Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A gourmet picnic.

Congratulations Ellen, happy graduation!

I traveled home to Colorado this weekend to surprise my youngest sister in honor of her collegiate achievements and her new degree. My efforts were rewarded not just with her delighted surprise at my presence, but also with an invitation to an exceptional celebration picnic. In a twist of wonderful fate, the calendar lined up so that Ellie's graduation picnic AND Mother's Day shared the afternoon, which made the event all the more special. The picnic menu was truly gourmet and included:

French cambemert with crackers
Goat cheese with fresh thyme, Jamaican honey, and orange zest
Garbanzo bean salad
Oriental sesame asparagus
Chilled beef tenderloin
Sause Bearnaise
Blueberry picnic cake
Domaine Chandon Blanc Noir Champagne
Le Fleur Pinot Noir

My favorite dishes included the goat cheese and honey and the beef with the sauce Bearnaise. Sauce Bearnaise is a French concoction of butter, egg yolk, shallot, and tarragon reduced with vinegar. The base of the sauce is an emulsion of clarified butter into egg yolk, which gives the sauce its thick, savory texture. The flavor is extraordinary, very rich, but at the same time a bit subtle. The shallot and tarragon coated my palate, but very lightly, so that I was always left with the feeling of craving more sauce.

Are you aware of the law of diminishing returns on your tongue? In my mind, in regard to eating, it goes something like this; the more food you input into your mouth, the less flavor is output onto your tastebuds. I am sure my economic reference is flawed in this theory, but thinking of this in flavor terns, I think of the law of diminishing returns on your tongue really means that the taste of something delicious can never be as tasty on the second bite as it was on the first, and the third bite can never be as tasty as the second bite, etc. Thus with every bite you put into your mouth, the pleasure you gain from eating diminishes. Sometimes flavorful foods follow this unscientific application of the law of diminishing returns on your tongue perfectly. Take for example garlic bread. The flavor burst from the second or third bite is never as pungent or overwhelming as the first bite, and the more bites you take, the more satiated your palate becomes with the taste until the experience of eating the garlic bread feels average, or at least good but not extraordinary.

However, nothing about the Sauce Bearnaise tasted average, not even after mouthfuls of saucy bites, tastes, and nibbles. The extra subtle flavors of shallot and tarragon, wrapped in the richness of the butter and egg, lingered on my tongue with just enough flavor, but not as much as I wanted, which meant I was always left wanting more after each bite. Each taste felt like a tantalizing tease of flavor, with the sauce dancing around on my taste buds as though it was ALMOST giving me its full burst of flavor, but not quite. There was always that craving for a bit more flavor, a bit more burst, but in a good way. The sauce inspired me to crave more sauce, even as my mouth was already full of it. Nothing could give me that fuller taste - not a greater quantity of sauce or a longer linger on the palate - and thus the flavor never diminished. My taste buds maintained a heightened state of flavor.

Ahhhh, avoiding the law of diminishing returns on the tongue while eating is a rare and tantalizing treat. The Sauce Bearnaise, the entire picnic menu, and most especially the company of my dear and wonderful family made this meal one of the most fulfilling and special picnics I have in my memory.

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