Generations ago the women of our family made a pact with the devil. Birth dates move around, jump up, jump back, a little black magic and time fades and we retain our beauty, our youth for always. Our sons grow up, our men turn gray, yet we remain forever young.
Or was it that summer day long, long ago, that day I drank from the fabled Fountain of Youth, that legendary spring that gives back the gift of youth to anyone who sips of its clear, cool water? I vaguely remember that afternoon after driving up to St. Augustine in the old green station wagon with dad, Sue, Michael and Andrew, climbing up and wandering around the ramparts, posing in front of the statue of the old Seminole, buying plastic swords in the gift shop and, yes indeed, patiently waiting in line to visit Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth. And of course I, basking in the aura, the mesmerizing glow of the golden rock, drank that tiny paper cup full of this magical elixir! Little did I realize, mere slip of an 8-year old that I was, how this one sip would change my life! But drink I did! And can’t you tell? Need you even ask?
“She’s not getting older, she’s getting better!” So why try to hide, why run away from ‘fessing up to the truth? For years I played with fire, avoiding the question, allowing lies to slip out from betwixt my lips. Changing the subject when the subject was broached, feigning ignorance, pretending that I just hadn’t heard. Was I afraid that merely uttering the number, any number, would age me in and of itself as if touched by the Evil Witch’s wand: that my hair would turn gray, my face shrivel, my shoulders hunch, my youth wither and fade? Yet there comes a time in a woman’s life when she, throwing caution to the wind, stands up (shoulders back, boobs out, please) and proudly exclaims “I am 50 years old! Yes, yes, believe it or not but it is so!” Oh, we can take the high road: color our hair, botox the face, plump up the lips, redo the bust, the whole nine yards, and run away from who or what we are, live behind the veil of illusion, pretend to be what we are not, but, you know, you can’t run away forever! It takes more than that to stay young. Like the young man staring at the horrible portrait, it catches up one day.
Is there, you ask, a magic formula? Maybe. But, then again, maybe it’s not so secret. A kind heart, a happy soul, act young, think young, laugh a lot. Half a century! Wow! Seems like practically forever! My life has been a series of adventures, ups and downs, zigs and zags. I haven’t achieved half of what many people have achieved by 50 and at times I think my life has been boring and uneventful, yet, as my brother reminded me to do every so often, I try to look at all I have done, all I have accomplished, the places I have seen, the people I have met and the friends that I have made. Everyone, I believe, lives their own adventure, has a tale to tell, a book to write. And as we get older we realize that there is most definitely something to be said for aging, adding up the years, getting, yes, older; lines may mark our face, we may have to work that much harder to keep the body looking good, we may have to swallow our pride and accept the fact that strangers no longer call us “Mademoiselle” but now say “Madame”, our teen sons may scoff at us and accuse us of no longer being in the loop, of not understanding how things work today, but we know that many of their worries are long behind us, we can wend our way through the world getting by on knowledge gleaned over the years, revel in the joy of acting as wild and free as we feel, confident in who we are and the road we’ve traveled to get here, no longer concerned about what others may think of us, laughing at their judgmental eyes. We are who we want to be, know how to get up every morning and face the world, sure of what we have become over the long years.
Time is fleeting, life is ephemeral, youth is a game. As Dorian Gray stayed young, so his portrait aged, the image withered, the eyes grew sunken and evil, jealousy, hatred painted lines across the face. Youth, lovely youth stared back out at him from his mirror, yet inside he aged, the age of struggle, spite, meanness and fear. His youth was mere shadow, beauty seen between squinted eyes. Beauty, as they say, is in the eyes of the beholder and I am satisfied with the beauty inside, the youth that makes me laugh and cry when I feel the urge, the youth inside that allows me to be crazy with friends, silly with husband, not afraid to kiss in public or laugh out loud. I spend my days baring my soul to you who read what I write, feeling the bond of old friends, doing what I love best: writing. And baking. Baking what gives me pleasure, brings pleasure to others. Baking what I want, when I want it, how I like it. And eating without guilt. I am actually liking being grown up!
And I baked: Sweets for the Sweet! Perfect, delectable, chewy, nutty, not too bitter chocolate brownies for the boys, scrumptious, tangy, fluffy, intriguing Lemon Sponge Pudding for JP and I. Or maybe we can mix and match! Lemon and chocolate are so perfect together. And, besides, it’s my birthday and I can do – and eat – just what I please!
BEST BIG PAN BROWNIES
2 ¾ oz (80 g) bittersweet chocolate (Lindt Excellence 85%)
2 ¾ oz (80 g) semisweet chocolate (Lindt Excellence 70%)
1 1/3 cup (300 g) unsalted butter
2 ½ cups (500 g) granulated sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ tsps vanilla
5 large eggs
1 ½ cups (180 g) sifted flour (sift before measuring)
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped pecans, walnuts or a mix of both
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease a 15 ½ X 10 ½ x 1-inch (38 X 27 x 2-cm) jelly roll pan (mine has ½-inch sides).
In a large heat-proof (pyrex) bowl over a pot of simmering water, melt the chocolates and butter together, stirring up from the bottom so it melts evenly and quickly. Remove from the heat while some of the chocolate and butter are in small chunks and stir until everything melts. Return to the pot of simmering water if needed. This process allows the chocolate-butter to begin cooling as it melts. Allow to cool slightly.
Using a whisk or wooden spoon, stir the sugar, salt and vanilla into the chocolate-butter mixture. It may be grainy. Now, using a wooden spoon, beat in the eggs, one at a time, just until smooth and blended after each addition. The batter will turn from grainy to smooth and creamy.
Stir the flour and coarsely chopped nuts into the batter just until blended and smooth.
Pour the brownie batter into the prepared pan and smooth to even out and make sure it fills all the way into the corners.
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until puffed and shiny (it may begin to crack) but still moist. Don’t forget that it will continue to bake a bit after removing from the oven and you want moist brownies!
Cool the brownies in the pan on a cooling rack before cutting and eating. Lots of brownies.
LUSCIOUS LEMON SOUFFLE PUDDING
1 cup (200 g) sugar, divided
3 Tbs (45 g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
3 large eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbs lemon zest
1/3 cup (50 g) flour
¼ tsp salt
1/3 cup (80 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup whole milk (I used half low fat milk + half light cream)
1/8 tsp cream of tartar (if you don’t have cream of tartar replace with a few grains of salt and a drop or 2 of lemon juice)
Preheat the oven to 325°F (170°C). Butter 6 individual ramekins or pyrex bowls.
Remove and set aside 2 Tbs of the sugar. Separate the eggs: place the yolks in a large mixing bowl and the whites place in a separate bowl preferably plastic or metal.
Cream the butter with the rest of the sugar (1 cup less the 2 Tbs) until blended and fluffy. Beat in the yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition until blended. Beat in the vanilla and the lemon zest. Add the flour and the salt and beat just until combined. With the mixer on low, beat in the milk and the lemon juice. It will be very liquid.
In the separate bowl with very clean beaters, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until foamy and then until soft peaks form. Continue beating the whites as you gradually add the 2 tablespoons sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form.
Fold the whites into the yolk/lemon batter just until incorporated and you have no more chunks of whites.
Using a ladle, fill the 6 ramekins with the batter almost to the top. Place the filled ramekins in a large baking pan (placing a piece of newspaper on the bottom of the pan keeps the water of the water bath from boiling) and very carefully (so as not to get any water in the lemon batter) fill the pan with hot water, so that the water is halfway up the ramekins. If you like, place the baking pan in the oven and then pour in the water; this will avoid you having to lift and move the baking pan after it is filled and risk splashing the water into the batter.
Bake for 40 – 45 minutes. The tops will be puffed up, maybe ½ to 1 inch (1 – 2 cm) above the rim of the ramekins, and a deep golden brown.
Remove the baking pan from the oven then carefully remove the ramekins from the water bath onto a kitchen towel. Allow to cool slightly before serving. Like a soufflé, the tops will sink a bit when cooling.
Serve hot or warm – they can be eaten later but are best when fresh from the oven or just slightly cooled – with a sprinkling of powdered sugar or a dollop of whipped cream.
These mini soufflé puddings will have a top layer of puffed, light as air soufflé and the bottom layer will be creamy, almost like a pudding. They are tart and lemony like the best of lemon pies but warm, light and soothing and oh-so elegant.
Take a bigger bite ...