The Invisible Child Trust
Karen DeMasco's Steamed Lemon Puddings

David Tanis's Ambrosia

David Tanis's Ambrosia

Happy New Year! I hope you all had restorative, calming breaks. Max was home for 16 blissful days and we enjoyed every single one. Even Hugo played along and stopped waking up at 5:00 am, for which we are both endlessly grateful. We may even buy him a pony in gratitude? A tiny motorcyle? His very own African elephant baby?

I know it is hopelessly unhip to admit to eating healthfully in January, but I can't help it. In the grand German tradition, we started eating piles of Christmas cookies all the way back on the first Advent and by the time New Year's rolled around, after the roasts and the jelly doughnuts and the Stollen and panettone and everything else, it would have been a freaking miracle if our pants weren't tight. Ahem. My pants. Also, I now have that sort of unpleasant sensation of being completely sugared out. Of being sated down to the tips of my toes. Best remedied by eating lightly and cleanly and by getting out and moving.

But I was invited to a lunch party yesterday and was tasked with bringing dessert. What was I going to do? I couldn't bring myself to even make a pan of brownies. (The last pan I made, David's dulce de leche brownies, was just after New Year's and while they were perfect, I couldn't bring myself to eat more than a few bites. Like I said, sugared out! To the tips of my toes!)

Instead, inspired by something I read online from Amanda Hesser about a reinvention of that old Southern dessert ambrosia, a mix of sliced oranges and shredded coconut, I turned to David Tanis's lovely book, A Platter of Figs. David Tanis updates the dish with just a few simple touches, turning it from simple and retro into something far more elegant, complex and delicious.

Segmented citrus

Instead of just using oranges, David has you use grapefruits, blood oranges, kumquats and navels (I didn't have navels, so used clementines). The grapefruits are segmented, the oranges are peeled and sliced and the kumquats are sliced, so you not only have a whole dance of different citrus flavor going on, but layers of texture too, especially once the soft pineapple and spiky coconut are tossed in. Some versions of the old ambrosia add canned crushed pineapple to the mix, but here, David has you dice up fresh pineapple, which adds an element of pure sweetness to the dish. And instead of sweetened shredded coconut, use unsweetened shredded coconut (I used a mix of flaked and shredded, just for fun). David's original recipe makes an enormous amount of ambrosia, so I scaled down the citrus a bit to the quantities below and it served 6 of us at the end of a 3-course lunch quite well.

David's ambrosia is the perfect winter dessert - seasonal and juicy, deeply satisfying and delicious, and beautiful to boot. I'm in love.

But next week is my mother's birthday and I am, of course, in charge of dessert. And while I adored the ambrosia, I'm not sure it's birthday party material. I want to find something that's celebratory and special, but still relatively light. So what can I make? A wintery pavlova? An angel food cake? A towering croquembouche filled with nothing but sweet, delicious air? Help a girl out, folks!

David Tanis's Ambrosia
Adapted from A Platter of Figs
Serves 6

2 pink grapefruits
2 blood oranges
2 clementines
8 kumquats
1/2 ripe pineapple
Sugar, if necessary
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1. With a sharp knife, cut off the tops and bottoms of the grapefruits, blood oranges and clementines, then peel, making sure to remove all the white pith. Working over a bowl, section the grapefruit into wedges, cutting between the membranes. Before discarding, squeeze out the grapefruit carcasses into the bowl, they should yield quite a bit of juice. Slice the blood oranges and clementines into 1/4-inch rounds and add them to the bowl. Slice the kumquats into the thinnest rounds possible and add to the bowl. Peel and core the pineapple, then cut into small pieces and add to the bowl. With your (clean) hands, mix the fruits very gently. Taste the juice and if absolutely necessary, add a bit of sugar. Cover and set aside for up to several hours.

2. Just before serving, sprinkle the coconut over the salad. Toss gently and serve immediately.