Last month, I spent much of my time reading the incredible New Zealand Gold Rush tale The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. At 800-plus pages, the book seriously challenged my reading muscles. I devoted every free non-work/non-family moment to plowing through its pages, particularly as my neighborhood book group’s monthly gathering (at which we’d discuss said tome) nudged closer. I read on the train to and from downtown. I read during lunchtime workouts at the gym. I read in line for coffee in the afternoon, and through heavy eyelids each night. Much to my amazement, I finished the book with a whopping 90 minutes to spare, while parked in front of Roxy’s after-school care provider.
Once home that evening, light-headed with accomplishment, I had just enough time to make Roxy’s dinner, assemble her lunch for the following day and wonder what I’d grab to eat so as to avoid ravaging the light appetizer spread while everyone else delicately sipped at their glasses of red wine.
“Duh, I’ll make a smoothie!” I almost shouted to Rox.
She gave me a strange look and returned to her homework.
I found Super Smoothies and paged to Beta Boost, the recipe I’d earmarked the week before due to the presence of red bell pepper in the ingredient list. “The yellow or orange color of a fruit or vegetable is a clue that it’s rich in beta-carotene,” declare the Corpening twins in the recipe’s introduction. “It’s an important nutrient with all sorts of great benefits, like protection against memory loss, heart disease, water on the knee, and locusts.”
OK, I made that last part up. But honestly, I was so disinterested my mind had started to wander. At this stage in world history, can’t we all agree that fruits and vegetables are good n’ healthy and move on to more interesting topics?
I pulled my trusty old Osterizer blender from the cupboard and a bag of mango chunks, plus another of strawberries, from the freezer. Next, I poured a cup of carrot juice into the blender and dumped in a cup of the mango (the recipe calls for diced mango, but I didn’t have time to wrestle a knife through icy, slippery cubes of fruit). The second I punched Osterizer’s Mix button, the high-pitched scream reserved for down-market, 10-year-old appliances blasted through the kitchen. I think Jon arrived home at this point, shouting hellos, but neither Roxy nor I could hear him until the blender had stopped.
“I’m smoothy-ing,” I announced as he walked the mail into the office.
Ears ringing, I chopped a red pepper and added 1/3 cup of the shiny bits, as vivid and irresistible as garnets, to the blender’s orange liquid. On top of that went a cup of the frozen strawberries (ideally, the home cook would quarter these for easier pulverizing). “Blend until smooth,” instructs the recipe. I braced myself and hit Mix. Three seconds later, I jammed the Off/Grate button and hit Puree, followed by Liquefy.
That’s the thing I love about my dated blender—its optimistic array of feature buttons. Echoing the earnest, straight line of Snow White’s dwarf friends, the rectangular, raised buttons begin with Chop, Grate and Grind; segue into Stir, Puree and Whip, and finish with the robust Mix, Blend, Liquefy and (careful there) Ice Crush. Even though I think they all basically do the same thing only with varying levels of volume, my favorite setting is Whip. Somehow it manages to turn the contents of the blender into a four-petalled work of art.
The results: After several excruciating rounds of Puree (aided, in off moments, by the careful deployment of a wooden spoon to dislodge chunks stuck under the blender’s blades), I was done. The smoothie was a deep, beautiful coral color, and thick. I coerced glops of it into glasses—no pouring here—and handed one to Jon.
He took a few gulps. I did the same.
“Flavor-wise, it’s not my favorite smoothie,” he said, licking strawberry from his lip.
I had to agree. It was refreshing right out of the gate—the frosty, sweet kiss of strawberry paired nicely with the creamier rich mango and carrot tang. But then, whoa Nelly! A bright, slightly bitter, red pepper swirl followed. It was interesting (perhaps because it was novel?), but quickly dominated the other flavors. Even less appealing were the tiny bits of red pepper peel. As a rule, I prefer not to chew my beverages.
Beta Boost might work better if one were to peel the red pepper prior to dicing it. I suspect that would remove some of the bitter flavor, while still adding the unexpected zing of a vegetable (although I can hear the purists yelling that peppers are, actually, a fruit).
For the time being, however, any experimenting would have to wait. I had an 800-page book to go discuss in between surreptitious bites of olives, guacamole and cheese. (And the results there? We all loved The Luminaries…at least those of us who finished.)