A couple of summers ago Jeff and I stayed with our friends Ted and Barbara Alfond in Maine. We had dropped Cate off at summer camp and were driving through this gorgeous state to visit friends and family. Summers are spectacular in Maine. The growing season is short, but it seems like everything that comes out of the ground explodes with flavor. The guys played golf, and we ladies lounged, swam in the lake and shopped. It was all very 1950s-style civilized. One night I was helping make dinner. I was probably mid-way through a bottle of white wine while holding a glass in one hand and cracking eggs into a mixing bowl with the other. Barbara commented that she was impressed I could crack the eggs one handed. I hadn't even thought about it. I've cracked so many eggs in my lifetime that there's an ease about it. Your hands do the work without thought - without looking.
It's those things we do as we move throughout our day that come so naturally that we don't even realize we're doing them. The ease with which I hold Jeff's hand, the familiar feel of my horse's back, or the simple task of cracking an egg becomes rote through repetition. Then there are old tricks we pull out that we hadn't thought about for years. Like doing a cartwheel on the beach. I always have to look up the directions when I'm cooking grains because I get foggy on the ratio of liquid to grain. Couscous, is one-and-a-half parts water or stock to one part grain. I know how to make them taste great, with white raisins, toasted pine nuts and chopped chives. I just need that quick refresher on the science. Grits is one part grits to two parts water and two parts milk. Toward the end you can add butter or cheese to make them extra tasty. I just need a quick reminder of the proportions, but the preparations are rote.
My friend Nancy Solomon recently adopted a Chihuahua. Funny because she has always had large dogs. I mostly associate her with her old German Shepherd, Finn, who had been a lumbering presence in her art gallery. When I met little Chi Chi, I perched him on my hip and wrapped one arm around him with the other free to scratch his head. Being a neophyte to the littles, she was impressed that I knew how to hold a small dog. I've always had Jack Russell Terriers, often a rather poorly behaved breed, so I've learned to quickly scoop them up out of harm's way. I've scooped so many times that it's now automatic. My hands move in a fluid motion without thought - without looking.
I don't like to buy processed foods, especially when I know how to make them from scratch. Mayonnaise is one of them. It requires a lot of trial and error to perfect, but in my book it's totally worth the effort. Last week I blogged about Chopped Liver, which is a mix of seared chicken livers and egg salad. My mom helped me edit the blog, and struggled with my recipe for the mayonnaise in the egg salad. I think it's just one of those things that I've made so many times that I do it without thinking. Writing it out proved to be as much of a challenge as it sometimes is to make.
Mayonnaise is all about emulsification. It requires a mix of egg yolks, acid - either lemon or vinegar - and the slow drizzling of oil while you beat air into the mixture. You can mix by hand (if you hate yourself), but I prefer using a Cuisinart. You whirl the egg yolks and acid until the color of the yolks fades from bright yellow to pale. And then you start drizzling the oil into the chute or feed tube (Cuisinart's word) with the Cuisinart running. Take little breaks while the Cuisinart continues to run. Move around the kitchen. Let the whirling of the blades do the work for you, as you check back in to drizzle more oil. You'll drizzle a little bit of oil about 5-10 times until it starts to look like mayonnaise.
Here's where it gets tricky: you have to have the right sized Cuisinart with a feed tube on top. I've tried to do it in a blender. Fail. I've tried it in a Cuisinart without the feed tube, requiring me to stop it, open the top, pour in a little oil at a time, close the top and turn it back on. Fail. I've tried it in a Cuisinart that was bigger than the one I was used to. Until then I had made mayonnaise with one yolk. The trial and error involving my new bigger Cuisinart revealed that I needed two yolks.
You'll know that you made a mistake when the eggs and oil separate or "break," resulting in a liquid mess. Everyone I know who regularly makes their own mayonnaise has had it break on them. So don't feel bad. When it happens just scrap it and start over. I've seen people recover a broken mayonnaise and whip it into shape, but to me it's like staying with a bad boyfriend. Just dump it and start over with fresh eggs, acid and oil. You can't sweat the small defeats in the kitchen: The cuts, the burns, the broken mayonnaise. You have to keep trying until you can do it without thought - without looking. Bottom line: Homemade mayonnaise is a cool one to master and, if you don't screw it up, you will impress yourself and your guests.
2 Egg Yolks
1 C Oil (I've used many. I prefer olive oil)
Either the squeeze of a half lemon or 1 T of vinegar
Salt/Pepper to taste
Drop the egg yolks into the bowl of your Cuisinart with the blade insert and add the acid (lemon or vinegar). Turn on the Cuisinart with the feed tube open, and when the eggs turn a pale yellow start slowly drizzling the oil in the feed tube a little at a time. Drizzle again. Drizzle a little more. Repeat this about 5-10 times and watch the magic happen. In about two minutes it will start forming creamy little peaks and then the whole thing will come together to form the mayonnaise. Just like that.