You may break, you may shatter the vase, if you will,
But the scent of the roses will hang round it still.
~ Thomas More
At one point two nights ago, I contemplated whether the taste in my mouth was more likely to kill someone or wake the dead.
That night, I learned a very important lesson: when working with an ingredient for the first time, it is better to go slow. Perhaps even taste it first.
I should have known when I took my first whiff of the open bottle, recently acquired from a trip to Sabato. In fact, “this is potent stuff” was the thought that immediately leaped into my brain… so I’m not sure what prompted me to use a full tablespoon of it on my dinner that evening. I can tell you that the flavour of it invaded my airway and filled me with a keen sense of desperation mingled with stupid thoughts.
It sure started off innocently enough. I halved two nectarines, washed a few spears of asparagus (finally got my first Spring bunch!), took out some prawns. I arranged these on a lined baking tray, drizzled some oil on the lot and grilled everything for around five minutes before plating it and adding some diced feta, lemon zest, fresh minced garlic and black pepper. I then put together a dressing inspired by Ottolenghi’s Cookbook (speaking of, I recently got a FANTASTIC bundle of cookbooks… but more on that another time).
The dressing consisted of maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, oil and orange blossom water.
If you remember nothing else from this post, remember this: Careful now with the orange blossom water. Less is infinitely more.
I cannot hope to describe what it was like eating this, but it went a little like this: (1) I was excited about my dinner (before I opened my mouth to eat it). (2) Some bites later, the excitement gave way to a few seconds of general unease. (3) I suddenly felt as alarmed as if my hair was on fire. Actually, I’m pretty sure that if my hair did catch fire I might have felt similar.
I tried to remember when food last managed to make me feel this way. Was it when I tried chou dou fu (fermented tofu) in China? Or when I bit into a peculiar pork stew cooked by a well-meaning friend? (Two bites into this meal, he told me it contained berry jam and an entire tub of sour cream. “Aren’t they [jam and sour cream] substitutes for chutney and yoghurt? They kind of look the same,” he said).
Anyway. On the orange blossom water. When the alarm kicked in, I knew that I had to do something. Fast. My senses were rapidly being overtaken by a field of flowers. It’s not as romantic as it sounds. My throat, tongue, ears, airway all felt like they were ablaze with perfume. The sort that you should wear on your clothes.
I’m almost a bit embarrassed to tell you the next bit, but I ran a running tap over my remaining nectarine, feta, asparagus and prawns and fried it all with a heavy shake of Moroccan spices, chilli flakes and garlic, then doused it all with lemon juice (yes… I don’t know what I was thinking. I wasn’t thinking). I chewed on cloves of raw garlic. I ate teaspoons of sauce. I brushed my teeth multiple times.
When I went to bed, I was still exhaling perfume.