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5.12.2005

On rewards and radishes

I’m a loyal fan of the carrot-and-stick approach. No matter what the task—a thesis to be written, say, or a shower to be scrubbed, another item to be scratched off the list—the promise of prizes or penalties is an essential motivator. That said, I should add a qualification: my take on carrot-and-stick is, in reality, more often carrot-and-carrot.

I began hashing out my rewards philosophy back in March, when I entered into the process known ominously as “the thesis.” I decided that for every afternoon spent with my head in the books and my fingers on the keyboard, I would grant myself an evening of Sex and the City. All told, it’s been a lovely couple of months, with social theory by day and Sarah Jessica Parker’s theories by night—although, truth be told, I’ve occasionally been known to skip lightly over the former and head straight for the latter. I mean, really, with four episodes per DVD and only a limited timeframe on the rental, I don’t have much of a choice. And anyway, the whole “stick” part of the equation is overrated.

As one would expect, other rewards have been gastronomic in nature. For example, hand-shaved noodles at Shanghai Garden make for a comforting (and only slightly greasy) pat on the back, and I’ve also found myself unusually motivated by the promise of an early-evening gin and tonic, although any thoughts of further nighttime productivity are quashed—and not unhappily, I’ll admit—with the first cold, limey sip. Of course, chocolate in its many forms is also a good bonus, and a silky wedge of Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam does the trick too, preferably right off the side of the knife, sometime between 4 and 6 pm. But if we’re going to get really precise, lately my carrot is a radish.

You can try to argue, spouting off about snobbery or Chirac, but the French are magnifique: they truly understand radishes. My love for la douce France has long been documented, and now that I’m writing a thesis on the French and their social security system, it’s also engraved in the halls of academia—but my devotion reached new heights a few weeks ago, when I had my first taste of a radish with salted butter. Here in the States, we tend to relegate the poor things to the bottom of the salad bowl, but the French give radishes pride of place, serving them at aperitif hour, halved, dragged through soft butter, and dusted with salt. Though I’d known for years of this sophisticated practice, I hadn’t tried it myself until a recent trip to the grocery store—a late-afternoon break from the computer—when I found myself before a basketful of fat, scarlet radishes. Deep, dark pink with roots tipped in white, they were round as tiny globes and appealingly mottled with dirt.

So I scooped up a bunch, brought them home, poured myself a cool glass of white wine, and pulled from the fridge a foil-wrapped brick of lightly salted Plugra. While the butter softened, I closed the books and shut down the computer, drowning out its chirpy “exit Windows” sound with Jacques Dutronc’s very appropriate “J’ai tout lu, tout vu, tout bu.” And then I turned to the reward at hand: radishes, two ways.

First, I gave them each a good scrubbing and snipped off their ratty roots and water-logged leaves. A couple of them I halved from stem to stern, giving them a generous, satiny smear of Plugra and, just for good measure, a sprinkling of fleur de sel.


They were a play of contrasting textures and flavors: the radish’s crisp crunch cloaked by the unctuousness of butter, its mild but peppery bite tamed by salt and cream. Washed down with a sip of wine, it was quite possibly the perfect reward. But the picture could only get rosier with the addition of another French inspiration, the baguette.


So the radish made a second appearance, and this time in more elegant attire: sliced paper thin like translucent sheets of ice, laid atop a well-buttered slab of baguette, and dusted with finely ground pink Hawaiian sea salt.* Dear reader, this was a radish ready for the ball, wrapped in its finest feathers and frippery—or at least, like the girl consuming it, ready for a night consisting of something more than computers, keyboards, and the old carrot-and-stick.


*Fancy-pants salt courtesy of an exceedingly generous New York-based reader; really, monsieur, you outdid yourself.

28 Comments:

Blogger Tisane For One said...

Molly,
I have a new found respect for radishes - when I was younger I was always force-fed the little buggers. I found their taste incompatible with mine. Thank you for making me see a whole new and tempting side to these. Wow...
PS Your thesis sounds like a dream come true...well if you are a masochist! Hats off to you girl.

12:55 AM, May 13, 2005  
Blogger Michèle said...

Hi Molly,
The French ARE brilliant aren't they! I too have only recently discovered that I actually do like radishes, sprinkled with salt of course. Though I have yet to try them with butter. Dear old Martha actually has a recipe for Fresh Radishes with Flavored salts and Butters that I've been mulling over lately. I think you've given me that little nudge that I needed. And on a baguette? Even better!

3:04 AM, May 13, 2005  
Anonymous maria said...

hello! i can't tell you how happy your post made me. i used to work for a little french restaurant in college {owners are from france and still dear friends} and they got me on radishes with a touch of salt as a snack. i have adored them for ages now. they are SO wonderful... what a lovely trip down memory lane thinking of the long dinners on their deck of afternoon lunches... all with wine of course. sigh. thank you for the great post and here's to radishes avec sel et beurre... love the simple things! cheers, mav

6:23 AM, May 13, 2005  
Anonymous teri said...

Such happiness for me this morning - a new post to read and one about radishes! I've had exactly the same epiphany eating the same dish (although my radishes were adorable easter egg radishes: violet, lavender, fuschia, scarlet and white). I grated them and made them into rainbow pancakes to serve with salmon and then ate the rest of the little beauties with Plugra and salt. Am eagerly anticipating market day tomorrow for the chance to get more...

8:30 AM, May 13, 2005  
Blogger nosheteria said...

Ah, radishes, I love them too, yet have not tried them with butter, only salt. I even love them cooked. Sliced in half, and sauteed with shallots, in butter, with a wee bit of water, it gives the radish a nutty, slightly turnipy flavor-- much mellower.

12:22 PM, May 13, 2005  
Anonymous Jessie said...

I think i just fell in love with you. how adorable. although, i must say, that's quite a lot of butter.

7:22 PM, May 13, 2005  
Anonymous Melissa said...

Oh Molly, I can commiserate about the thesis writing! I must say, though, the carrot-and-carrot approach doesn't work for me anymore. My carrot used to be reading my favorite food blogs. Now that I have my own, however, it seems to have migrated up to a position of 'professional necessity'. Ha! I'm afraid that the only thing that really kicks one in the pants to work is the inevitable 'oh-my-god-I'm-never-going-to-finish-this!' panic. But hey, you're probably more self-disciplined than me. Good luck, and great tip on the radishes!

5:15 AM, May 14, 2005  
Blogger Swirl and Sniff said...

What a great idea... I was looking for something to go w/a (barely) poached salmon and polenta+mushroom consumme dish for dinner on Monday (friends & I get together every Monday for drunken dinners and it's my turn!). Thanks again, ma'am, for the inspiration.

12:57 PM, May 14, 2005  
Anonymous Oliver said...

Hey Molly, yumm these little radishes look really good! What we in Bavaria refer to as Radiserl, you typically get in beergardens together with different cheeses, pretzels and so forth. 'Have to try them your way..:)

12:52 AM, May 15, 2005  
Anonymous Becca said...

I have never ever thought about combining radishes with butter and salt as an appetizer. In fact, though I love radishes, I have never known what to do with them ... until now. What wine do you serve radishes and butter with?!

4:27 AM, May 15, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Tisane for One, I'm not sure that I'd call my thesis a dream come true--even for a masochist!--but radishes with salted butter most certainly fit that description! I hope you feel the same way...you'll have to let me know.
P.S. Love your new name, m'dear.

Michele, that Martha recipe sounds fantastic! If you do try it and like it, will you give me an update?

Mav, your restaurant gig sounds dreamy. Mmmmm. What a nice trip down memory lane...

Teri, those rainbow pancakes sound delicious--what a great idea! And as for the Easter egg radishes, last week I almost bought a pretty little bunch of them instead of regular ole red ones. So tempting. Do you find that the white ones are milder than the red or purple ones?

And nosheteria, your cooked radishes sound wonderful. I love the flavor of turnips, so it would likely be a big hit with me...

9:35 PM, May 15, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Jessie, fear not: that radish is actually pretty small, so it's really not that much butter. Just two little leaves of the stuff. My restraint was actually quite remarkable--I mean, mmm, salted butter! Moderation can be difficult.

Melissa, we should swap thesis-related carrot-and-stick notes...

Swirl and Sniff, the menu for your drunken dinner sounds wonderful! I can't wait to hear an update--and, ahem, am actually rather envious.

Oliver, I've got to get myself to a Bavarian beergarden ASAP. Sounds right up my alley...yum. By the way, your website is absolutely beautiful.

And Becca, if you're already a radish fan, you'll love this. As for wine, I was drinking an inexpensive white from Burgundy, an unoaked Chardonnay. It was delicious--a nice, round, crisp flavor without being too dry or flinty for the buttery radishes. I'd try them with any white you like, as long as it's not overly dry or citrusy. Perhaps Swirl and Sniff (see above) can help with this question?

10:22 PM, May 15, 2005  
Blogger apples4me said...

Hi Molly,

Just checked out your reply to my comments regarding your cam in your earlier post!Thanks! So glad you included recipe for beignet, too. Cheers!

12:02 AM, May 17, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Molly! I thought you might enjoy reading this bit of an email I wrote to a friend early this afternoon. We live in New York City and I live and work just a few blocks from the divine Union Square Greenmarket, which is open a blissful four days a week.

By the by, I only recently discovered you/Orangette (via my devious and equally grub-lovin' mom) but my life is already richer for it! You and the loving way you write about food are a real delight.

And here, the excerpt from said email:

"She needed some help, and quick, so I rushed out the door and grabbed the M14 to Union Square ... the only upside to her whole mess is it put me in the very close vicinity of some fresh-picked radishes. They were so beautiful sitting there in the basket on the table at the greenmarket, plump bunches, held together with thick twine. And you know I'm fully unable to resist the call of local veggies ... I can't think straight or of anything else when I'm near them (hmm, perhaps instead I'm thinking more clearly than at any other time?). And per the suggestion of the lovely Molly over at http://orangette.blogspot.com/ , I've just rinsed and trimmed a few and smeared them with creamy salted butter and ground some sea salt over them for a pre-lunch treat. Apparently it's a French thing. They're wonderful! They're springtime incarnate! They're getting the attention I never knew they deserved! How lucky I am to live in a city where these veggies are so easy to get, even in the middle of the workday."

A million mercis!

peace
Lisa

12:33 PM, May 18, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Lisa, your comment made my afternoon. I'm so glad to hear that you love the radish/butter/salt combo as much as I do. Three cheers for greenmarkets!

Oh, and P.S. Your e-mail is wonderfully eloquent--just beautiful!

3:41 PM, May 18, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

bonjour cherie! nearly bonsoir for me, here in bangalore. you are to butter as i to whipped creame - an epidemic, a ceaseless vehicle, finding ways to deliver it everywhere, even the most shocking places, a radish, i mean really! i miss you terribly, as usual. and will continue to adore your creativity from afar. cannot wait to see you in less than a week! - kate

2:11 AM, May 19, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Kate, ma petite, je t'adore! I *cannot* wait to see you next week...really, seven weeks is WAAAAY too long. We've both lived entire lifetimes since you left, ma cherie, and no flurry of e-mails can possibly replace our ridiculous squeal-packed conversations. Any special requests for your first hours back? Ginger-molasses cookies? Or perhaps radishes with saltilicious butter? Dis-moi.

8:49 AM, May 19, 2005  
Blogger Michèle said...

Hi Molly,
well I thought I should let you know that I tried Martha's flavoured salts and butters recipe. Martha and I parted ways on this one. The salts were good but it just complicated the flavour when it didn't need to be complicated. Fresh radishes the Molly way? It's a good thing.

10:53 AM, May 20, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Thanks for reporting back, Michele, although I'm sorry to hear that you and Martha have had a falling-out. And to think, it all sounded so promising! I do have to say, though, that I'm honored to know that I may have outdone Martha, just this one time.

10:09 PM, May 21, 2005  
Anonymous keiko said...

Oh Molly, these look iressistible... I love radishes (like so many other Japanese) and your photos are really gorgeous, as always.

12:43 PM, May 22, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Keiko, they ARE irresistable! If you're already a fan of radishes, the addition of a little butter should make you immeasurably happy. And thank you for your compliments of my photography--I'm honored.

9:25 PM, May 22, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hiya Molly,

This is Lisa, the same one from a month back, with a short note I meant to relate back then. My mom and dad and I got to talking about radishes, and your suggestion, and I mentioned the bit about how "apparently it's a French thing." And my dad told me he ate radish and butter sandwiches on white bread as a kid in smalltown 1950s Missouri! I'm not sure if there's a curious franco-missourian connection, or if my dad and his family ate these sandwiches because they were cheap and money wasn't plentiful. No matter what -- a good story!

10:07 PM, June 18, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

A great story, Lisa! It makes me wonder...maybe the French got into the radish-and-butter thing for money reasons too. Historically, France has been an agricultural country, and its wealth is a relatively recent thing. Actually, I imagine that there might be quite a few similarities, food-wise, between humble, wallet-conscious cuisines in France and America. Hmm...anyone need a research topic?

3:53 PM, June 22, 2005  
Blogger Biggy said...

Molly,

Late have I come to Orangette, but very, very gladly. I appear to be posting to this particular entry about a year later than everyone else, but I wanted to say Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. Radishes so do remind me of France (as apparently they do everyone), and when I read this yesterday I walked straight to the market from my train and got a bag of radishes and a stout brickette of Plugra.

It's no surprise your blog brings all the foodies to the yard, a la Kelis. Congratulations also on the engagement & good luck with the move! Nothing is quite so good as love + food. Many years of happiness to you both.

12:38 PM, June 30, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Merci bien to you, Biggy! And welcome to Orangette - better late than never, I say! And three cheers for radishes, too, straight from the train. Here's to many more, with plenty of butter.

4:34 PM, June 30, 2006  
Blogger oubliette said...

I can't explain it, exactly, but I finally tried your recipe for radishes with butter and sea salt on baguette, and I feel somehow. . . rejuvenated. It just feels so good somehow sitting there, like a little bellyful of sunshine. Thanks for sharing, and happy springtime!

5:29 PM, March 03, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now you may see what point I am at reading your blog. I saw Brandon's name mentioned in June 2005 and was trying to remember when you first started emailing etc. And the date you met in the hotel - I have been there a couple times and sorry for being snoopy
dear writer but you did tell all in the book!

Anyway about the radishes- so a nine year old radish disliker- trusted you and me and we tried them and we loved them. I was so surprised what difference butter could make - and it truly does not take but a tiny sliver of it yet such a gigantic sliver of difference in flavor- Lexi was so surprised at how much it tames the heat. (My grand daughter) We still have not made the cake but upon telling her brothers of the plan - we now HAVE to sometime.

10:59 AM, April 09, 2009  
Blogger Miss Mellifluous said...

I remember as a little girl being introduced by my Polish grandmother to sliced radishes which had been coated with a generous dollop of sour cream and sprinkled with salt. While butter, salt and radishes are tasty, the tartness of sour cream tastes even better to me! Try it!

11:06 AM, July 21, 2009  

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