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Flash in the Pan

A special crème Christmas story



During the holidays, the warm feelings in my heart always glow brightest in the kitchen, where I like to prepare a festive treat called "White Christmas."

Many of the world's finest meals have been made with ingredients of the white and creamy persuasion, and White Christmas is no exception. My appreciation of such things started on day one and has held firm ever since: breast milk was followed by a parade of crèmes, including whipped cream, ice cream, cream cheese and crème brulee. And not all crème is sweet. Hard cheese, salted butter, coconut milk curry and other unsweetened formulations of crème have stroked many a savory tooth.

But not all crèmes are as innocent as their pearly white hues might imply. Those produced with cow milk—that would be most of them—have been drawing consumer suspicion for a range of concerns over various health, environmental and moral issues.

And while taste is not among the complaints against cow milk, there is, nonetheless, a non-dairy threat to milk's dominance in the kitchen—an ingredient at the heart of my delicious White Christmas.

When I was in college, a stoner friend announced that he could smoke more pot with less post-nasal drip when he quit eating milk products. Until then, I'd never even contemplated the meaning of "post-nasal drip" beyond its status as a mildly amusing medical term.

But the term lingered in my head, joined by images of the phlegmy loogies I would sometimes hack up, loudly, and launch great distances to the sound of a whale clearing its blowhole. I wondered if these loogies were related to the stale smell I could sometimes detect on my breath, for which I carried gum in case I was ever close to a chick.

At the time, I was eating bovine crèmes with reckless abandon, in sandwiches, soup and coffee; on salad, bread, brownies, pasta. It was anything-goes with the bovine crème, like the sexual revolution in San Francisco, pre-VD, with white clam sauce and tiramisu instead of coke-fueled orgies.

When, for the sake of that possible post-nasal drip, I stopped consuming bovine crèmes cold turkey, I began feeling better almost immediately, and my snotty symptoms diminished. Meanwhile, I began exploring the possibilities of a very special non-bovine crème, one that works in almost any situation bovine crème would be called for.

I call it special crème, though it's known to most as mayonnaise. Its prize characteristic is making that which goes into your mouth more delicious. On steamed broccoli and toast in place of butter, on pasta instead of parmesan, with lox on bagels instead of cream cheese, with chips and salsa, on steak and potatoes, or leftover Chinese food.

And special crème has a place in sweet foods, too. If you replace the eggs and oil with special crème in almost any cake recipe you'll enjoy moist, happy results. In Siberia, mayo is widely considered more valuable than vodka.

Chemically speaking, mayonnaise is an emulsion, which is a mixture of substances that don't typically want to mix. In the case of mayo, those would be oil, which is a fat, and vinegar or lemon juice, both of which are acids. Look no further than a jar of homemade salad dressing to see how much these acidic and fatty fluids want to be together.

Such emulsions are often formed with the aid of an emulsifier, which is a substance that forges a truce between the mutually disinterested parties. In the case of mayo, the emulsifier is lecithin, found in egg yolk.

When you place a jar of mayo on the table as you sit down to eat, it's a bold statement and people take notice. Curiosity and skepticism are common first reactions as you drop a dollop of that lily-white mouth-pleasing goodness onto your dish. If you're able to get spectators to become participants by accepting an offered dollop of their own, odds are good they'll have a jar of their own on the table someday. They may not give up their bovine crèmes, but they'll respect the special crème.

Over the years I've gone through many brands of mayo, always with a spoon, never a fork. Best Foods was number one for longer than I care to admit, followed by a slew of natural-ish mayo brands, none of which I loved, until I found Mystic Lake mayonnaise. That was love.

I stuck with Mystic Lake for many creamy years before I found something better. And that, to my surprise, turned out to be a crème of a very different construction. A fake mayo called Grapeseed Oil Vegenaise.

I didn't make this switch because I went vegan—I still eat meat and eggs. And I didn't make this switch out of cholesterol concerns.

I switched because when the lights go down and the taste-testing gets started, the fake mayo in the jar with the purple label is clearly the crème de la special crème, and blows away the competition. The taste is better and the mouth-feel is lighter, and it's simply better spooned on top of food.

Since there are no egg yolks in Grapeseed Oil Vegenaise to provide lecithin, a soy protein acts as an emulsifier to unite the grapeseed oil, apple cider vinegar and lemon juice. It also contains rice syrup, mustard powder, salt, and water. A simple recipe, well executed, and well received.

Whenever I dollop special crème into soup or breakfast tacos, an ordinary day becomes like Christmas. And that's the true meaning of a White Christmas: any dish with a dollop of special crème. And unlike Christmas, you can have special crème every day.

Ask Ari: Gamey game

Q: Dear Flash,

I'm sure you've answered this before, but can you advise on how to take the extreme gaminess out of freshly killed meat?

—A Successful Shooter

A: Dear Successful Shooter,

Congratulations on your hunt! Now for the bad news: It sounds like you may have screwed up royally after the animal went down—that is, if it wasn't a nasty gut shot that's to blame for this "extreme gaminess" of which you speak.

Unfortunately, for you anyway, I'm not much of an expert on gaminess. I do everything I can to make sure they die quickly and bleed out soon after, hopefully on a cold day. I'm careful to avoid puncturing the guts while field dressing. On deer, I always cut off those two stinky glands on their hind legs, by the elbow joints—and then I make sure to clean my knife before using it again on good meat. I never let the meat get above 45 degrees until it's cooking, starting from when I stuff the body cavity with snow after gutting it (or with ice bags kept in coolers back at the truck if its a warm day). Ideally I keep the meat hanging in the 20–30 degree range until it's cut up. Throughout the entire process, from field to butcher paper, I take every step to minimize animal hair getting on the meat, and I carefully remove any hairs that do. When I cut it up, I remove as much fat and connective tissue as I can. Any meat that's bloodshot from the bullet goes in the dog pile. And I wouldn't shoot a muley buck in the rut unless it was the last day of the season. Well, maybe if he was really big.

So, lucky for me, I can't be much help to you on dealing with your gamey game. I know that in Jamaica when they make curry with extra-randy goat meat, they toss the cubes of meat in fresh lime juice, let it marinate for an hour, rinse the meat off under the tap, and then cook it for hours with strong spices. You could give that a try.

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