Friday, December 3, 2010
I really like the idea that certain types of things can come to be thought of as someone's "signature". Scents, dishes, articles of clothing, even cocktails can become automatically associated in your mind with one person or one place. Coco Channel had her white pearls. Bing Crosby had that damn hat. The Brown Derby of course had the Cobb Salad. Anna Wintour has her haircut. My early business and graduate education was in brand development and marketing so this notion of an automatic association with something unique has always been somewhat fascinating to me. It is certainly not easy to attain in either the personal or the professional realm. Even a million dollars can't create it if it is not meant to be and yet when it does happen, it is golden...and worth much more.
Speaking personally, I would very much like a "signature" of some sort. Once upon a time I had a rather well-known signature but lets just say that certain advances in the scientific engineering in the commercial hair straightening industry has pretty much wiped that one away. (Just in case you are trying to think of a new one for me, white pearls are taken.) Back when I was quite the cologne aficionado (a hobby not too far related to cooking if you really think about it) I would to wear my favorite scent repeatedly and declare it "my signature" and yet truly, it never was. How come? The answer is that people tend to confuse their commitment to wearing only one sent, repeatedly serving the same dish, or drinking only one cocktail with it being a 'signature'. Not so. A real signature is not something you give yourself, it is given by others. Signatures aren't yours because you say so -- they become yours because others insist they are yours.
So why this talk? It occurred to me while preparing for this week's French Fridays with Dorie entry that Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts would be just such a dish ( if I could get it just right) that I could put forth to the world as an eventual 'signature'. I hadn't even tried them or read about them when I thought of this possibility idea struck me as ripe with possibility. Just read the title. Given the ease with which dish can be personalized and given the frequency with which one is given the opportunity to serve nuts certainly I could get people to declare them "my signature"? Well, Dorie as per usual already thought of this possibility and wrote about how this dish can easily become a spécialité de la maison. (Those French have words for everything!)
I didn't achieve anything close to what I would want to call Signature Nuts this time around but I am intrigued with the process. Given its ease and inexpensive ingredients I know I will keep tinkering. Not being much of a fan of chili powder unless its used in actual chili and realizing that doing this recipe exactly as written (in one of the most popular cookbooks of 2010 no less) isn't going to be quite personalized -- I opted toward the Bonne Idée this time around and used cardamom. This somewhat lemony toned spice is something I had not really encountered until Persians became a fixture in my life. I would have not normally considered it for a cocktail nut spice since most of my associations with it are with baked goods yet I was quite heavy handed with it here. Adding a very heavy hand of cayenne gave it some necessary heat for balance (and provided a fun trigger for excessive drinking.) Delicious perhaps but not 'signature' just quite yet. Future tinkerings will no doubt have me raiding the saffron from my mother in law's kitchen. (All relatives visiting from Iran are duty bound to bring her.) Perhaps a splash of lime juice with the cardamom and saffron? The Garam Masala I just bought from the new gourmet spice shop in town will take these a new direction as well. So much endless possibility. Will I get that signature appetizer?
That will be up to you. Do you have a true 'signature'?