Friday, November 17, 2006

we made flan

Most families have food traditions. My family cookbook comprises an eclectic mix of foods like bubble & squeak, fried platanos and spicy aros compoyo, as well as some French and Mediterranean treats that I've picked up in my wanderings.

Mostly, I'd say the recipes that survive--the ones we bring out time and again--are the sweet ones. My mother's figgy pudding every Christmas Eve. Madeleine's flaky Mille Feuilles. Then there's my Puerto Rican grandmother's famous flan, which sadly, has only shown its caramel complexion to me on rare occasions. Because of its scarcity, perhaps, it's become the holy grail of desserts in my mind.

Cousin to my favorite French crème, the flan is an eggier custard so sweet and so balanced in flavor and texture, one has to think the making of it is quite complex. And so we always thought...

My grandmother doesn't make her flan anymore. Perhaps the breaking and mixing of so many eggs is beyond her now. But a couple of weeks ago, my sister and I had the treat of making it for her and my grandfather. We dusted off the old recipe card. We broke all of those eggs. We caramelized the sugar. We baked and baked until it was golden. And we presented the beautiful toasted treat to the table with pride.

Then we tasted. And the taste was there. The texture was there. We found the holy grail and we mastered it.

It was my grandmother's flan. Now it's ours.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

making the day just a little brighter

In France, small rituals add purpose to every day. When you meet someone on the street, be it a friend or just a slight acquaintance, you kiss them on the cheek. And they kiss you back. Not once, but twice, and sometimes three or four times depending on geography. You say hello whenever you enter a shop or bakery. In fact, to neglect doing so is considered quite rude. Coffee in France is a quarter of the size of an American cup and yet the French take four times as long to drink it.

These are not just rituals, they are the unspoken law of the culture.

I was thinking about this today while in a sullen mood, and feeling quite helpless. Sometimes having rules and guidelines makes things so much easier. For then, at least you have something to measure yourself by. In America, interpersonal rules are nebulous, and it that sense, easily forgotten. Sometimes a whole day can pass without so much as a meaningful interaction.

Sometimes I yearn for a two-hour long coffee on a Tuesday afternoon. I want to kiss my coworker on the cheek. Can I do it? Well, perhaps within reason. But there is a way to follow the rules without getting into trouble. And here's the challenge: in everything you do today, do it with purpose and determination. Even if you're just washing the dishes. Even if you're getting yelled at by your boss. Even if your cat just peed on the rug. Even if all you're doing ALL day is writing e-mails. Rejoice in the varied moments of your day. Add your own personal touch. Make it a ritual. Make it last. Your life will be fuller because of it. I promise.

Oh, and if you ever see me on the street, instead of just waving and walking on, please kiss me on the cheek!

/love, p.w.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

the queen's scarf: 4 ways to wear it

If this is the year of the Queen, then it is also the year of the scarf in every form and function, and I couldn't be more pleased. Wear it well, Ladies! Four ways: long, short, back-to-front, twisted-sister.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

the queen's scarf

I saw The Queen last night. Not in person, in the movie. Helen Mirren portrays with fervor a chill likeness to Her Majesty Elizabeth II in the aftermath of Princess Diana's death. I watched half with awe and half with sadness remembering the china bell my mother gave me years ago that had a picture of Charles & Diana printed on the front and a golden handle shaped like a plume. That bell broke with some irony shortly before the couple's marriage ended. But I lovingly glued it together and placed it in a box for safe keeping. I have yet to find that box.

Funny, as infatuated as I was with Diana and her stunning presence, I never once considered the Queen. She meant nothing to me, except for her small resemblance to my English grandmother, though not half as pretty. Queen means next to nothing in today's terms, but Princess. Princess is the stuff little girls' dreams are made of. Right?

Last night was different. I saw the Queen, for what it's worth, from a different perspective. From an empathetic--and sympathetic--point of view. I saw a woman who, when in her darkest moment, donned a gorgeous royal scarf and went to befriend a wild stag in the Scottish highlands. The scarf seems somewhat out of place in the otherwise stoic country-side and on the neck of such a somber lady. It, however, like the stag, has significance. As the stag seems to represent a glimmer of hope before embodying the Queen's broken spirit, the scarf also carries with it layers of symbolism. Like a printed veil, the scarf is a visual depiction of the Queen's fear and vulnerablity, while at the same time representing her strength and determination as one of the most powerful, albeit fated, women in history.

I'm sure that Princes Di wore many scarves in her shortened lifetime, and I'm sure she wore them beautifully. But this scarf, the Queen's scarf, is in a realm all its own.

And have you noticed? HM Elizabeth II is not the only Queen to grace the screens these days. A new enstated awe of the womanly monarchy is sweeping through our film culture. Does the scarf have significance beyond the English Isle? Who knows, perhaps Marie Antoinette wore a scarf to hide the forshadowing across her neckline.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

au lait!

It's now November in Vermont. This is truthfully my favorite time of year. The sky alternates between gray and icy drizzle or bright metalic blue. It's quiet nesting time, but a latent energy is starting to build in anticipation of the holidays.

Today is especially great, because we have a new friend coming to stay. We're adopting my sister's cat Au Lait. Hannah found her this past spring underneath the cooler at the coffee shop. She coaxed the skinny kitty out with a bowl of warm milk, hence the name. Now she's skinny no longer. In fact, she may need to go on a diet, the greedy gut! But we're very excited about the addition to our family. Here kitty, kitty!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Hannah jumps

November sunshine

Even though its name is Winterpark, the town is anything but a chilly scene. Take the Orange Juice man at the weekly market. A splash of color to behold. A warm sweet citrus glow and tangerines piled high. A grove of sunshine lemon nectar.

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