Sunday, March 26, 2006

Death in Venice Moments

Lusting after the intensity. The full, ripe explosion of flavor. The sensuous and intoxicating colors. Touching, sniffing, staring fixated from every angle. Using every sense. Pushing on despite the constant spurning, desperate to once again experience that perfect taste. The tantalizing beauty seemingly right in my hands. But in reality, usually just beyond my grasp.

It’s like the old man in Death in Venice. The elusive quarry - some actual flavor. The death occurs most weekends – with the first bite.

It seems to be just that elusive to pick a good Cantaloupe melon. Scratching and sniffing the end where the stem was broken off for a rich aroma is no guarantee. Looking at the fine network of ribbing on the outside for the right color is just a tease. Hefting the fruit to try to judge whether it is ‘heavy for its size’ is just a delusion. Even cutting into the fruit, evaluating the intensity of the orange flesh, watching the trickles of juice seep out, cannot predict eventual rapture or the oft repeated crushing disappointment.

So it goes this weekend. The melon in question smelled wonderful (that, it turns out, was the best part). We should have kept it uncut and just sniffed at if for breakfast.

The color was good – not ideal – but good.

But the taste was like paper machè. It was edible, but it was all a tease. Another Death.

That, somehow, does not discourage my constant stalking of melons. And tomatoes as well.

I’ve put tomatoes in paper bags to speed their ripening (per Harold McGee). I always look for the right color and firmness. People in the produce market must wonder sometimes what I am doing in front of the tomatoes for so long.

This week – for example – I bought wonderful looking Roma tomatoes. Deep red. Looked very ripe. Not soft, but not at all hard. I also bought some small tomatoes – pre-packed in a plastic package. Ostensibly for my convenience, apparently so they would not roll away during the purchasing process. But there is no way to select the ‘good’ ones.

Of course the Roma tomatoes were just OK, disappointing based on their visual appeal.

The small tomatoes were wonderful. Full of flavor. They went into a light tarragon – rice vinegar vinaigrette (see the March 24 post). Fantastic. Go figure.

So I continue to pursue the almost hopelessly elusive flavors I crave. On rare occasions successful, just often enough to keep me going despite the frequents ‘Deaths’.

On the menu for brunch: soft boiled eggs, toast, coffee, and the much anticipated but disappointing fruit plate.

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