Monday, August 1, 2011

Stone in Love: My Peachy Keen Summer Fling

Of all of summer's voluptuous fruity offerings, none is as lauded in lore and on the tongue as the peach. My yearly obsession has been fed this year by the Sahara and Zee Lady varieties at Whole Foods, which are currently blessing my palate with their tree-ripened goodness. Despite my joyful indulgence, I live in the shadow of the inevitable end of this bonanza of flavor, which any day will cease as abruptly and rudely as a summer fling.

Gather ye peaches while ye may - and put them on pizza or in the soup! Above: Linda's "gaz-peacho," redolent with cilantro, cucumber, and garlic. Below: Cheese pie with onion marmalade, thyme and yellow peaches from Whole Foods.

In Chinese mythology, the peach is an auspicious fruit that symbolizes longevity. Each part of its tree was designated as having special powers, such as the wood, which was crafted into weapons by ancient warriors.

The peach's power as inspiration for art has been diversified from ancient Japanese folktales to rock and roll. The story of Momotaro, or "Peach Boy," depicts an elderly couple's discovery of a baby boy inside a giant peach.

Momotaro is "pitted" against ogres with a little help from his friends. Happy ending included.

And who could forget "Eat a Peach," a 1972 album by the Allman Brothers Band, featuring one of the greatest rock instrumentals ever, "One Way Out." The title comes from a quote by the late Duane Allman, who said that whenever he was in Georgia, he would "eat a peach for peace." The cover art was created by artist James Flournoy Holmes, and was named one of the 100 Greatest Album Covers of All Time by Rolling Stone.

In T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," the narrator asks the rhetorical question, "Do I dare to eat a peach?". This cryptic line has been widely interpreted as everything from his fear of losing an aging tooth from biting down on a peach pit to referring to the protagonist's feelings of sexual inadequacy. Indeed, peaches are a very sensual fruit. However, I think old Alfie was just afraid of spoiling his perfectly pressed shirtsleeves with the inevitable gusher of peach juice.

T.S. Eliot's portrait by Wyndham Lewis. Would you trust this man with your peaches?

A new foodie mag called Lucky Peach has hit the newstands, including to my surprise, the one at Albertson's. The creation of David Chang, the founding chef of the Momofuku restaurant group in New York, New York Times food blogger Peter Meehan, and Zero Point Zero Production, producers of the Emmy–winning "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations." Also available as an iPad app, the magazine is published quarterly by McSweeney's - the closest thing to the Algonquin Round Table in existence today. The eye-catching photo on the cover is of a couple of raw chickens being lowered into a pot, and hints at the urbanely witty and acerbic prose within.

Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. The inaugural issue of Lucky Peach promises a noodling good time with its comprehensive look at ramen.

The first release is labeled, "The Ramen Issue," which refers to both its theme and to the myriad versions of ramen that abound in Japan, the U.S., and everywhere in between. Articles include a travelogue of eating through pre-tsunami Japan by Chang and Meehan, a regional guide to the origins of different ramen styles, and step-by-step recipes for alternative ways with the classic instant ramen package, from "Oriental Dip" made with the uber-salty seasoning packet to ramen-crusted skate, which uses pulverized noodles as breading for fish. Betty Crocker would be proud.

Sweet irony: The first name of Momofuku Ando, founder of Nissin Foods, translates from Japanese into "lucky peach."

And finally, peaches end up in the soup. Linda's answer to J. Al's question is not to only "eat a peach," but put it in the blender and turn it into gazpacho with an adventurous Martha Stewart recipe.

Linda, who is one of my most fearless friends, has provided wonderful evenings of wonderful conversation and food at our semi-monthly "writers' group" meetings of two. No shrinking sister of Prufrock she, Linda writes a blog, "Aging Isn't For Sissies," the spirit of which gives me hope for what used to be considered "the declining years."

The Lovely Linda
summoning the writer's muse with a bowl of sweet, earthy gazpacho made with tree-ripened peaches.

In my mind, Linda has turned the second half of life into "the defining years," with acts of bravery that include marrying my colleague John in her late 40s; taking on Ma Jolie, the world's feistiest German Shepherd (one meter reader is still missing in action); and by having life-transforming lap band surgery done about a month ago. It was her boredom with the transitional diet of liquids and bland, soft foods what prompted me to ask her to make her "gaz-peacho" for dinner when we met to presumably work on becoming the next Edna Ferber (Linda is working on, among many projects, a lightly fictionalized version of her family's history) and Dorothy Parker (I am working on becoming a lightly fictionalized version of me).

Peaches and garlic? Don't knock it until you try it. Currently, food trends include challenging our tastebuds with creations like toffee laced with bacon or lemonade infused with rosemary - both of which are wonderful. Our sunny bowls of fragrant gaz-peacho were accompanied by kalamata olive bread. It was just the thing to celebrate Linda and John's burgeoning new lease on life; he had undergone a gastric bypass in June. The simplicity of our summery meal and the sight of my friends blooming with newly-gained vim and vigor was a feast in itself.

Linda and John, my favorite Francophiles - vive l'amour... and vive la pĂȘche!

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