At one point in my life I realized I like visiting places whose main feature is a display case or an elaborate window setting. I don’t know what it is but I’ll immediately enjoy a food item better if it has, at one point, spent time behind a pane of glass. Don’t get me started on foods put under domes or in elaborate glass jars… goose-bumps. Maybe it’s the feeling of something forbidden to me? I have a hunch it is my ridiculously detailed fantasies of miniature desserts trying to sneak out of the case at night to rummage around the kitchen for food. I remember countless times when I was small having my eyes level with the display case so every delicacy was right there for me to see. I’d always get close enough to watch my breath condense on the cool case. I’d spy out fingerprints and think of Inspector Gadget or Tin-Tin on a mission to find the escaped dessert.
I view desserts in cases like animals in pet stores. They need to come home with me. It’s not fair to spend your life behind glass (sorry Magneto, Loki and many other famous Marvel superheros). I remember institutionally knowing not to tap on the glass of the display cases at bakeries- I might rile up the petits fours. We both know the éclairs do not forgive and the bear claws wish people would see their sensitive side before they maul you with flavor. I’ve always had a vivid imagination that anthropomorphizes just about everything. The whole craze of cupcakes and tofu imagery with eyes and rosy cheeks melts my heart.
I was lucky enough to spend a short time in France when I was younger. Boy, do they know how to populate a display case! I deeply regret that I wasn’t mature enough to go out of my crème puff comfort zone. When I have my very own display case I’m going to sneak little desserts with cute faces in innocuous roes. The first kid that spies one out will help it escape from its’ chilly prison free of charge.
Every holiday season when my paternal grandmother would visit for x-mas she would bring dense homemade fudge in holiday tins. She made everything from scratch 1000 miles away and toted it across the country to bring it to us. Not the boxed cakes and bagged marshmallows I was use to. The only time I’d eat fudge was when she brought it from the family farm. I remember how it melted in my mouth.
I didn’t appreciate those gifts the way I would now. My strongest political belief on food is that the food you eat should be loved. Bitter, resentful, jealous and angry meals will never nourish you, regardless of how good they are for you. When someone uses food as a vehicle to express their feelings I understand the phrase “A way to a person’s heart is through their stomach.” A good meal builds your bones and will stay with you long after the meal is over. A truly divine meal fuels your memories for years.
Why o’ why didn’t I make these sooner? Chocolate marshmallows! Why aren’t there more gourmet marshmallow suppliers? I have no doubt that I eat my weight (at least) in chocolate every year. What did people enjoy before chocolate? Maybe this is a supremely naïve worldview but a life without chocolate would be like never seeing a rainbow, experiencing fluffy snow, or smelling the rain. I just cannot imagine my life without it. What other types of flavors would we use to explain the fine notes that underline the earthy tones of wine and beer? The entire culinary field would be devoid of one of the worlds’ most influential ingredients! Relationships everywhere would fail because no one would have chocolate to emotionally regulate their overwhelming feelings. I cannot bear to think about it. I better eat more chocolate to ease my nerves.
My first “ah-ha” dessert experience was at a Pan-Asian Restaurant named Spring in Chicago, IL when I was 15. Sad to say Spring has since closed it’s doors. I went out of my mid-western conservative comfort zone of crème brulee and tiramisu and ordered a blood orange pumpkin cake. It didn’t look like a traditional slice of “cake.” It was this avante garde masterpiece on a square plate (it might have been my first square plate encounter). My first bite was the embodiment of fall and impending winter. I don’t remember much after that. I didn’t share.
I had a damn near luxurious childhood. (I have no doubt that it is the origins of my food elitism). My family went to some really nice restaurants in our travels and in the Chicago-land area. My father couldn’t understand the price of a pair of jeans but dropping a months worth of my rent on a meal was standard practice.
Both my brothers are a decade older than I am and my father is a food scientist-so my tastes had to develop quickly growing up. Regardless, I was still a picky eater. But I never seemed to have a problem when we went out to eat because there was always dessert. I would plan my entire meal around whatever sticky (preferably chocolate) morsel I could get my hands on. I was even allowed to have espresso or a cappuccino at an absurdly early age- I now exhibit extreme signs of caffeine addiction. When we went to restaurants where the menu was part verbal or there were specials I would use my age as an excuse to ask what they had prepared for dessert. I was cute -totally out of place- red-head at the table of adults, I could get away with anything.
Because of that dessert at Spring I have not really tried to make anything sweet with pumpkin. I can roast, stew, sauté, and bake pumpkin like no other but if you pass me a slice of pumpkin pie I will say “no thank you” as politely as I can.
So here is my first ever attempt to elevate pumpkin from it’s savory confines. May I present to you my Pumpkin chai mini bunt cakes. 100% delicious. I browned the butter, reduced the chai, and steamed the pumpkin with chai tea. It’s moist, tender, and has an out of this world crumb. It’s not dense. I’ve never tasted anything like it. I hope someday a dessert of mine will kindle the type of wide-eyed wonder that bloomed during my time at Spring.