Saturday, March 29, 2008

April: The Puberty Month

As far as months go, April does whatever the crap it wants. It can be moody, sunny, rainy. It might storm, snow, blow, or blaze. You may be all revved up, hands rubbing together in anticipation, for glorious fields of green ga-ga-goo-goo this-that with Julie Christie trilling through lush green-sounding nonsense in the background - but nooooo! - hold on, there. April is as predictable as a teenager in a long-term text-ing relationship whose 10 fingers have just been broken. April is hot and cold, wet and dry. April is hormonal. Anything can happen.

Historically, April can be a weird month for me. As a kid, it only conjures rather vague memories of sunny slushiness, some rainy days, and anticipation of May. The coming of May meant that summer was around the corner - so April always seemed liked summer's little ambassador - and winter's "don't let the door hit you in the arse". April always unfolded as a month of renewal, of growth, possibility, change. My 21st year, the (previously sweet) renewal came in the form of my Mother's death from cancer, after a year-and-a-half battle. Ten days later (still April), I tried to avoid hitting a possum while driving - and I flipped my car 4 times (sans seat belt, 75 mph) - ended up in the ICU with a whole mess of problems. Hello April! Fantastically strange, 8 years later to the day of the car accident, I was shopping alone and lost consciousness - I woke up on the floor, surrounded by about 30 people and I had no idea where I was! I had a gazillion tests - and no one ever really figured it out. It was probably related to the concussion and scar tissue received from that long ago car accident - but how obscenely odd that it should occur on the exact same day, no? Confounding, and yet, eerily lucid too.

So, when April comes 'round every year - I take notice, I get a bit wide-eyed. It is one of the few months that I actually step back, look around, perform a kind of visual scan, amp up my ever-present hyperchondricism, and BEG the universe for any extra protection it might be willing to cough up in my direction. Come on, man, I've paid some April dues here - surely there is something to spare.

Now that I live in the desert, and no longer have 4 seasons, April is a bit less poignant in terms of weather - but it certainly has not lost its clout toward giving me pause. April is unpredictable, after all, so I'm preparing to be unprepared. Still, many friends and family are wrestling with snow, wind chills, storms, and frosts - waiting for their share of sun, green, budding flowers, bursts of spring. So, in honor of April - our little ambassador of summer - I thought I'd make something fresh, light, clean, airy. And hopefully, it'll help kick the pants off of winter.

So, here's to April - our hormonal, pubescent, unpredictable little month. In spite of - and maybe because of - all her complexities, I do love April - damn teenagers.

Zest Bites

These are better than I thought; I brought 3/4 of my batch into work on a Friday, thinking - "oh, this is too much to bring in - they'll just rot over the weekend in the office". Well, they vanished before 11:00 am. They're like a lemon/lime cheesecake bar, but fluffier; the crust is crunchy, sweet, and dark golden brown. Before you start, a few tips: be sure to use real lime and lemon juice - do not use bottled juices; if you want to kick it up further – use key limes rather than regular limes. You always want to grate zests before juicing (otherwise, the fruit becomes too soft for grating) and, you want to avoid grating the white pith that is just beneath the colored porti
on of the fruit.


6 ounces animal cracke
4 tablespoons brown sugar
Pinch table salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 1/2 teaspoons grated lime zest, minced (grate, measure, then mince)
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, minced
Pinch table salt
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 egg yolk
6 tablespoons fresh lime juice, either Key lime or regular
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Place oven rack in middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut a 12-inch length extra-wide heavy-duty piece of foil and line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch-square baking pan, allowing excess to overhang pan sides. Spray foil with nonstick cooking spray. To double this recipe, use a 9x13-inch pan; you will need 2 20-inch sheets of extra-wide foil for the pan and and increased baking time of 1-2 minutes.

Crust: In workbowl of food processor or in a blender, pulse animal crackers until crumbs are evenly fine, about 10 seconds (you should have about 1 1/3 cups crumbs). Add brown sugar and salt; process to combine, about 10 seconds (if large sugar lumps remain, break them apart with fingers). If using blender, transfer to bowl, drizzle butter over crumbs and combine until evenly moistened. If using processor, drizzle butter over crumbs and pulse until crumbs are evenly moistened with butter, about ten 1-second pulses.

Using round side of spoon, press crumbs evenly and firmly into bottom of prepared pan. Bake until deep golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack while making filling.

Filling: In medium bowl, stir cream cheese, zests, and salt until softened and thoroughly combined. Add sweetened condensed milk and whisk vigorously until incorporated and smooth; whisk in egg yolk. Add juices and whisk gently until incorporated (mixture will thicken slightly).

Pour filling into crust, spread evenly with spatula. Bake until set and edges begin to pull away slightly from sides, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, 1-1.5 hours. Cover with foil and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours.

Lift bars from baking pan using foil edges; cut bars into 16 squares, cut each square into 4 small triangles. Bars can be refrigerated 2-3 days; crust may soften slightly. Serve cold or let bars stand at room temperature about 15 minutes before serving.

Look at the little flecks of zest, LOVE that!

Inspiration: Cooks Illustrated and Abe's Mom, Crystal.


Tiney said...

Hey! Your blog is great! I really enjoy all of your pictures. I recently started my own blog: Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Who is this cook that has replaced my little sister who hated food!!! I love the blog and will need you to cook the recipes for me. PS. Your nieces STILL love whipcream shots!!
big sis.

Ann said...

To My Sis - Hee hee! I love passing on good, solid, wholesome traditions to my beloved nieces. They need the basic survival skills, after all.

Tiney - thanks for stopping by and for the compliment! I like your blog and your fritters look scrumptious!