I woke up this morning well before my alarm. I forgot to close my curtains last night and the sun, as it rises over the city, pokes around the neighboring building and eventually finds my face. I thought about burrowing under the covers to hide, but instead I just let the sun shine bright, my eyes squinting in protest.
I’ve been leaving a notebook by my bed for morning pages, so I shimmy to a sitting position, pulling an extra pillow behind my back, and reach for my pen. The window is open and the fan is on, my hair blowing before I tie it back into a knot. My phone is already pre-set with a twelve-minute timer. Ready? Start.
I write about how overcast it’s been and how nice it is to feel the burn of sun on my skin again. I shift on the mattress and angle myself so that my face hides in the shade of one of the narrow window panes. The shadow of my pen, tall like a skyscraper, drags across the paper, its point meets my script with the beginning of each word. I work out the exact angle to hold the notebook, the pen so that the shadow lifts and creeps back on to the page. I write really small and the shadow stays nearly still, a silent ventriloquist. Then, with a sweeping gesture, the shadow flies across the paper.
These are the shadows I avoid in photos, I write, but I think this morning that it might be fun to use them.
Breakfast was feta on rye toast with silan, also known as date honey. Less cloying than the bee-made stuff but with a similar viscosity, silan is a commonly-used sweetener in Israel and I’ve been playing around with it of late. A few weeks ago, a bunch of us from the restaurant did a pizza crawl that started at Rubirosa in Little Italy and ended in Brooklyn at Paulie Gee’s where I tried hot honey for the first time. A few days after I got back from Italy, I decided to try my hand at making my own version of this sticky spicy mess.
The impetus was laundry avoidance, an upcoming barbecue, and a large bag of tiny dried peppers. I had picked up the peperoncino piccante intero at a grocery story in an effort to use up my last few euro coins before heading to the Palermo airport. Given how small the peppers were, ranging in size from a half- to a full inch, I figured they’d be mighty spicy. But a tablespoon scooped into a pot of simmering silan barely registered as heat on my tongue. So I kept adding and tasting, adding and tasting, until I landed on a sweet mixture with a slow tingling burn that builds in the back of your mouth.
I’ve mostly been eating it as you can see in the photos, drizzled on salty cheese. I’ll be bringing some to Meira‘s this weekend and I imagine it’ll end up getting splashed into a drink or two, perhaps with some lime and gin.
Here are a few more photos, out of the shadows this time.
Temperature. You want to get the silan/honey hot enough that the peppers will infuse their heat without burning the sugars. Several recipes using actual honey recommend keeping the temperature under 150°F to maintain the health benefits of raw honey, so I pulled out my candy thermometer to see what was going on. Since i’m not concerned about honey as a healing food and I was using silan anyway, I ignored the 150-mark and focused more on making sure that it didn’t exceed the boiling point of water (212°F) at which point evaporation would begin (resulting in a change in the consistency – I didn’t want to make candy) and above which the sugars themselves would eventually burn (starting at about 230°F). Essentially, if the mix starts to bubble and froth, turn the heat down. If you’ve got a candy thermometer, try to keep the temperature around a safe180-200°F.
Spiciness. The commercial hot honeys i’ve tried are really hot. Really hot. I believe they use fresh chili peppers and may add vinegar. Mine is more of a medium hot. I’ve tried this recipe with both silan and honey, with small whole dried peppers and with pepper flakes. As I’m sure you know, the smaller the pepper, the spicier, so use your judgment. Start with 1 or 2 teaspoons pepper, especially if you’re using flakes and taste as you go.
Tasting. After each addition, let the peppers simmer in the honey for 10 minutes before tasting. To taste, drip a little honey onto a plate and let it cool down for at least 30 seconds before tasting. You do not want to put nearly boiling sugar anywhere near your body.
Makes 1 1/2 cups
– 1 1/2 C silan (or honey)
– 3-4 T dried red chili peppers or 1-2 T crushed red pepper
Heat. Bring silan and 1 tablespoon peppers to a simmer (180 – 200°F) in a medium-sized pot. After 15 minutes, taste for spiciness (see note). Add more pepper and continue simmering until you reach the heat level you want.
Filter. Allow the silan to cool for at least 5 minutes. Pour the cooled silan through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean jar.
Store. Store at room temperature.