Beau dropped everything mid-sentence last weekend to tell us about a salad. (I think he knew J. and I would drop everything to hear about one). It was served at Le Bistro, and featured a perfectly-grilled half dome of a peeled mandarin orange. “Grilled to translucence. Caramelized. With goat cheese…”
“And walnuts, and bitter greens…” we both interrupted in tandem, lustdrool pooling at our lips.
“But it was all about the orange. Un. Believable.”
“Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher!” I swore, tripping over homage and reference to just about everyone’s favorite MFK passage, on how to slowly dry tangerine sections over a steam radiator next to a snowy windowsill.
In the morning, in the soft sultry chamber, sit in the window peeling tangerines, three or four. Peel them gently; do not bruise them, as you watch soldiers pour past and past the corner and over the canal towards the watched Rhine. Separate each plump little pregnant crescent. If you find the Kiss, the secret section, save it for Al.
Listen to the chambermaid thumping up the pillows, and murmur encouragement to her thick Alsatian tales of l’intérieure. That is Paris, the interior, Paris or anywhere west of Strasbourg or maybe the Vosges. While she mutters of seduction and French bicyclists who ride more than wheels, tear delicately from the soft pile of sections each velvet string. You know those white pulpy strings that hold tangerines into their skins? Tear them off. Be careful.
Take yesterday’s paper (when we were in Strasbourg L’Ami du Peuple was best, because when it got hot the ink stayed on it) and spread it on top of the radiator. The maid has gone, of course – it might be hard to ignore her belligerent Alsatian glare of astonishment.
After you have put the pieces of tangerine on the paper on the hot radiator, it is best to forget about them. Al comes home, you go to a long noon dinner in the brown dining-room, afterwards maybe you have a little nip of quetsch from the bottle on the armoire. Finally he goes. You are sorry, but –
On the radiator the sections of tangerines have grown even plumper, hot and full. You carry them to the window, pull it open, and leave them for a few minutes on the packed snow of the sill. They are ready.
Our grilling of mandarin halves and grapefruit sections yielded nothing like Beau’s or Mary’s, but somehow suited a menu far from Honolulu and Strasbourg, with chicken plucked from the grill (marinated two ways: in harissa and greek yogurt; and in pomegranate syrup with olive oil, lemon, honey, and Sichuan peppercorns) and citrus—plump, hot, full— eaten from the fingers.