Snow Is Easier to Shape than Marzipan

Ashland has come down with a case of what weathermen, in their ominous lingo, call an Arctic Chill. So walking outside these days has the urgency of survival. I imagine if I stop or slow down I will freeze into a brittle humancicle. I would need only to be nudged to shatter, as in that oddly frequent movie image of living flesh soaked in liquid nitrogen and splintering into a spectacular heap. Then again, nothing I've ever dredged out of the bottom of the freezer has been even close to brittle. Have you ever tried to get frozen peaches out of a bag without first thawing them? They are anything but precarious.

Leather shoes are a bit of a mystery to me. When leather dries out it gets brittle and flaky. The more the shoe is worn--the more it is bent over and over--the more malleable it stays. But wear is, well, wear and the leather gets wrinkled. After all it is skin.

It's undoubtedly because I have to bend my shoes so much just to avoid the fate of the solid puddles under them that it's the only time I can write this. Before I crawl into bed to rediscover my legs, which is where I'm actually writing this. (I've heard that one sustained pitch is impossible to locate; it has to change.) Unfortunately, one can't actually put anything down while rushing around saying "brr" to an imaginary sympathizer.

Which is about the least one can ask of oneself in anyone else's presence--to offer oneself up to like buttons. If trying is too much, there's always tossing things together. Yesterday someone's SUV crashed (at 2 mph) into the curb in front of my house. We were so happy about the circumstance, I may as well have said "glad you're stuck outside my house!" Then a couple out walking ran across the scene. I couldn't tell if they were friends or complete strangers; the man helped the other man put on chains, and the woman stood talking pleasantly with the other woman. It was so well-ordered. There are of course better things that have come of random collisions--Earth, for example, or Sandra Bullock's rebirth in Gravity. But ultimately, she had to help herself.

Marzipan has three ingredients: sugar, almond meal, and egg white. Maybe it's just two though. Glue and substance. It seems improbable that just one egg white binds four cups of sugar and almond meal, and it doesn't become any less improbable when it does. A spoon is useless. You have to use your hands to mix the snot and powder into something resembling pastry without water. It doesn't get any more cohesive. You just have to squish the dry mass into lumps. I'm not sure if it's egg white or effort that binds the stuff together.

Making pastry is taking care to keep something that sticks to itself really well from sticking to itself. The best pastry and the worst friends are flaky. Making marzipan is the inverse: making something that doesn't stick together very well do exactly that. Because it has to cohere to be shaped. It's easiest to make blobby shapes, because anything spindly or intricate or concave crumbles. It seems that figs are the archetypal marzipan shape, because the most you can hope for, without being ambitious, is pinching a blob at one end to make a tapering neck. Pears are also relatively easy. But no matter what you do, the key is to keep working it; it becomes easier the more it's kneaded. I think. You also must cover whatever you're not working on in a damp cloth. Although that tends to make the exterior wet, which counterintuitively makes it fall apart more easily. It is a necessary precaution; left on their own for ten minutes, the blobs dry to being hard enough that dropping them doesn't damage them. They stay like that, in a state of falling apart.

At first, the fruit we painstakingly crafted seemed startlingly unfruitlike. Whoever painted that fig is a master. Mixing food coloring as if it were paint is as possible as shaping marzipan. The first fruit I made was a lifesize lemon, which is an inedibly enormous piece of marzipan. They did eventually become more convincing. One theory is simply accumulation. The more pieces of marzipan fruit there are, the more natural marzipan fruit becomes. Yet there's no consistency. Every fruit may be in a wildly different scale, so that I made a blueberry and a pomegranate that are roughly the same size. Their colors ranged from cartoonish to muddy realism. But together they ease the collective effort of their respective representation, so that we began thinking that real pears are less pear-like than ours. Perhaps this was wishful thinking, but that only became apparent on the occasions that the little clove stems fell off. And anything fits in. Someone asked "who did that big pomegranate? It's really good." But maybe he was being sarcastic about the reference fruit.

Was our table of mishmash marzipan fruit giving us lazy eyes? I'd say yes, but my legs are getting awfully creaky--maybe it is possible to overwork the material--and it seems to be getting colder out.

9 December 2013