Ladyfingers and a Charlotte Malakoff Cake

While everyone was stocking up on toilet paper and wipes, I bought the essentials: unsalted butter (freezes well), champagne and sparkling wine (these are difficult times), organic sugar, and lots of chocolate. Can someone please explain to me why people were hoarding toilet paper for an impending respiratory disease? I understand lockdown but do people really use that much toilet paper? And wipes. All of a sudden everyone is buying wipes. Did people use wipes before this and I’m just now finding this out? I don’t want to know.

Anyhow.

I read cookbooks for fun. Well, I used to. As of late I’ve been working too much and traveling too much and this quarantine has made that very clear to me. I was aware of it before but in denial. And too busy to think about it. So the other day, I watched Julie and Julia and have been reading Mastering the Art of French Cooking more frequently. I had pages marked off for recipes I want to make. So I was going through and came across the Charlotte Malakoff cake, an almond cream cake in a mold of liquor-soaked ladyfingers. I had a package of ladyfingers that my brother and sister-in-law had got me at Christmastime and what better time than to use them?

I thought I had read the recipe all the way through and was prepared to enjoy the cake after dinner. Until I got to the last step, which read, “refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight. The butter must be chilled firm, so the dessert will not collapse when unmolded.”

So I would be having the cake with my morning tea. No problem. No dessert tonight.

Here’s the recipe, adapted from Julia Child, et al’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The recipe calls for fresh strawberries, which I did not have and did not care to procure, so I topped it with Meyer Lemon Preserve that I have plenty of.

Ingredients:

Mold:

  • 1/3 cup orange liqueur
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 24 lady fingers

The almond cream:

  • 1/2 lb. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup organge liqueur
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract
  • 1 1/3 cups ground almond
  • 2 cups whipping cream, chilled

Line the bottom of an unbuttered mold with a round of unbuttered wax paper. The recipe recommends a 2-quart cylindrical mold, 4 inches high and 7 inches in diameter, which I did not have so I used a deep springform mold that I did. It worked fine but I had a lot of filling leftover, which I froze and will report back in the future on its defrostability.

Pour orange liqueur and water into a soup plate. Dip the ladyfingers, one by one, and drain on a rack. They are actually pretty absorbent so don’t rush it. Unless you like not-so-boozy and not-so-soaked ladyfingers, in which case go quickly. Line the bottom of the mold and then the sides with the soaked ladyfingers. You will likely need to cut the ladyfingers in half or in some shape to cover the inside of the mold. Reserve the remaining ladyfingers (you will put those in halfway after you have stuffed the cake).

Cream the butter and sugar with an electric hand mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in the orange liqueur and the almond extract; continue beating for several minutes until they are fully incorporated and the sugar is dissolved. Beat in the ground almonds.

In a separate bowl, beat the whipping cream until it’s almost whipped. Mrs. Child, et al describe this as “the beater, when drawn across the top of the cream, leaves light traces.” Fold the cream into the butter/almond mixture.

Pour half of the filling into the prepared mold. Arrange the remaining soaked ladyfingers and cover with the rest of the filling. Cover with a piece of wax-paper and fit a plate on top with a weight on top. I used a jar of jam in my refrigerator.

Refrigerate for six hours or overnight. The step that left me dessertless.

When you’re ready to serve the cake, remove from the refrigerator, take off the weight and the plate; leave the wax paper in place while you gently unmold your cake. You will want two plates, your serving platter and one for flipping the cake. Basically you will flip it over twice. You want the side of the cake that has the ladyfingers on the bottom. So flip the cake onto the spare plate, waxpaper side down, and then take the mold off (gently) and then again flip, this time mold-less onto the serving platter. Remove the wax paper and decorate with fresh fruit or, in my case, Meyer lemon preserves.

Enjoy!

My perfectly imperfect Charlotte Malakoff cake

This cake is really rich and probably shouldn’t be consumed by one person alone. I shared some with my aunt, my neighbor, and my colleague and friend who lives in my neighborhood and has her son staying with her ever since he got the boot from the dorms at his university.

Quarantine Chronicles, post 1

Hello dear souls.

I have decided to keep a blog of my quarantine chronicles. Not to make light of the situation–I am terribly sorry for those who have lost their jobs or much worse yet, their lives or loved ones–I am simply chronicling life during these unprecedented times. After all, I am a writer and like Amanda Hesser says, “writers love nothing more than to observe.” Here I am observing and experiencing this global pandemic and sharing it with you all.

Please drop me a line with your experience or share a story.

love love,

Sally

Social Distancing

I’ve been hyperaware of this social distancing bit. I’m a hugger and so I have to remind myself to respect the space. Has this been difficult or different for anyone else?

I went for a hike yesterday up in Veteran’s Park. It’s felt so good to get outside and get fresh air and pump my legs. As I turned a corner to go up to the stairs I heard some people so I slowed down to make space for them and not startle them. There was a young, chubby guy with the most shiny, round, beautiful chipmunk cheeks I have ever seen (OK, second most beautiful, my baby niece takes the cake on beautiful chipmunk cheeks). The kid practically yelled “hello” and came at me with arms wide open for a hug. I stepped back with my hands out in front of me. I looked to his hiking buddy, maybe his brother? He was calling to him in Spanish, telling him to stop. I was startled. Not freaked out and there was no gut wrenching warning like I was in danger–I hope you’ve never felt that before but I have and you know, your whole body washes over with this warm sensation and your insides clench up and you freeze and want to run away. I believe they call that fight or flight. Anyways, this was just like, ahhh sorry! We’re not supposed to hug right now. And then I realized this kid had some sort of developmental disorder. He held his arms out again and came at me, slowly and steadily, for a hug. His brother grabbed his arm and told him to come along.

I said “I’m so sorry, honey, it’s just that we’re not supposed to hug right now…umm, coronavirus…” I felt stupid as I said it.

He kept yelling “hello” as he and his brother walked off in one direction and me in another. I turned the corner and burst into tears. I was standing on the trail “ugly crying” as the cute girls call it. I was so sad that I didn’t hug the kid. I know we’re in a global pandemic but was my hugging this kid going to disrupt the course of fate?

All these thoughts ran through my head as I wept. It felt good to cry. And to cry outside in the open air, not holed up in my bedroom. Not that I ever feel holed up in my bedroom but you get what I’m saying. So I just took a moment to cry. And it felt good. If you have someone you’re not condemned to be socially distant from, like your husband, wife, boyfriend, etc. please hug them extra hard and long for me today.

Uninhibited

After a lot of rain and being inside far too much, I decided to go to one of my happy places, Asilomar, for a walk this afternoon. I parked on the street and walked down the boardwalk and up the sandhill and then down towards the beach. There were so many people on the beach! This coronavirus has definitely got people going outside.

Greetings from the beach

Anyhow, I saw a young mom with her son on a beach towel and then the little boy ran off with a bucket and mom leaned back with a book to read. The boy, who was no more than five years old, ran over to me yelling something. When he got closer I heard him say “I founded a shrimp.”

He was very proud. We had a brief exchange about his shrimp and I asked him if he had eaten it. “No, silly,” he told me. He rambled on about some other stuff without stopping in between thoughts or sentences to take a breath.

I needed to cross a little stream of water and the little boy saw me pacing back and forth and testing out rocks for their stability. He looked at me and said, “just do like this” as he hopped lightly from rock to rock and onto the other bank.

I laughed out loud. What a beautiful little mind he had. He was uninhibited by the fear of falling and I clearly was. He stood on the other side of the little stream, jumping up and down and yelling, “just go!”

After much trepidation, I crossed the stream, markedly less limberly than he had. He had already run off to join his sister who at this point was yelling towards me about her brother’s shrimp discovery. I went on my walk with much to think about.

Am I afraid to “just go?” Maybe I should do like the little boy and just jump on ahead to the other side of the stream. Maybe I think too much. Why do we think so much? Test every rock before taking a step?

the little stream
the little boy, uninhibited
lovely Asilimar

The human condition

Or what little I know of it.

I guess the human condition is not learning from history or the experiences of others. I hear people say, when will we learn? But that’s just it, dear souls, the human condition is not learning and effectively repeating history.

I went and got my plants from my office the day before yesterday. My office felt barren without the greenery but my little house has come to life. More to life, I mean.

Trying not to squish my money tree in the passenger seat

It’s so nice seeing so many people out walking together as couples or families. Maybe as friends or neighbors. And kids riding their bikes around the neighborhood.

I’ve been thinking about people I used to see often and I’m wondering how everyone is holding up? I know my friends in the service industry are struggling and I’m so sorry for that. Please call or text me if you need someone to talk to.

That’s all for now. I hope everyone is sheltering in place and not gaining the covid-19 (lbs).

Shelter-in-place, wash your hands, keep your distance, and bake

Greetings, dear readers.

It has been a long time since I have written and I wanted to get my blog going again now that a lot of us are going to be spending more time at home…presumably doing productive and soul-filling things like cleaning out your junk drawer and reading my blog. 🙂

Social media jokes and toilet paper hysteria aside, how is everyone? I would love to see people take this opportunity to slow down and connect with their loved ones, near or far…whether that be e-mailing or writing letters, sharing book recommendations or simultaneously watching movies with friends and family.

Speaking of movies. I watched the movie Julie & Julia the other night. It’s a movie based on Julie Powell’s blog and then book about her experience cooking all 524 recipes in Julia Child, et al’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. It was a fun and sweet movie. And inspired me to cook more.

Tuesday I made a chocolate stout cake since my sister-in-law had never had it and it’s one of “my” recipes. Not that I own it or came up with it but it’s one I make often and friend’s ask for. See this old post for the recipe if you’re interested.

Yesterday I made île flottante (floating isle) from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Anyhow, it’s one of my favorite desserts and I used to always have it at Fifi’s in Pacific Grove for my birthday. It’s too bad Fifi’s closed. The recipe itself is an island of merengue floating in crème anglaise a sweet “pouring custard.” It is typically served with almond slivers and a caramel sauce drizzled over.

Me + île flottante at Fifi’s for my birthday in 2015

Anyhow, my île flottante was nothing like what I had at Fifi’s but it was edible. As edible as meringue, custard, and caramel can be. So actually pretty yummy, just lots of room for improvement.

île flottante

I’m keeping this short for now but I’ll be posting more regularly to keep in touch with you all, my loves. Feel free to post comments or e-mail me privately if you want

Embracing ephemera

The other day I was writing in my journal at a local wine tasting room and I overheard this British couple talking about their plans around town and Carmel. We eventually struck up a conversation and they asked me for some recommendations for local wineries, restaurants, and things to do.

Fast-forward to the next day when I was cleaning the house and wondering if the charming couple ever went to the places I had suggested. And if they had, what they had thought? And then I let my mind wander, as it does, and I thought how cool is it that I will never know? How beautiful that we shared a moment over a glass of wine and an unwritten journal page so I could share some of my restaurant preferences in my hometown. Maybe they lost the paper they had jotted my recommendations down on and never made it to those places? Maybe they went to them all and had bad experiences? Or perhaps, they tried some and discovered others on their own.

And then I got to thinking about how we oughtn’t control things or expect things. Buddhism teaches that suffering comes from the attachment to expectations. And also to embrace and live in the present. My recommendation-giving was yesterday…and I gave them those recommendations without expectations that they would like or dislike them or report back to me. Now it is with me as a nice memory as I dust my bookshelf.

I let my mind wander some more and I began looking up words and found that the word ephemeral–which means lasting for a very short time–comes from the Greek ephēmeros which means “lasting only one day.” I can think of many things in my life that lasted only one day or even less and that they were beautiful just in their short lifespan. A meal with a friend or a lover. A swim in a creek. A deep conversation. A movie. Blackberry picking in the summer.

A daylily, so called because it is only in bloom for about a day
Photo by Bradley Howington on Unsplash

If only I can remind myself to let events in life be ephemeral. To not attach expectation to them and maybe I can find myself a little more liberated. To embrace a moment, a conversation, a relationship for its lifespan…whatever that may be. And then to let it go.

Lunch at Sur Burger

Ack. It appears that I have let “busy-ness” plague me like so many in our society. A friend messaged me the other day to have lunch and so we met up at Sur Burger on Alvarado. He commented that I hadn’t written on my blog in some time so here I am.

This life is crazy and beautiful. We get so many things thrown at us that we get no formal training on how to deal with. I guess busy-ness is one of those things. We all have our ways of coping: making schedules, exercising, ensuring we get enough sleep, etc. But sometimes those habits are less than healthy, maybe we lose sleep to accommodate the busy schedule and try to accomplish more in the day. Maybe we drop the exercise on account of being tired from losing sleep or to try to accomplish more in the day. I guess this is me reminding myself to focus on the healthy habits and not the less than healthy habits. To remind myself that no matter what happens, it will all get accomplished and it will all turn out OK in the end.

My friend suggested we order a bottle of champagne…we had lots to celebrate: life, friendship, living in California, a day ending in “y.” So we ordered a bottle of bubbly and a couple of burgers (we were at a burger joint, after all) and I thought this is so California. A little known fact is that the name “California” originates from the Spanish conquistadors after “califia” a mythical island paradise in Las Serges de Esplandian by Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo, a Spanish romance written c. 1510. But also California is a land of abundance with a Mediterranean climate. With that abundance, people–inventive, motivated, life-loving people–have learned how to refine and perfect so much of the natural abundance and resources. Take for example, agriculture (and gastronomy) and viticulture. California has such lovely food and wine.

Anyhow, I’m not trying to get too philosophical here other than to say champagne and burgers felt like a very “California” lunch to me. Champagne is reminiscent of “high-class” culture, if you will, and burgers are fast food. Put together, and eaten slowly, you get the perfect Californian meal.

Something unique about Sur Burger is that they have a “condiment bar.” You can fill up on pickles, cole slaw, and different dips for your fries and sauces for your burger. The menu offers “chicken and waffles,” which I was going to say is a California food on account of the popularity of Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles in Los Angeles, but upon further research, I have found that the dish is a bit older than Roscoe’s. There are multiple theories about its origin but one posits that in the early 1800s hotels and resorts outside of Philadelphia served waffles and fried catfish but over time the catfish became any other meat due to catfish’s limited availability. By the end of the nineteenth century, the dish was a symbol of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. How cool!

Anyhow, I had a lovely lunch of bubble and burgers, spent good time with a dear friend, and was reminded that I need to write on my blog more often. I hope you have enjoyed my stream of consciousness and that you can take a minute to remind yourself to do something you love that maybe you haven’t done in a while. Or reach out to a friend for lunch.

sweet potato fries, burgers, & bubbles

Arriving to San Salvador, El Salvador

The arrivals terminal was outside. This is Central America after all and it’s humid. I walked out of the sliding glass doors, past the young guy and girl security guard testing the metal detector over and over again. I scanned the crowd for my name on a placard. I couldn’t look at the faces of any of the people because searching, anticipatory looks—those looks of anxiously waiting for your loved one to arrive from travel—always make me cry. I found my name written in black dry erase on a small white board carried by a not so small Salvadoran man. We made eye contact and I nodded my head up acknowledging him. He smiled and unhooked the canvas belt that corralled people. Without thinking I handed him my luggage and he said bienvenida (welcome).

When I was a kid I was fascinated by those signs. I was always greeted by family when I went to visit so being greeted by a stranger who doesn’t even know what you look like, that you have to identify yourself to, always struck me as odd but I’ve come to enjoy the anonymity of it. 

We walked along and I asked his name. Emilio, he told me. Nice to meet you, I replied. 

Your flight was delayed, he told me. As if I didn’t already know. I laughed politely and we walked on in tired, reverent silence. 

He asked me to wait while he went to get the car. Latin music softly played from a car parked in front of me and two young cops stood lazily at the entry of the VIP parking structure. 

I don’t like arriving to new places at night. Come to think of it, I don’t like arriving to old places at night, either, but that’s neither here nor there. We drove from the airport to the center of the city in the pitch dark but I could tell that San Salvador is lush and green. 

We passed fluorescent-lit–what I assumed to be–food stands. Lime and magenta colored and I couldn’t help but smile. I love the colors of Latin America. I will get y’all photos at some point but I couldn’t at night. I asked Emilio what typical Salvadoran food was and he said pupusas. I made a mental note to find a similar brightly-colored stand for pupusas while I’m here, I thought. There will be a future post dedicated entirely to pupusas but they are Salvadoran thick cornmeal flatbreads filled with cheese and sometimes also beans, pork rinds, squash, etc.

We made small talk as we approached the capital. I could tell because there were increasing lights shining in the horizon. I was tired from a long day of delayed flights and lack of sleep having attended so I took a sigh of relief when we pulled up to the hotel. I thanked Emilio and beelined straight to my bed to rest after checking in.

Invitations and apple donuts

Sometimes I think, “Gosh, I haven’t seen so-and-so in a long time.”  And I catch myself wondering, when was the last time we saw each other?  I wonder how she’s doing.  And then I remember that everyone—myself included—is busy and if I want to see someone, maybe I just ought to invite them out or over. More often than not, the invitation—or even just reaching out with a “hey, I haven’t seen you in some time,”— is met with a, “you’ve been on my mind! Let’s get together.”

Most of us think about our friends often. Well, except those with narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies but I’ll leave that for the professionals.

Similar to not seeing friends is not going to restaurants/cafés/bars that we love. I was in PG the other day and realized I hadn’t been to Pavel’s in a while, although it might not seem that way to you, dear reader, since my last column was Ode to a Chocolate Croissant, from there. I digress, anyways. I popped into Pavel’s for lunch and Paul, the owner, saw me. He came out from the back and said, “Remember that story you wrote about the apple donuts? You had gone somewhere.”

“Yes yes!” I said. “Apple Hill. Apple Cider donuts.” I was touched that he had remembered something I’d written. And from October!

“I’m going to be making something similar on Saturday for the celebration across the street at Grove Market. You should come try them,” he said.

Well, I don’t need to be told twice to try apple donuts so I added the event to my calendar and on Saturday made my way over to Grove Market for apple donuts. And…they were out. I asked the cashier about them and she said, “Oh…those were apple? They were so good! I thought they tasted fruity!”

Drat. I thought.

I ran across the street to Pavel’s. There were only 5 loaves of bread left and nothing else. It was 2pm on a Saturday, after all.  I saw Paul and waved with a huge smile on my face.

“They’re all out of the apple donuts you were telling me about across the street,” I explained.

“Oh. Hang on just a minute.” He turned around and went to the back.

I waited patiently. OK…not so patiently.  He came back with a small box of four donuts.

“Oh my God,” I said, “thank you!”

“They’re still warm,” he told me as he folded the box over itself to seal it.

“No, no. I’m having one now.” I told him. How could I not have a still-warm apple donut that I drove all the way over there for?

I took a bite and as you can imagine it was pure bliss. Yes, it was still warm and it tasted like it had macerated apples in it and the most delicate—still soft—glaze. My eyes rolled to the back of my head and I crouched down ever so slightly into my knees. “This is amazing!” I told Paul, shamelessly speaking with food in my mouth.

His smile beamed. As someone who cooks myself, I know how special it is when someone likes one of your creations. I thanked him 800 more times and walked out eating the still-warm donut.

On the drive home, I called a friend and told him I had fresh donuts for him and he might want to put a pot of coffee on. He—a fellow food lover—was thrilled and I could hear him pouring water into the kettle. By the time I got over to his apartment there was piping hot coffee to go along with our still-warm donuts.

The moral of my story is, if someone invites you for freshly made apple donuts, always oblige. But really, invite your friends over and connect with people you haven’t seen in some time, this is why we live. We’re on this earth for an indeterminate amount of time so make everyday worthwhile. Share what you have and check up on your friends.

Look at the glaze on that donut!