Some flavors tell you everything you need to know before tasting the dish. I’ve often thought that the role of writing a menu requires a special swish of the pen to word the description of a dish well enough to entice anticipation and need. For months, before and after we moved, if I had trouble keeping my eyes shut to descend into sleep, I would troll shelters and rescues looking for the right furry friend. Years ago, when I met Nathan he first went by the moniker CatLover29. And I remember thinking, man, he’s cute, but I’m allergic to cats… it doesn’t hurt to look. And here we are, all these years later, the cat man and the dog woman. He softened my resolve toward felines and after we married I began rethinking the possibility that maybe I might be able to circumvent my allergies for cats.
Fast forward to Memorial Day weekend– we drove to a local shelter to meet a kitty brother and sister we’d been looking at online named Hansel and Gretel. Gretel’s description read: “She likes to cuddle and sleep. She loves to run around and is very trusting.” Of Hansel: “he loves to lounge around and relax. He’s very sweet and vocal.” Reading their profiles reminded me of when i was on a hunt for a different kind of love, when I met CatLover29 and how pet profiles actually resemble a different kind of companionship connection. Reading about them online made me feel like I knew them and we sketched a plan to meet up.
Upon walking into the shelter, a sleek silver cat poked its head out of its cubby, meowing in our direction and rubbing itself along the wall of its crate. Meow, indeed. Hansel and Gretel ended up not working out for us, so we went back to the cat with seaglass green eyes, white whiskers askance, meowing when we entered the shelter. You have to know that I had read these small animals’ profiles so often, I felt like I knew them. So, I knew the cat by its name, Chai. She had been described online as skittish, chatty, and a people person. Our positive introduction with her meant we needed to seek out her mom, Priya and see if there was a cat connection. Meow, again. Bingo! We signed adoption papers as I prayed for my allergies to take a vacation and not return. Packed in their temporary carriers, we shuttled these two live wires to the car.
To say Chai freaked out is an understatement. She began ripping through the cardboard with her nose, desperate to get out. I drove on 580 going a snail’s pace of 45 miles, trying to avoid bumps and holes as Nathan sat in between both, trying to console them that everything would be okay. And it was, after we drove to the pet food store, its own version of Mission Impossible: Be quick! Don’t compare litters and cat foods, just buy a small bag and get back to the car as soon as possible. My sense of efficiency was tested and I passed the test, clocking less than 5 minutes to gather kitty essentials so we could finally head home. By this point, Chai had almost entirely torn out of her cardboard carrier. Her frantic meowing set my gas pedal foot on edge, knowing I needed to get home rapidly and carefully, but slowly too. We arrived home. One cat hid under the couch for a day and a night, hissing at the other cat. The other cat hopped out of the carrier and began exploring the new digs, deciding my lap might be her new favorite landing pad.
Later that day, I stirred together an idea for a deeply chocolatey treat without a lick of dairy and loaded with spice, but just enough to bring the heat without burning down the whole house. Chile and chocolate is one of my favorite pairings and it nudged its way into a Chocolate Chile Sorbet. As a kid, I saved the maraschino cherry until the end as one final bracingly sweet bite, so that taste memory poked its head in too with the idea of cooking down fresh cherries enough so that they gave off their juices but still kept their figures.
Can we really know what something will taste like when we read carefully selected words on a menu? Can we know a person’s personality as they describe themselves or an animal which has had their description written for them on an online profile? How can you know until you slip your tongue onto the cold spoon? Perhaps only on a first date with its foibles and flutters? Or, until a cat surrenders its chin or tummy where the softest fur beckons to be stroked? It’s hard to say. Some things you take at face value and others must be discovered singularly, like licking a scoop of sorbet, sweet, spicy, summer vacation in a bowl.
Chocolate Chile Sorbet with Cherry Compote
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Chocolate Chile Sorbet
4 cups water
2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground pasilla chile
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups fresh cherries, pitted and halved
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Make the sorbet: Stir together the water, cocoa powder, sugar, chile, cayenne, cinnamon, and salt over medium low heat until well combined and the sugar has dissolved. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight so the flavors can meld and the mixture is very cold. Process the sorbet following the directions of an ice cream machine. Spoon into a container for it to set in the freezer for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Make the compote: Cook the cherries, sugar, water, allspice, and lemon juice over medium heat in a small saucepan until the cherries have released some of their juices and cooked down without losing their shape, about 10-12 minutes, stirring continuously during the last two minutes. It’s done when there is little liquid in the pan and on the spoon is not drippy. Cool to room temperature.
PS – If you left the sorbet overnight in the freezer before serving, leave it on the counter for 15-20 minutes until an ice cream scoop passes through it easily but before it melts.
PPS – I’ve always found, as a great ice cream aficionado (read: devastater of pints!) that passing an ice cream scoop through hot water before rolling it through ice cream yields an easier, prettier ball of ice cream or sorbet.
PPPS – Chile or chili, that is the question. The Los Angeles Times picked a side and so have I.