I saw others around me churn out poems and stories, letters and papers as easily and quickly as I can push soft mounds of dough off of a spoon onto a cookie sheet, creating something tender, warm and scrumptious or tart, crispy and intriguing. “Ah,” I decided, “it is obviously genetic!” and I thought that I had come to some grand truth! “One must be born with the talent, like my brother was born with the talent to draw or my sister to make straight A’s.” So be it. Yet something was churning inside me, something aching to get out.
Yet that creative writing class was an eye-opener. Each assigned subject, each time limit was a laborious struggle, a mind-achingly stressful task. But once I closed my eyes, slid into the body of a character and was able to capture in black and white every movement, the feel of a breeze on my skin, the smoothness of velvet as it brushed against my cheek, the brash odor of cigarette smoke in a roomful of men in fedoras, the vibrations of jazz music as they shimmied up from the floor through my body; each time I could dig down into my soul and pull up the perfect words, create the perfect sentence to describe each sensation, each sound, each scent as I experienced it in my own private inner world, I felt something indescribably satisfying, a feeling palpable and luxurious, temporarily slaking the thirst pulsing through me. But sadly, I imagined that this effort should be no effort at all, that I simply was not a born writer. So I stopped.
And then I began my blog. The day my husband finally conceded that food was the driving force in my life, that my obsession was not to be controlled by anyone or anything, I knew that I had finally found my inspiration, my purpose, my goal. And I sat down in front of our computer and, well, started writing. And I’ve never looked back.
Food may be my obsession but writing, as I soon discovered, is my passion. With meals as a starting point, I take off, swimming through a sea of smells and sounds and sensations, flying through a world of tastes and textures, butting up and bouncing off memories and images. I sit in what has become my office, my work space, and plunge into my private universe of words, a clean, white page my playground, adjectives and verbs my toys, description the music that gets me moving. Coaxing out just the right description, the right word, the right mixture and balance as I line them up one after the other is like caressing a secret out of a friend, teasing a smile out of a sourpuss. The page gets splattered with a smattering of words, lists of them, then slowly, carefully, the words, fragments of sentences, bits and pieces of thoughts get moved around, pushed up and down the page, paragraphs erased and replaced with others, and on and so forth until the magic happens, until that EUREKA! moment and every single detail has fallen into place. It is a vibrant, active endeavor and it is not always easy. No, I have learned that this is indeed a task, a job, and I often feel like Jackson Pollack standing over a tremendous canvas splattering paint this way and that in a seemingly incoherent, random way when in fact it is a well thought-out, on-going process that takes hours, days or even sometimes weeks while the work unfolds. No, not one part of the process can be rushed and there are entire days when I spend more time pacing the floors, tugging at my hair in frustration, fixing myself snacks, talking aloud to myself than actually writing. But when it works, when the words flow, when the process has been a success, the result is so utterly satisfying, so incredibly exhilarating that all the stress, frustration and work are not only worth the effort but completely forgotten. I may never achieve that greatness that I so admire, but I certainly do have fun trying.
It saddens me to watch as the end of the summer stone fruit season draws closer because this has been the most amazing season I have experienced in years! I buy crisp brown bags of peaches, nectarines and plums four at a time, going back a day or two later for more. Cherries are long gone and now each day that I slip off to the market I see the autumn fruit, the tumbles of grapes in translucent, pale green and deep bluish purple, nearly black, figs and early apples gradually taking over the space so recently reserved for the pyramids of summer’s favorites. I have used the fruit to make cobblers and crumbles, cakes and even savory dishes, and I am being as insistent as I possibly can in enjoying them until the last single, lonely crate of peaches, nectarines or plums gets carried away.
A wonderful dessert, this Nectarine Crisp is a perfect layer of summer’s sweet, tender fruit, nectarines or peaches, cooked down to be wrapped in her thick, rich syrup with just that perfect hint of Amaretto, blanketed by a cinnamon-kissed crispy, streusel-like topping laced with the crunch of slivered almonds. Serve it warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream or freshly, barely-sweetened whipped cream.
NECTARINE CRISP8 just-ripe nectarines (or peaches)
2 Tbs Amaretto
¾ cup (90 g) flour
½ cup (110 g) packed light brown sugar
½ cup (110 g) packed dark brown sugar
½ to 1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
½ cup (8 Tbs, 115 g) unsalted butter
½ cup slivered almonds
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
- Gently peel the nectarines if you like. Cut each fruit in half and cut into chunks.
- Put the chunks of fruit in a 1-quart (1-litre) baking dish. Sprinkle on the Amaretto, toss and set aside while you prepare the topping.
- Stir together the flour, two sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a medium-sized bowl, breaking up any lumps.
- Cube the butter and toss the cubes in the dry ingredients to coat and separate. Then, using only your fingertips and working very quickly, rub the dry ingredients and the butter together until the mixture resembles damp sand and there are no more pieces of butter visible. Toss in the almonds until evenly distributed.
- Sprinkle this mixture thickly and evenly over the fruit in the baking dish all the way out to the edges.
- Cover with a sheet of aluminum foil and bake for ½ hour then uncover and bake for an additional ½ hour. The top should be crisp – thus a “Crisp” – and the fruit syrup should be bubbling all around the edges.
- Eat warm with ice cream or whipped cream. This is still wonderful with a crispy top for a day or two, even refrigerated.
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