The lambing season got off to a bitter start yesterday, with two stillborn lambs. Bitterly sad, such a waste of all the energy devoted to creating two such beautiful creatures. Eunice, their mother, was one of our first ewes and so has been with us for a while. Maybe because she is the most robust eater of our flock, and a big girl herself, she can generally be counted on for strapping, healthy lambs. During the Valentine’s Day blizzard a few years ago, several weeks before the lambs were due and while my husband was on the highway chasing a passport renewal for the vacation we were set to leave on in 24 hours, and while the snow was flying too thick to see one’s hands fly up to the sky in defeat, Eunice produced a lamb the size of a small pony. She has a sense of humor, as well as a good appetite.
Birthing is always a tightrope, a “perfectly ordinary miracle,” in the words of one midwife I know. I have done it and I have witnessed it enough times to know that the frightening moment of recognition of the perilous balance between worlds in which mother and baby can hover is not a rare component of the proceedings. Both times I watched my sisters do it, I saw that moment plain as day. “I could give up now,” said their eyes, and then they didn’t, and all was well.
Generally if a ewe is walking that knife-edge, the movements and scent of her wobbly baby will bring her around. We couldn’t offer that to Eunice, who clearly knew all was not right. She arched her neck along the ground, and her eyes rolled. I took her head in my hands. I talked to her, and we offered her coin in the currency we know she values: a slick of molasses, a nibble of grain. This tickle of her senses seemed to tip her back over to our side. My husband arranged her so she could stand, and she stood. A bitter day, and a restorative mouthful of sweetness.
We trundled off to a dinner party later that day, not in the best of spirits. It was a lovely group, in a lovely house, and at the end of the meal our hostess left the table for about three minutes and produced a dessert that was perfect. Bitter and sweet, light but with enough richness to satisfy. Restorative.
Here it is:
oranges with caramel and cream
6 or 8 oranges, a mix of blood oranges, navels and maybe a cara cara if they look good
a pint of heavy cream
a dash of vanilla
1 c sugar
¼ c water
Using a very sharp knife, cut the ends from the oranges and set them upright. Cut the peel and pith away from all sides, and lay the oranges on their sides to cut slices a little less than ½ “ thick. Remove any stray seeds from the slices, and arrange them in a dish where they will be no more than two slices deep. If you like, you can sluice them with a splash of wine or other spirits, or leave them plain. Whip the cream and the dash of vanilla to soft peaks.
Now you have done all your prep work, and you can leave all this in the fridge for a few hours if you need to.
An hour or so before you are ready to serve, let the oranges and the cream come out of the fridge and lose some of their chill. In a small, heavy pan, melt the sugar with the water and swirl gently (don’t stir) until you have an amber-colored syrup. Working fast and attentively (sugar burns are doozies), pour the sugar in a thin, circular stream over the oranges. It will sizzle and snap and smell delightful; the sugar will harden on contact with the cool fruit, and you want to try to avoid creating large, tooth-threatening clumps of it. I suppose you could pour the sugar onto a buttered piece of parchment, and crumble this thin sheet over the oranges, but the beauty of this seemed to rest as much in the perfect flavors as the total simplicity of the preparations.
Serve the oranges with a dollop of the cream. Our hostess had a tray of dark chocolate meringues alongside these which was warmly received, but the fruit and cream could easily stand alone. If you are new to the caramelizing trade, don’t fret over the sugar pot: hot water will clean it in a snap.