I am writing this post from our bedroom, sitting cross-legged on the white bedspread, the white noise of our air-conditioning loud enough on this warm April Monday to have me wondering why it’s belting out so fiercely and also if…
Tim and I woke up screaming in the middle of the night last week. I didn’t check the clock when it happened, but it must have been 2 or 3 AM, the only noise the hum of our air filter, the only light our neighbor’s driveway flood lamp. Even with our blinds closed, the flood light still filters in, our unavoidable night-light while we sleep; we’ve said many times that we should buy drapes to make the room darker, but, two years in, we haven’t. The first thought I had was, I’m screaming! The second was, Tim’s screaming! He’d been having a nightmare, his explanation came out in a slow mumble. In the midst of it, he was about to fall off the bed, bringing our blue quilt with him, but just before he could, his legs kicked and his eyes opened and he screamed, louder than I knew he could scream, and right in that deep-sleeping moment, my body joined in.
The next day, after we’d replayed the entire experience for each other, right down to the way I nervous-laughed for about seven minutes after waking up, imagining our poor upstairs neighbor wondering what was going on, I finished my work hours and Tim said, Go do something that refreshes you—Go bake! And I made lemon curd.
I got the idea because someone I follow on Instagram made a lemon curd tart recently, saying how it’s the simplest set of ingredients, just egg yolks, sugar, lemon, and butter, and the day after the Screaming Episode, simple seemed like just the thing.
I go to used bookstores for the same reason I look into windows when we’re driving down residential streets at night: I like to imagine the people inside. The same way I fix my gaze on the warm glow of a table illuminated by candlelight or the man who’s sitting in his recliner all alone, I pick up a hardcover, tracing over the handwriting, wondering about the person who underlined that passage or the reader who signed her name in this front flap.
This might be what I love about the first-edition copy of The Art of Mexican Cooking, written by Jan Aaron and Georgine Sachs Salom, that I found at McKay Used Book Store Friday Night. Published in 1965, this beauty has all the earmarks of another era, one in which American women still wore skirts and aprons to make dinner and in which Mexican food (along with other ethnic cuisines) was just beginning to enter the conversation.
There are hand-drawn illustrations at the division pages, created by artist Dierdre Stanforth, the same woman who did illustrations for a Betty Crocker cookbook two years later and for books on New Orleans after that. I’d never thought much about book illustrations until recently, when we went and made an ebook and hired the amazing Rebekka Seale to create the cover—now I notice them everywhere I look: on blogs, on Pinterest, when I’m flipping through the thick pages of my new vintage book.
Over the last few nights, reading The Art of Mexican Cooking before bed, usually out loud to Tim, along with continually remarking that “This entire recipe is a paragraph! One paragraph! These directions kill me!,” I’ve also been thinking about the woman who drew the maps in the front and back pages and who sketched two large pots of soup in front of Mexican tiling.
“Mayonnaise is a food best made at home and almost never made at home. This has robbed us of something that is both healthy and an absolute joy to eat with gusto.” Tamar Adler
My favorite chapter in Tamar Adler’s “An Everlasting Meal,” was, hands down, “How to Teach an Egg to Fly,” and before you click away because, this girl! she’s always talking about Tamar Adler!, please bear with me because, I promise, I’m going somewhere good. So this chapter two of Tamar’s book, the egg chapter, is 15 pages long and divided into six parts, each one dealing with a specific method in which to use an egg. She talks about boiled eggs, poached eggs, fried or scrambled, omelets, frittatas and, just when your mind is appropriately reeling, thinking of all the different things eggs can do, mayonnaise.
Here is the part that hooked me:
I keep my mayonnaise and aioli for two or three days in the refrigerator even though they contain raw eggs. I trust the freshness of my eggs, and the cleanliness of the lives of the hens that lay them. If your eggs don’t come from a source you know or if you are worried, make less and keep it for a shorter time.
Two things about those sentences: (1) She’s not afraid of raw eggs and (2) That’s because she’s so confident of the quality of her eggs.
Tim and I were talking the other day about how a lot of things on this site are subtle, not overt, like the fact that we drink raw milk from a farmer who lives about two hours away from us, whose farm we’ve visited and whose cows we’ve touched. Some of you have been following along here long enough to know the whys and hows of this decision, as well as the fact that we get our eggs from the same farmer and, the majority of our produce from a different organic farm down the road, but many of you probably don’t. That’s because, when push comes to shove, this site isn’t about where you buy your groceries or whether or not you support the consumption of raw milk (which, because we’re asked about this often, is not illegal, just not available in the store [at least in most states], and you can find a local provider in your area through realmilk.com) (also, while we’re on the subject, you can find more thorough info about raw milk here or here or here).
The point is, in our home, we sort of take it for granted that when we’re using milk, it’s the kind we pick up in a local parking lot on Monday afternoons; or that, when we’re whisking eggs, they’re the kind produced by happy, sun-seeing chickens raised on small farms. Whether or not you source your food from similar places is up to you; we’re just saying that this is what works for us.
So along those lines, that’s why, when the people at Pete & Gerry’s eggs* contacted us recently, suggesting we check out their heirloom eggs, we researched the way they treat their hens (keeping them in spacious, cage-free barns; feeding them grain free of antibiotics or hormones) and where (on small, low-overhead farms in New England) and felt comfortable with the process. Buying from a local farmer you trust is best, but when that’s not possible, companies like this one offer a strong alternative.
When you’ve got good eggs, you want to find a way to make them shine, so, for us, Tamar’s book still fresh in our minds, that meant making mayonnaise—and then turning the mayonnaise into garlic aioli. Do you like mayonnaise? Or, are you like me, and the mention of mayonnaise calls to mind gloppy, white, gelatinous mixtures well-meaning folks tried slopping on your sandwiches when you were a kid?
Either way, homemade mayonnaise is an entirely different experience.
First off, homemade mayonnaise tastes like the ingredients you’re using: eggs, olive oil, lemon, seasonings—not like an unidentifiable spread in an entirely different food group. Second, homemade mayonnaise is thick and beautifully yellow, in part from the tumeric we used but also from the brilliantly vibrant yolks from our heirloom eggs.
After it’s made, adding some smashed garlic paste and chopped parsley turns it into a rich and creamy aioli that’s perfect for dunking fries or, appropriately this time, spreading on a sandwich.
Making it is not for the faint of heart—there’s a lot, and I mean, a lot, of whisking involved (just ask Tim, bless him)—but the rewards are pretty fantastic: mayonnaise that tastes like mayonnaise should; garlic aioli that’s bright and fresh and luxurious.
And while next time we make it, I might go with coconut oil so I can speed things along in the food processor (see note in recipe below), I have to admit that watching a sauce like this come together, right before your eyes, is pretty empowering, as is learning where your food comes from or, doing a little research on something before you buy. Making your own mayonnaise, like meeting your own farmer, might not be necessary and might not be for everyone, but it’s working for us—adding pleasure and rich joy to the way we cook and, mostly, the way we eat.
*Oh, and also, while we’re talking about eggs, here’s an interesting article from “The Atlantic” worth checking out: “Sunny-Side Up: In Defense of Eggs”