Writing a blog is like throwing a message in a bottle into the cyber sea. You never know if it will land anywhere and be read. If this has reached you, let me start with season’s greetings and best wishes for 2018 - since once again I am crashing up against the end of the month and that month is December.
The first time I really noticed pâte à choux was when my father surprisingly made profiteroles. Surprisingly because this was a man who boasted about volunteering to cook on his hunting and fishing trips so he wouldn’t have to do dishes, and bragged about reducing said dishes by heating up things in open cans.
He died around Christmas time, so I miss him extra at this time of year. I’m surprised to realize how many food related memories I have of him. Taking me to a diner for a fried egg sandwich after a dentist appointment, hot, greasy, wonderful and proof positive my gnashers were in working order. On a frigid evening producing a bag of redskin peanuts from the pocket of his overcoat still warm from the roaster. And lastly, an ambitious dish of partridge with a pear cream sauce. That doesn’t come in cans.
I was lucky to be taken to Cafe Boulud for my birthday by my friend, Naomi, whom I’ve known longer than I knew my father, strange to think. For dessert we shared a Xanadu of profiteroles. We were presented with a shiny dome of chocolate, the waitress then poured warm chocolate over it to reveal three perfect little profiteroles garnished with candied pecans. It was magic and it was delicious.
Over the last year I’ve been building a new life in a new town, while trying to keep the foundation of my previous years. Among the new friends are The Pine-South-Brown Street Irregulars, a group of wise and witty people who meet once each month through the winter for food, wine and conversation, not necessarily in that order or in equal proportion. For my first meeting I made gougère, pâte à choux made savoury with the addition of gruyere cheese.
This is my tale of choux in three times: shared with my father long lost, my dear enduring friend, and people in my new home. Little puffs of pastry as fragile and transitory as the moments in which they were enjoyed. Psychologically, or if you would rather, spiritually I find myself in a newly discovered country, one without hope. I hear the protests of sun blinded optimists before you even make them. Be quiet and listen. This is a wonderful place, nourished by memories, where I am free to enjoy each moment for itself. I hope you find yourself on these shores one day.
More Oscar, less self-improvement
I can recommend the third instalment of Gyles Brandreth’s mystery series featuring Oscar Wilde, the Dead Man’s Smile. I found it a little slow to start, but ended up delighted as before with the wit, historic and literary allusions, and familiar locations in London and Paris.
Stand Firm, Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze by Danish academic Svend Brinkmann is a provocative polemic, the funny cousin of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright Sided. In a nutshell it is a light, accessible introduction to the Epicurean strand of Stoicism. That makes it sound highfalutin, but it could be equally well described as an entertaining defence of common sense.