Orange, the cool color of winter, the warm color of summer.
Orange Creamsicles, orange sherbet, orange Kool-Aid, orange soda icy cold, a kid’s survival kit for the searing, scorching heat of the summer months. Apricots and peaches in pastel shades, tinged with pink of the morning sky, orange juices dripping down chins, onto the sidewalk, pits spit across the lawn.
Knock knock who’s there? Orange? Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?
Candy corns, pumpkin pie, roasted sweet potatoes, the orange that heralds the change of season, rings in an autumn of orange and gold. Halloween and Thanksgiving, hallmarks of fall, filled with orange fading to brown, deepened with yellow, the colors of fallen leaves.
Citrus. Winter is welcomed with orange, darker, richer orange, nubbly skins and sweet insides, orange fragrance, spurts of juice. Navals and tangelos, tangerines and clementines, a slew of orange that brightens my winter days, a little bit of sunshine with each orange reminder of my youth.
Candied orange peel dazzling in crystals of sugar or hiding wickedly beneath a dark cloak of chocolate. Christmas.
Holidays were always punctuated with orange. My mother’s sweet potato casserole, sweetened with a splash of orange juice and a thick layer of mini marshmallows cooked until a gooey, sugary mess with a fine crust of blackened crunch was perfect with the bland turkey. Later, I would whip up a pumpkin pie, replacing dad’s canned filling and frozen crust with homemade, a splotch of whipped topping breaking up the monotonous orange landscape of the surface. Some years later, pumpkin would be alternated with sweet potato pie of a glossier orange speckled with faints flecks of a brighter orange against the duller tone.
Pumpkin bread in a deep gamboge dotted with dark chocolate chips or cranberry walnut bread moistened with a glass of orange juice, perfect against the tart berries, the earthy nuts, an orange barely visible to the naked eye but for the blurred pinpoints of zest against white.
Older, more sophisticated with a dash of daring, the orange now comes in astonishing scintilla, a heady whiff of Grand Marnier or Cointreau. No flaming, no amber, no golden color needed, this orange bursts forth on the tastebuds against a backdrop of chocolate of the deepest brown. Grand Marnier or Cointreau, orange hidden among the innocent white of a panna cotta or a delicate vanilla sponge, secretive in appearance, very adult, provocative, sexy when discovered.
I awoke each African morning to a blaze of sunshine, a blast of heat and a tall, slim glass of freshly squeezed orange juice with which to swallow down two bitter quinine tablets.
Thin, shiny, impossibly plastic version of cheese, an ode to cheddar, enveloped snuggly in plastic. Peel back the wrapper and pull up the orange square like a postage stamp and place in squarely in the center of a slice of white bread and then another and cover with a second slice of bread. Slather just the right amount of butter or margarine on that bread, flip and repeat. Slip onto a hot griddle, into a smoking skillet, fingers sticky, slippery with fat, and cook, flip, cook, flip until more than simply golden, close to burnt. Scoop out of the pan and onto a plate and slice on the angle creating two perfect, perfectly even triangles (never rectangles, never squares!), the bright orange goo stuck to spatula, stuck to plate, stuck to teeth.
You added vegetables to my cake! His accusation stunned me. How did he know? This little boy, my angelic little son was a demon when it came to vegetables, could discover them, spy them, sense the merest presence in the wink of an eye, by simply standing in the same room as a cake, cookie or loaf. His accusation put me on the spot. How could I lie? He noticed the flecks of orange in the golden cake, claimed to be able to taste carrot in the sweet, cinnamon loaf. With his absolute abhorrence of vegetables, he acted as if I added finely grated carrot by design, to pull the wool over his eyes, to trick him into eating vegetables.
We had a basketball. My dad screwed in the headboard and basket against the house above the garage (do not bang the basketball into the garage door, please). That basketball offered us kids hours, days, months and years of entertainment. Oh, the games we made up with simply one orange basketball and a basket, playing on that cement driveway, my brothers and I. Friendly competition in orange.
The kitchen was a given: red, deep cherry red cabinets, gray countertops, white walls. Husband absolutely had to cook surrounded by red. The diningroom was a gift to me: heavenly raspberry walls edged in brick; edgy, indeed. The family room, one of two huge spaces lined on two walls with picture windows allowing for a flood of light all year round, was our common dream, white balanced with charcoal gray, half and half sensual, voluptuous, evocative charcoal, as moody as the photographs of the blackened faces of Chinese miners lining one wall. Charcoal and white with the merest touch of humor, a mod touch of Kelly green reminiscent of our youth.
The argument came in the living room. The source of the disagreement, the bone of contention, was orange. An expanse of wall all in orange. Yes! He said. Noooo! She parried. There is nothing worse than orange (accept maybe green). Back and forth, the argument heated orange. Orange will suffuse the space with warmth, infuse it with energy, he affirmed. Orange, oh no, not orange! She begged.
Of course, he won out. He dragged her to the paint store where samples of orange fanned out in front of them. He urged, she moaned, they argued. Until a color orange was decided upon. Burnt Orange. And that wall, concealed under an opaque coating of burnt orange radiated an energy, strength, something hot and positive, something that would lean towards bawdy, lusty, sizzling.
And together they basked in that burnt orange. And orange invigorating, stimulating. Orange.
Your food is all brown, she scoffed with distaste. Brown. From one end of the table to the other, from appetizer to dessert, brown. I am the granddaughter of immigrants, hearty Russian stock coming from a cold land where bodies were sustained with potatoes, cabbage, beets, onions and chicken. The dinner table was filled with hot cabbage soup, kasha varnitchkes and carrot tzimmis, potato kugel and carrot kugel, the Holidays found us sitting in front of plates laden with smoked fish and chopped chicken livers, chicken soup with matzoh balls and golden, sweet loaves of Challah. Making an exception for a ruby red bowl of borscht or the bright orange lox tinged with pink, our food, I have to admit that our food is decidedly brown.
She was the daughter of Moroccan immigrants. Her own parents came from a land not of cold and grey, but one of sunshine and fertile land. Her culinary heritage is filled to overflowing with violet eggplants, golden orange pumpkin and carrots, deep green zucchini and bright yellow lemons. Dishes are spiced with saffron and cinnamon, drizzled with honey and flavored with dried fruits and nuts. Though I defended my culinary inheritance with the pride of a scrappy but out-weighed boxer, I could definitely see her point.
Bright orange chunks of fork-tender carrots and wedges of pumpkin nestled against the zucchini and chickpeas in a fragrant broth; dazzling carrots neon orange glazed with a slick of oil, a gloss of honey, stained with a hint of saffron. Our dull brown carrot kugel is no comparison to the gleaming brilliance of a North African carrot salad dappled with deep green mint and coriander. Our beets may be rosy, but an orange salad, sweet, juicy, gorgeous and glistening, shiny with sunny slices of orange with the added brightness of slippery olives or pomegranate seeds like jewels against the dessert sand.
This orange and olive salad is a true Sicilian classic, there are other versions of it with fennel or onions but I choose to give you the original! I also present it in a different way than I would actually make it normally but for the sake of visual interest, I didn't peel the orange before slicing it. I suggest you do that.
SICILIAN ORANGE SALAD
a large handful of olives
salt extra-virgin olive oil
Slice the oranges and distribute them on a plate. Top with olives, salt and pepper lightly and then drizzle some extra-virgin olive oil over it all. Leave to marinate for a while before serving.