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

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

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 Ă®le 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 + Ă®le flottante at Fifi’s for my birthday in 2015

Anyhow, my Ă®le 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

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!

Ode to a chocolate croissant

Sometimes you just need a chocolate croissant from Pavel’s. When the world feels so ephemeral—I’m thinking of the fire of Notre Dame in Paris, not to make light of the situation—you need to devour a croissant in its lovely entirety. Or when someone lets you down or acts without integrity you have none other but to turn to Pavel’s for a buttery, dark chocolaty croissant. 

It was Tuesday and I was hungry for lunch. I was in PG running errands and popped into Pavel’s to get a sandwich. Side note, have you ever had their sandwiches? They are amazing. But they were out of sandwiches so I thought, this is God’s way of telling me I should have a chocolate croissant for lunch. To remind me of the beauty of each moment and reinstill my faith in humanity.

I got the chocolate croissant and suddenly there was a skip in my step. I didn’t eat it, of course, the consumption of a Pavel’s chocolate croissant is ritualistic in my book and must be done seated and without distraction. So I carried it, as if I were carrying a treasure, as I ran around PG taking care of my to do list. I smiled when I delicately deposited it on the backseat of the car to drive back to work, knowing the time was getting closer to enjoy my treat. And as I drove down Lighthouse, the fragrance of the chocolate croissant, a sweet, buttery smell permeated the warm car. I sang along with the radio in glee.

I got to work and parked. With great care I took the white paper bag that housed the chocolate croissant from the backseat and carried it as if it were on a platter. The bag was now grease-stained and wonderful. I usually walk with purpose but this time I was on a mission and I pounded the pavement to my office. Every step was bringing me closer to my indulgence. Once in my office I closed the door and smelled the chocolate croissant. It smelled so sweet. Its weight bent it in my fingers as I photographed it for you, my faithful readers. I set it on my desk and sat down in front of it. As always, I ripped the small nub off of one end and peered inside. This one was particularly chocolatey. Because of the imperfect nature of artisan baking sometimes some croissants have more chocolate than others. The ganache was beautiful and dark next to the white and fluffy internal dough of the croissant. The outside is brown and crunchy. I took the first bite and time stopped. My mouth watered and I closed my eyes to be present with my not-so-petit croissant.

I sat back in my chair and chewed slowly before contemplating the croissant and the beauty of life and slowly eating the whole thing.

perfection

Laguna San Ignacio, Baja, Mexico

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Hola de Laguna San Ignacio, Baja California, Mexico. I am fortunate enough to have fun-loving, adventurous friends. I guess it’s true what they say, birds of a feather flock together. But anyhow, some friends of mine asked if I would be interested and available to join them in flying down to Baja California in their little Cessnas. I checked my work calendar and managed my schedule such that I could take some time off to fly to Mexico and camp on the beach.

The friend of my friends—Dave—has been flying down to this one little beach in Baja for about 30 years. He has a deal worked out with the guys who run the fishing and camping village on the Sea of Cortez where he leaves his RV and flies back a couple times a year to camp, fish, and enjoy the great outdoors. He often invites anyone who is willing and able to fly down because it’s pretty remote but does have a landing strip. I was fortunate enough to get invited down and…you know me…I’ll seize any opportunity for adventure.

It was my first time in a small plane and let me tell you, I could get used to this! We flew from Monterey to San Diego where we fueled up and had lunch and continued on to San Felipe, an official port of entry for us to clear Mexican customs. But no true adventure is complete without a hiccup or two and we were told we couldn’t make it where we were going before dark. The FAA gentleman told us to relax, we would have to spend the night in San Felipe. He called a cab—his dad—who picked us all up and took us to a hotel in town and the next morning he picked us up again, brought us to the airport and we were able to fly to our destination of Punta San Francisquito where we buzzed the beach and found Dave and his 88-year-old mother and some of his friends waiting for us. I just learned that “buzzing” in airplane speak is flying low to get someone to see you. So fun!

One day of this whirlwind adventure was slotted for whale watching. So we loaded up the three little planes with the twelve of us and flew to San Ignacio so we could get into boats and head out on the lagoon towards the Pacific Ocean to see the grey whales before they migrate north. It was such a magical experience, being in a small boat close to so many whales. And the calves are so curious, they would come up to the boat and nudge it and let us touch them.

After a lovely and turbulent boat ride we stepped into the restaurant for lunch and based on all the shells we passed on the drive in, I knew I was to order scallops, grilled and served with garlic. With of course, piping hot, paper thin tortillas and a killer margarita. It was just the perfect thing, making my own little tacos with the scallops on the hot tortillas and drinking the cold margarita in good company.

I have to say, this is a beautiful life we live and I urge you to seize any opportunity that comes your way. Or make adventure right here in PG…grab a friend—or take yourself!—and head to Peppers for Mexican food if this article has got you craving Mexican food. Or, did you know the new Poppy Hall on Lighthouse offers $1 oysters on Monday evenings? Along with a cava (Spanish sparkling wine) special. Regardless, there is no shortage for adventure opportunities in our little PG. It’s a matter of making magic.

scallops and garlic, rice, and my margarita

Soto Ayam

Greetings from Singapore! I am en route home from Brunei—a tiny country on the island of Borneo in the South China Sea. I was in Brunei for work and decided to have an extended layover in Singapore on the way home to visit a friend who lives here. My friend’s parents are also visiting and it’s always nice to see familiar faces.

Singapore is the city of the future, they say. High rise buildings, Wi-Fi on the busses, a financial hub…it’s incredible. The city-state, formally The Republic of Singapore, is teeming with people and you can hear every language imaginable—and even some you can’t recognize—on the street. It is cosmopolitan, people come from all over the world to work and create a life for themselves. As you walk on the streets you see a wide range of people dressed in a variety of outfits: stilettos and chic dresses, cargo shorts and Birkenstocks, hijabs, saris, you name it.

Despite being a heavily populated metropole, it is impeccably clean and crime rates are very low. Singapore has strict laws that are seriously enforced against littering, spitting on the street, vandalism, etc. You may recall the American teenager, Michael Fay, who in 1994 was sentenced to four months in prison, a S$3,5000 fine, and six strokes of the cane for vandalism. Chewing gum is forbidden. You won’t find street food, either, as they are banned. Instead you will find hawker centers—open-air markets with many stalls selling inexpensive food. It is fascinating.

While I have been indulging in my fair share of food from the hawkers, my favorite dish by far has been soto ayam made by Yati, my friend Emilie’s Indonesian housekeeper. Soto ayam is an Indonesian spicy chicken noodle soup. I was drawn to the kitchen by the smell of sautéed coriander only to find a huge tray with all of the ingredients neatly spread out and Yati hard at work behind a mortar and pestle. I asked her what the yellow paste was that she was pounding and she told me it was the marinade for the chicken: garlic, ginger, shallot, and turmeric. There may have been other ingredients, too. I watched fascinated; I have no experience with Indonesian cuisine. When it was dinner time, we were each served a soup bowl and on the surface there was sautéed celery and celery greens; a hard-boiled egg, cut in half; chicken sausage; fried chicken; fried tofu; a quarter of a tomato; and fried onions. Underneath this was fresh noodles, bean sprouts, and fried peanuts swimming in chicken broth. I watched Yati mix the contents of her bowl, add lime and chili sauce, and start eating with chopsticks in one hand and a Chinese spoon in the other. I followed suit.

The first bite was overwhelming. Overwhelming in the best possible way, it is incredibly rich and fragrant. Although I had never had this or anything like it before it was comforting. It was warm, sour, spicy, and flavorful. The crunch of the cool bean sprouts in the warm broth was delightful. The fried peanuts were so unusual to me in a soup and I loved it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring Yati back with me although I asked her if she would come and she loved the idea. And there are no Indonesian restaurants in the area but I found a few online in the Bay Area. I haven’t been so I can’t vouch for their tastiness but I do plan to try one the next time I find myself up north. 

They say when in Rome, do as the Romans, so if you go to Singapore, be sure to eat the hawkers’ food, find soto ayam—although it’s Indonesian, and look up the laws and be sure to abide by them.