Sweet without being sentimental, this memoir about moving forward from loss, reminds us of the importance of friendship. Sometimes the friend that we most need at a particular point in our lives is the one we would least expect. Instead of marginalizing her friend Valerie’s 90-plus recently widowed father, Edward, Isabel listens to him, drawing on his wisdom to bolster her own crumbling sense of self at a low point in her personal life. As their relationship blossoms with each exquisite dinner Edward prepares, despair and loneliness are overcome by companionship and hope. The message is lovely, and the dinners, described with a foodie’s attention to detail, make one’s mouth water.
Edward and Isabel were each at a low point in their lives. Edward’s loss of the love of his life left him wishing to die himself, but for a promise he made to his beloved Paula on her deathbed, that he would go on living. Isabel’s marriage was foundering, and she struggled to get her groove as a reporter in her new job at the New York Post. When Valerie, Isabel’s friend visiting from Canada after her mother’s death, tells Isabel that she’s worried about her father, she suggests that Isabel have dinner with Edward, as a distraction for him. He’s quite a good cook. And so, several months after that meeting with Valerie, Isabel has her first dinner with Edward. The beauty here is how these two hurting people, in the communal sharing of Edward’s delicious food, put their pain on hold for a bit, and enjoyed each other’s company. Multiply these experiences, and soon you have two people transformed, hopeful, different from who they were before they knew each other. I wish that some of Edward’s poetry had been included in the book. But alas. It wasn’t.
While all of the food in the book sounded wonderful, the recipe that intrigued me the most was the apricot souffle. Edward got the recipe from the New York Times in the early 1990’s. This from the book:
“Edward had made us individual souffles in little ramekins, putting them in the oven as we began our main course. He served them immediately after they were done, their puffy meringue swirls tinged golden brown and looking like the whimsical domes of some dreamy cathedral from a fairy tale, dusted with confectioner’s sugar and topped with freshly whipped cream. There was magic in Edward’s confection. That first time-and every time he made it for me- I savored each spoonful as the swirl of cream, meringue, and apricot melted in my mouth.”
APRICOT SOUFFLES WITH VANILLA RUM CRÈME ANGLAISE
GOURMET MARCH 1996
The recipe below was based on the apricot soufflés served by Sally Darr at her former New York City restaurant, La Tulipe. This recipe calls for five large egg whites. When separating your eggs, reserve the yolks for the accompanying crème anglaise.
6 ounces dried apricots (1½ cups) 1 T dark rum if desired
1½ C water ½ tsp vanilla extract
¾ C sugar plus additional pinch of salt
sugar for coating ramekins ¼ tsp cream of tartar
1 T fresh lemon juice 5 large egg whites, pinch of salt
Vanilla rum crème anglaise ¼ C sugar
2 C half-and-half 1 T dark rum, or to taste
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
5 large egg yolks
To make the apricot soufflé:
In a heavy saucepan simmer apricots, water, and 1/2 cup sugar, covered, 20 minutes. Transfer hot mixture to a food processor and purée until very smooth. Force purée through a fine sieve into a bowl and stir in lemon juice, rum, vanilla, a pinch salt. Cool purée completely. Purée may be made 2 days ahead and chilled, covered,. Bring to room temperature before proceeding. Transfer purée to a large bowl.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter 7-ounce (3 1/2- by 1 3/4 – inch) ramekins and coat with additional sugar, knocking out excess.
In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat whites with pinch of salt until foamy. Beat in cream of tartar and beat whites until they hold soft peaks. Beat in remaining 1/4 cup sugar, a little at a time, and beat meringue until it just holds stiff peaks. Whisk about one forth meringue into purée to lighten and fold in remaining meringue gently but thoroughly. Ladle batter into ramekins and bake soufflés on a baking sheet in middle of oven 20 to 25 minutes, or until puffed, golden brown, and just set in center.
Remove ramekins from oven. With 2 forks pull open center of each soufflé and pour some crème anglaise into each opening. Serve soufflés immediately.
To make the vanilla rum crème anglaise:
In a small heavy saucepan bring half-and-half just to a boil with vanilla bean and remove pan from heat. Scrape seeds from bean with a knife into half-and-half, reserving pod for another use if desired.
In a bowl whisk together yolks, sugar, and a pinch of salt and whisk in hot half-and-half in a stream. Return custard to pan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thickened (170°F. on a candy thermometer), but do not let boil. Pour sauce through a fine sieve into a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally. Stir in rum. Chill sauce, covered, until very cold, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days. Makes about 2¼cups.