“For me, it’s just very hard to be in the world. Whether it’s cooking or writing, you trudge along and it’s hard. You spend most of your time in any kind of creative pursuit mired in this cold, gray, muddy kind of wasteland. And then, every once in a while, you have this moment where something happens that is so extraordinary, so transcendent, that it obliterates all of the tedium of the world. A light so bright that it just wipes out everything else around it. And then it’s gone, and you’re back in that muck again. But that moment of epiphany is so extraordinary that you endure all of the other stuff to find it. The act of pursuing a moment of creativity is itself obliterating because it’s all-consuming. Anything that you don’t want to think about then is pushed away, because all you can do is pursue this one thing. It’s a very effective way of not being in the world.” – Daniel Patterson, Chef, @Coi
Alanna sent me an email introduction during one of those tempestuous months of spring when I had swallowed more than my share of dramas and heartache – at the time, I had hardly expected to find myself, eventually, sitting in her living room, sharing personal stories about my life, eating from her bowls, drinking from her glassware, and feeling sated from the blessings of new culinary friendships. During our first meeting, she flattered me with questions about book publishing emails and I shared my experience using only inexperience, then boldly dishing out too much advice since I was drinking wine. She then paid for my rose while having none, which made me want to follow her, and her blog, to the ends of the internet!
The thing is, she also opened her door to Nik as well – is there a food blogger this woman is not willing to endure? We three made a Saturday of food blogging banter to the taste of Alanna-made snacks and libations – a day pilfering through her boxes and shelves filled with plates, pots, and saucers – all after she volunteered to demonstrate the long, tedious process of making pistachio milk while I made cheap jokes about squeezing nut milk sacks, and then, mischievously taunting her cat with my mickey mouse waffles for an aggressive camera. It’s a miracle we even remembered to feed the cat. Luckily, we did because her ginger cat knows a cute thing or two about reaching for silver spoons.
Then I skipped town to lay on beach, testing my luck against sunburns, unsuccessfully, before returning, remembering that I was supposed to share these photos, this recipe, and the aggravating, repeated failure they induced.
It’s hard to think of failure when I’m on a beach, because failure, if I so choose, can be a terrible way to spice up my life, but back in my kitchen it’s like a constant companion, a reminder of the banality of life, an uphill followed by another uphill, repetitious, never-ending, fatiguing, unrelenting, … should it end?
Frustration. That’s my cooking in a nutshell. I burn things. Constantly. Last week I burned various things on three consecutive days, which, I know, is still unimpressive historically, so when I am telling you I tried making this pistachio jelly no less than 4 times, you shouldn’t be surprised. It’s likely due to the fact that I think I should do ten things simultaneously rather than in succession, but I cook optimistically, too optimistic, and I think, erroneously, that I can decrease the stress of life by adding on more. If there’s a thing to decrease my failure rate, surely it is choosing to lay down the other details of life in order to cook, which I know is my ultimate peace. Cooking is meditation – hours sitting and watching the progression of water dissolving rice into soothing, milky porridge or tomatoes and sugar reducing into viscous jam – meditation, medication for my lack of impatience – time trickles so I run away to speed it up by doing other things, which is when things fall apart, even under low heat, because that’s when it’s likely to devolve into muck, take my word of warning…
The hope, as always, is that I’ve experienced the trappings of dreamed-up failure for you – so that you can take this idea of a recipe and make it, hopefully, with less failure than I, that is, you should do this without checking your email, and not while reading and writing internet articles, or just being less mentally distracted with a litany of non-food work. You should make this recipe, as any other edible thing, while being fully immersed in the idea of jelly – but you probably won’t, as I did not, because it’s the timbre of life, and when you do make a mistake or two, read a thing wrong, or, maybe the jelly-gods did not smile favorably upon your kitchen, just know, I am commiserating in advance. I know all about the baggage of the perfectly imperfect. That’s why this recipe works in our favor. There’s a whole host of flavor combinations that I love using ingredients I couldn’t bear to live without. If you haven’t made your own nut-milk, pistachio is a good place to start since it is a sippable silk. It’s not typically available in stores, probably due to the high cost of pistachio nuts – surely squeezing labor should not go towards mediocre nuts!
In case you were curious – we began this jelly recipe with similar proportions of agar agar to milk as this buttermilk panna cotta. Doing so gave us a nearly solid, silky custard of pistachio. That’s certainly worth trying as it is incredible on its own. As a jelly for Boba, however, it fails to hold itself together in the tea, which is why we had to gradually increase the agar ratio for the final recipe which has the firmer texture, but not chewy nature as typical tapioca boba.
To make Pistachio milk: courtesy of Alanna of The Bojon Gourmet
2 cups raw, hulled pistachios
+ The night before, soak in cool water 8 hours.
+ Drain, rinse, and blend with 4 cups cool water until smooth – approximately 3 minutes on medium-high. Strain through a nut sack. This recipe makes ~5 cups of milk.
To make pistachio jelly:
1 c water
4 ts agar agar flakes*
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup pistachio milk
pinch of salt
+ Prepare for the jelly mold by setting aside a mesh strainer and a small glass loaf pan.
+ Stir sugar, pistachio milk, and salt until sugar is completely dissolved.
+ Agar agar will only dissolve in water and it will set at room temperature – almost immediate upon cooling. So, when doing this, mix and strain your jelly mixture quickly. To do so, boil water and agar until agar is dissolved, whisking constantly, about 5 minutes.
+ Then, whisk hot, dissolved agar agar water into milk mixture. Or, you can also use a blender to get a better consistency. Strain immediately through a sieve and into a glass loaf pan. Chill until firm.
To make fresh lychee tea: special thanks to Nik for bringing a bag of fresh lychees!
For every cup of tea, 3 fresh, peeled, deseeded lychees
1 c. hot water
1 generous teaspoon of tea (use loose leaf if you can, as those can be reboiled)
+ Muddle the lychee with a fork to release its juices. Then, add tea and boiled water to brew. Use your tea’s brewing instruction to do so – most are for 3-5 minutes. Strain when it’s done brewing and allow to chill.
+ Then, add a touch of milk and season with rose water – a small drop or two should suffice. Add more if you want it stronger, but be careful or the lychee flavor will get lost. If your lychees are not the right amount of sweetness, you will also need to sweeten your tea at this time.
In each glass, add some chunks of jelly with ice and tea. Serve with a large straw.
* To make a panna cotta, use 1 ts of agar to 5 TB of water. You might want to season the pistachio milk with rosewater and cardamom prior to adding the agar.