Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Long overdue

Yes, I know it’s been a VERY LONG time since my last post. Long story short, the minute I came back to Singapore from Provence I was swamped with work, both pastry and a big photo assignment, leaving me with little time to sleep, let alone blogging. I did manage to sift through the thousands of photos I took in Provence and sent them off to friends and family, but even that took almost a month to do, which misled some people into thinking that I was in Provence for a month! Ha! Don’t I wish.

Anyway, what brought me out of blogging hibernation is the strong desire to share with everyone the single most awe-inspiring experience out of my entire Provence trip. That one thing that inspired me. Ladies and gentlemen. (drum rolls) Is. Lavender.

Granted, I’ve always been a huge fan of lavenders. My body lotion and handwash are both lavender scented. I have sachets of lavender in my sock drawers. I have bought up just about every lavender product that Loccitane carries, including a linen water that I never use. To sum it up, as long as it’s lavender and purple, I want it. However, self-proclaimed lavender fan that I was, I was not prepared for the lavenders that I would encounter in Provence. Everywhere you turn, there are giant fuzzy purple balls greeting you. A single lavender stalk is pretty enough to look at but an entire field of rows upon rows of purple poof balls were simply mesmerizing. Not to mention they smelled heavenly too. I was falling in love with lavender all over again. I simply had to take a photo of every lavender field we encountered and went to villages for the sole reason of lavender viewing. No matter how many times I saw the same farm-house-in-the-middle-of-lavender-field view, I just would not get tired of it.

During our two-week stay in Provence we cooked more than half of the food that we ate. Our friends were in charge of food, since they are French and know more about French food, and I was in charge of desserts. Given the constraints of equipment in the kitchen, I mostly made tarts: strawberry, apple, apricot, cheese, cherry, etc. One night though, I made lavender ice cream, without an ice cream machine. Out of all the desserts I made in the little house in Murs, that ice cream was, in my mind, the one thing that summed up the essence of Provencal life the best. Granted, I used local fruits for all the tarts but I went into the garden and picked out the plumpest lavender blossom for the ice cream myself. Somehow that act of touching the blossoms and inhaling the fragrance amongst the bees busy collecting nectar made me feel like somewhat like a provencal farmer. Then there’s the hand churning of ice cream, which is the ultimate testament of my infatuation with lavender. I stayed up until midnight taking the custard out of the freezer every 15 minutes or so to give it a stir, at first with a wooden spoon and later on with a hand-held blender on low speed. We didn’t get to eat the ice cream until the next day but it was worth the wait. The freshly harvested flowers gave the ice cream a strong but not overwhelming lavender flavor that was so refreshing and intoxicating at the same time. All that churning made an old wrist injury flare up but there was no doubt in my mind that it was absolutely a necessary sacrifice.

Without further delay, here’s the recipe for the ice cream:

250ml milk
250ml cream
generous handful of lavender flower, plus extra for sprinkling
6 egg yolks
90g caster sugar