One of many versions of heaven is the blue firmament, or the region of the clouds that pass along the sky. When I was very young I was fascinated with clouds and for a brief while, probably at the age of six, believed they were made of cotton candy and that cherub-looking angels were sitting atop these puffs eating them as they pleased.
When I look back I am delighted that I believed that. It has always made cotton candy a treasure to me. When my boys were young I purchased a 20-dollar cotton candy machine from Target, the Prima Candy Floss Maker, and it was well used and was a hit with the boys and their friends, but as life goes it ended up in a cabinet for several years now and is just a memory.
Heaven comes in many forms; cotton candy, pure white sand and aqua water, champagne and time away. I just recently had my fill of all of those items on a beautiful ship called the Nieuw Amsterdam. It was nice to have time with my husband and spend time with a good friend, Christopher Kyte, whom we do not see as often now that I moved away from San Francisco. On our trip Christopher would join us for dinner most evenings while during the day we were enjoying the islands along the way back to San Juan, which remains a favorite place. One night before dinner we were talking about champagne pairings and according to Christopher champagne and fried chicken is the match made in food heaven. Although Christopher is well-traveled and possesses a sophisticated palate, he has no desire to become skilled in the kitchen. Years ago, I had to break the news to him that dark meat and white meat came from the same bird—he actually thought it came from dark chickens and light-colored chickens. I guess this is what happens when you never step into a kitchen. We have laughed over that for over 20 years. Although he cannot cook, I do credit him for coming up with a great combination.
Christopher and I became acquainted many years ago in San Francisco, shortly after he began his company, Uncommon Journeys, a luxury travel company that planned trips on two vintage rail cars, the Los Angeles and the Houston. I was fortunate that he frequented my restaurant so often that I became the Chef du Cuisine for his company and planed all the menus for its excursions. I would cook on occasion on the trains and when I was not able to go I often sent my sous chef, Norris Whitam, who loved cooking on the trains.
Years ago I had a favorite trip with Christopher, the writer Paul Theroux, and his lovely wife, Sheila Donnelly. We traveled from Oakland to Sundance. Paul wrote about the trip for Gourmet magazine and the article was so well-written that it has been published in a couple of books since. I remember some of what I cooked on that trip: pheasant gumbo, salmon in a potato crust over savory grits, and chocolate bread pudding. I also remember making a batch or two of my chocolate Martinis. Train travel is such a romantic way to travel, and I loved creating dishes that suited the occasions and the history of the train cars. I learned from my cooking on the train what would work, so Norris would not curse me for creating dishes that were impossible to execute. Cooking on a moving train is a challenge to say the least, and cooking on a ship must have its challenges as well. I was more than impressed with the dining rooms on the ship.
As life goes, it is the small things that can make an experience good or great. Oddly, of all the great food we had one memorable moment for me was one night after dinner when we were served limoncello and cotton candy. All I could think was, Why have I not thought of that?
I already have thought of some desserts that could be "dressed up" with a touch of cotton candy. Dessert is so often a challenge after a full dinner—not just what to serve but also the preparation time, or the challenge of being away from your guests. And what a perfect dish: a touch of sugar with limoncello. I just got my step ladder and went to that top cabinet above my ovens and retrieved the Prima Candy Floss Maker. It has made its way back to a countertop in my kitchen. Christopher is planning a visit, and I think I will find a good bottle of champagne and fry some chicken, and we will have cotton candy for dessert. It will be heavenly.
Recipe of the week: Go to Target, Kmart, or Walmart and purchase a 25-dollar candy floss maker. You will use it well.
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