Iwas late this year in placing my annual order for olive oil. Some purists think that new olive oil, or olio nuovo, does not travel – therefore, you should be prepared to do so yourself if you want to enjoy the stuff. Some purists believe that anyone who pays retail for olio nuovo is allowing themselves to be ripped off – as if the mutually economical and hedonistic alternative were to travel to Italy in autumn for a taste of the real thing.
Hardcore purists believe that the only new oil worth eating is made from olives you’ve trudged down to the press yourself, through the hills of central Umbria, after picking them with frozen fingers. Without denouncing something that sounds like a treat, I hope that I am never so much of a purist that I lose sight of a reasonable second best.
I’ve saved a bundle by avoiding boutique olive oils in supermarkets. Instead, I order half a dozen litre bottles of nuovo yearly via olio2go.com. I track my shipment and, when it arrives, I pick up a fresh loaf of bread and clear my schedule for the evening. How will the new harvest compare with the previous one? Will it be better? Will I regret buying so much of it? It’s different every year. I never know anything until I taste it.
“How does one become a secure person?” e-mails a romantically frustrated friend. “Where does one find the faith to believe that, when someone says: ‘I love you,’ he will still feel that way tomorrow, and will keep feeling it, until he doesn’t say it anymore?”
I thought about it over coffee, then emailed back. “Maybe you should really be asking: ‘Why do I think I need the promise of permanence in order to feel happy or safe?’”
I try to find ways to revel in uncertainty because it tells me I am alive. Impermanence – and the certainty of it – seems like it’s the source of most good feelings in life. It defines things such as the pleasure we get while watching a sunset or eating a great meal or laughing with our best friend. As infinite and timeless as these moments may feel, we know rationally that they are fleeting.
I’m drawn to a style of cooking without recipes and I’ve never liked the phrase “icing on the cake”. But I recently wrote about a chocolate frosting I’ve been making for years without ever bothering to document the recipe – and so I finally did. In a world of uncertainties, here’s one of the only sure things in my arsenal.
Pour one cup of heavy cream into a measuring cup and set aside. Sift three scant cups of powdered sugar into a big bowl with a cup of unsweetened natural cocoa powder (be sure it’s not Dutch-process cocoa). In another bowl, beat a stick of butter until smooth with a couple of tablespoons of the heavy cream. Continue beating while you alternate between half-cup scoops of the cocoa-sugar mixture and splashes of cream, moistening the mixture as you go. Beat in a generous tablespoon (yes, a whole tablespoon) of vanilla extract and add two hearty pinches of salt, less if your butter is already salted. I usually go through 10-12 tablespoons of heavy cream to get the texture I like, but you can add less if you prefer a fluffier texture and more for a fudgier one.
Nouf Al-Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who lives and cooks in New Mexico
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