Archive for April, 2009
I was sitting in a cafe recently and surreptitiously - I love fancy words! - watching two women at another table while pretending to keep an eye on my daughter as she ran around and navigated the closely set tables and uneven natural stone floor. The older of the two, an apparently well to do, and well coifed fifty something year old was doing all the talking. She was gesticulating and pointing at a small photo album while the much younger other woman appeared unconvinced.
Were they mother and daughter, friends, coworkers? And what were they so intent about?
A perpetual fascination of mine is observing others and imagining their lives or conversations. I’m so entranced about all the possibilities of what goes on behind the scenes. The story behind the story. The reasons why we put so much (or so little) into our public appearances; the versions of truth we choose to show and to share.
There is a certain couple in my parents’ neighborhood which without fail brings out the curiosity in me. For the last twenty years I see them out and about every single time I go there. They appear to be in their late sixties, European, and incessantly talking. What is there to talk about after so many years? I wish I knew. And I wish I could ask them.
Usually they wear matching beige jackets and baseball caps and the husband always walks on the outside of the sidewalk, even if a step ahead. I saw them one day while finishing my shopping at Safeway, and shamelessly followed them around trying to eavesdrop on their conversation. If, however, I was lacking in manners, they weren’t. Their voices were too low for me to make out what they were saying.
In A Changed Man, Francine Prose says: “Every human born into this world is a blank slate on which a life will be inscribed.” I suppose that what captivates me about the presumed lives of others is the possibilities of all those inscriptions.
Every once in a while I get a craving for something that reminds me of my childhood. I often associate good food with it because most of what went into making a specific dish or dessert were such hard to come by commodities, that in my memories of it now, the preparation of the pastries and cakes were an event into themselves. Everyone was around. Grandmothers and aunts shooing us out of the way, cousins skipping to the hen house for eggs, or to the larder for butter, or to the well to get a bucket of water. Of course, we were also stealing precious chocolate or spoonfuls of sugar when we thought no one was looking. And washing dishes. There were always lots of dishes.
The saddest thing for me about the fall of communism in Romania, is that some of the country’s yummiest recipes have become modernized in the interest of saving time. All that nurturing and comforting right out the door the minute electric mixers and food processors entered.
Don’t despair, this dish does not require anyone to give up any modern kitchen utensil. Added bonuses: it’s easy, fast, and absolutely delicious. Make it for your kids and they’ll be hooked for life. With that in mind, allow me to remain nostalgic for another 50 minutes or so while I make this.
4 cups milk (2% or whole) + 1/2 cup milk
1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise with the seeds scraped out
6 eggs, whites and yolks separated
12 tablespoons sugar
1. In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the 4 cups of milk and vanilla bean and scraped seeds to a simmer, turn heat off so that it doesn’t burn.
2. Beat the egg whites with half of the sugar until stiff peaks form.
3. Place a metal serving spoon in the simmering milk so that it heats up and use it to spoon out servings of the egg whites into the milk.
4.Turn the egg whites into the milk after 2 minutes or so, and then let them poach on that side too. After another 2 minutes, remove the egg whites and place them in one layer into a deep baking dish, leave room in between them so they don’t stick. Repeat this until all of the egg whites are done.
5. In a bowl, use a whisk to beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar and about 1/2 cup milk (you might need more). *
6. Add some of the hot milk to the cold yolk mixture in order to temper it and then gradually combine the two together.
7. Once they are combined, remove the vanilla bean and whisk the milk mixture thoroughly.
8. Gently ladle the milk mixture into the baking dish where the egg whites are sitting.
9. Keep warm in the oven at 200 for about 30-45 minutes (any longer and the milk will thicken and become like pudding)
*Rachel uses 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, which she gradually adds into the egg yolk mixture until incorporated. I forgot to buy it, so I went without. Nevertheless, they were delicious!!!