Food Memories: Blood Oranges

Back in the spring of 2007, I was living in a convent in Rome. The sisters who ran it leased out the rooms and provided meals for the short- and long-term guests that stayed there. Despite Italy’s culinary reputation, the food that was served could merely be said to sate hunger pangs—it was not food that could be particularly enjoyed. Sometimes, it could not even be eaten.

However, there was an orchard next to the property that the sisters tended. The fruit often made its way to our table, the highlight of otherwise dreary meals. Shortly after my arrival, blood orange season began. Having never before tasted its sweet, subtly complex, dark flesh, I quickly became addicted, often consuming entire meals of nothing else (obviously in addition to the large quantities of cornetti, cappuccini, and other delicious foods I ate when not at the convent).

Photo courtesy of Mike’s Table

After several weeks, I began to notice a discoloration of my skin around my joints—a slightly orange tinge to my knuckles, elbows, and the web of skin between my fingers. Horrified when I showed her, my Italian mamma Maria Teresa insisted that I visit the doctor, convinced I had contracted some sort of fungal disease. We went for a visit to have my hands examined. The kindly doctor looked at me with a smile and quietly asked, have you been eating too much beta carotene? He then extended his hand, 30 Euro for the consultation.

Once I had calmed down after feeling swindled, I began to reduce my blood orange intake, and the color began to fade to a memory. Since coming back to the US, I have rarely seen a blood orange at the store, let alone eaten as many as I did in those few months. This winter, however, they showed up again in my life, with all of my favorite grocers stock-piling them high on their shelves, and with prices continually decreasing throughout the season, I scooped them up, eating as many as I could each day.

I’ve so far made it through without turning orange as they slowly begin to disappear from the produce aisles, now experiencing a sadness to see them go. I have, however, found one more opportunity to indulge my obsession—blood orange juice. Sold at Marlow & Daughters down the street from me, it unfortunately  commands too high of a price to be a sustainable part of my diet until the season truly ends for the year. So, I plan to enjoy this last taste as I ready myself for next year’s deluge.

Jansal Valley Blood Orange Juice

Celebrations: Eleven Madison Park

Toni and I recently celebrated our one-year anniversary at Eleven Madison Park. The restaurant had been on my to-try list for some time, and I’d been especially excited to go since reading about chef Daniel Humm’s playfulness in the kitchen of this haute restaurant.

Courtesy of Todd Coleman,

When we arrived, the art-deco space seemed enormous, with its vaulted ceiling as grand as one would imagine possible in the city, and yet it was simultaneously intimate. The number of tables was limited, so the extra room felt luxurious, not necessary to house a crowd. The staff seemed to be a part of a seamless choreography, united by silent, behind-the-scenes communication, that trickled down to the smallest gestures: taking our coats without the need for a claim receipt; attentively letting us know that our table was being set the moment I began to be antsy sitting at the bar; transferring our drinks to the table’s ticket without being asked. These were only augmented by the care they took to make our anniversary as special as it could be—a hand-written note awaited us on our table, and every one of our servers greeted us in kind.

The meal itself was adventurous, if not the most delicious I’ve ever tasted, with each menu item identified only by its primary ingredient. However, its inventive spirit, coupled with the large array of amuses, a choice of butters (cow’s milk and goat’s) to accompany our already lusciously buttery rolls, and the additionally sweet nibbles served after our final course, made the prix fixe price feel utterly worth the experience. Our staff even presented us with homemade chocolate bars, with a cut-to-fit, handwritten “Happy Anniversary” message nestled inside the custom encasement.

And the coup de grace? After the chef himself came out to make his rounds, we were presented with a little mason jar of housemade granola—chef’s favorite—to have for breakfast the next morning.