- Hamilton Wright Mabie
The fog hangs low and heavy, shrouding the city in an icy white mist. The sky is a now-familiar leaden gray and yet for the manifest moroseness of the weather, there is something so romantic, so palpably mysterious about the gloominess, the whiteness that swallows one up as one steps over the threshold, that thrills me to the bone. I wrap my heavy coat tightly around my body, tug it closer around my neck with gloved hands and hurry outside, excited and energized by the Arctic chill that heralds the onset of a true winter. The house is alive with activity, the blaring of the television set alternates with music bursting from husband’s office, books are strewn across the sofas and tabletops pell-mell with stacks of old photos, crumpled gift wrap and discarded ribbon. A beautiful, confusing chaos reigns, a chaos that only arrives at holiday time when everyone is home with few worries or cares other than being cheerful and merry, the sole responsibility being that of purchasing and receiving gifts, eating cake and cookies and watching all of the old black & white movies one can possibly watch in a minimum of time, only alternating with curling up on the sofa, dog tidily nestled in one’s lap, reading a good book.
The year inches to a close, a new year slowly opens her waiting arms and as we stand here on the brink, teetering on the edge, my mind races back over all that has happened in 2011 and the truly extraordinary year it has been. At the risk of getting all weepy eyed with nostalgia, I wander back along the road that I have traveled, the places I have been and the people – the friends – that I have met over the course of the past year. I have had an amazing array of opportunities and have joyfully grabbed at each one, as we each should do. From Europe to the United States to the Middle East, I have stood in the searing Omani heat at the foot of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, wandered through the Old French Quarter of New Orleans on a stifling summer day, strolled along a Florida beach, biked along a canal in Brittany and stood in a Tuscan vineyard. In one single year I have eaten bratwurst in Germany, panzerotti in Italy, beignets and po’ boys in New Orleans, tielle in Sète, been refreshed by icy lemon mint drinks in Muscat, sipped Cognac in, well, Cognac.
A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.
- Bill Vaughn
Here on the homefront, the battle against mankind rages as we have made a first tentative step out of the rat race, as far as it is possible in this day and age. We carry on our business happily (not to say that we aren’t often frustrated) and are thoroughly enjoying having the time to work on our own personal projects and chart out our own future. We allow our imagination to run wild as we make plans, jumping from continent to continent in our dreams and permit our creativity to take over the everyday. We cook together, eat together, spend our evenings together as a family. The boys work on the (in)famous Lambretta renovations down in the chilly garage coming back upstairs in time for JP to prepare lunch or dinner. Happy am I to have him take over the kitchen! Côte de beouf, Parmentier, couscous, fragrant, mouthwatering odors emanate from the kitchen day in and day out, only alternating with the scent of orange, apple, cinnamon and chocolate as I bake.
As I wallow in my memories, old sentimental fool that I am, the Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations wind down and we begin to prepare for New Year’s Eve. JP was finally relieved and just a tad thrilled when the last candle was lit, as the decorations were packed up and returned to their hiding place in the cupboard, as the last present was bought, wrapped, offered, unwrapped and oooohed over. The eight days and nights of Hanukkah seemed to go on forever, the responsibility of making sure everyone received a gift each night weighed heavily on his shoulders and he vowed that next year only Christmas would be celebrated with its single night and morning of festivities. Little does he know…. (cue for evil chuckle). And now, in our own particular haphazard, rather whimsical fashion, with no rhyme or reason and with only ourselves to please, we begin to plan our New Year’s Eve celebration and meal. Once again, as is customary, we will wander through the market and fill our baskets with whatever tempts: oysters – always, smoked salmon and blinis, fresh pasta and traditional boudin blanc. A trayful of glistening olives in every shade of green, brown and violet, tiny marinated artichokes and luscious, devilishly divine goat cheese wrapped in speck ham will grace our coffee table, to be nibbled on as we sip chilled Prosecco, the bottle to be finished off with orangettes and chocolate truffles as we toast in the New Year.
(some photos courtesy of Brad Lau, Anne-Laure Jacquart, Arthi Iyer, Meeta K. Wolff, Simone Van Den Berg, Roger Pratesi)
And what of 2012? My secret wishes, desires and goals are impossible to hide from anyone although I try and remain ever-so discreet and professional: to be published. Yes, I work hard, writing, writing, writing, and have been submitting articles to magazines, putting together book proposals and all with the love, encouragement and support of my network of very talented friends. I hope for the chance in the coming year to again teach and speak as sharing my knowledge, experience and passion is more than a pleasure; it has become part of my being, it feeds my soul, it inspires me as I hope to inspire others. I hope that 2012 will see so many of my husband’s goals and desires come to fruition, for he more than anyone deserves the gratification, the satisfaction, the reward of his multiple talents and hard work. Joy will be mine if my baby boy finds his way, his passion, his direction and both sons find happiness and success. And I pray that excellent health return quickly to wonderful Lael and Andrea, never to leave them stranded again.
And as far as the frivolous and selfish goes? I want to travel. I want to spend time with my friends. Face to face rather than just via internet. I want to move somewhere new, fresh and exciting, the next step in this great adventure alongside my husband, a somewhere filled with discovery, pleasure and possibilities.
- Leonard Bernstein
I needed something spectacular to end this old year and see in the new, something boozy, something festive, a cake that reflects the joy I feel, the excitement in the air; a dessert to make us settle back in our seats and sigh with pleasure and utterly forget the worries and cares that haunt our day in and day out; a treat elegant and sophisticated yet frivolous and sexy, a cake we want to hover over, linger over, enjoy with sensuous abandon. And I have found it! As its creator, Rose Levy Beranbaum, describes her Golden Grand Marnier Bundt “The divine flavors of orange, Grand Marnier, chocolate and almond – supported by a mellow sour cream butter cake base – combine to produce a sensational cake!” The orange juice and zest, orange flower water and Grand Marnier give this moist, dense yet very delicate cake a wonderful hint of citrus, in no way overpowering. I have added a luscious drizzle of chocolate ganache glaze to heighten the sensuous experience and bring together the perfect flavor duo to create the ideal dessert to ring in the New Year!
GOLDEN GRAND MARNIER BUNDT
From the wonderful Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
½ cup (85 g) mini-chocolate chips
¼ tsp Grand Marnier
1 ½ tsps cake flour
3 large eggs (about scant 5 fluid ounces/150 g)
1 cup (250 ml) sour cream (I used 0% fat fromage frais)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp orange flower water (if not using, increase vanilla to 1 ½ tsps)
2 ½ cups (250 g) sifted cake flour (I loosely spooned the flour into measuring cups)
2 ounces (60 g) finely ground almonds
1 cup (200 g) sugar
1 ½ tsps baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
2 Tbs finely grated orange zest (I grated the zest of 2 large oranges)
1 cup (8 ounces/225 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
Grand Marnier Syrup
½ cup (100 g) sugar
¼ liquid cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed orange juice
1/3 liquid cup (80 ml) Grand Marnier
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease and flour a 9-cup fluted tube or Bundt pan and shake out the excess flour.
In a small bowl, toss the chocolate chips and the Grand Marnier until all the chips are moistened and shiny. Add the 1 ½ teaspoons flour and toss until evenly coated.
In a medium bowl, lightly whisk together the eggs, ¼ cup of the sour cream, the orange flower water and the vanilla.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients and the orange zest and mix on low speed of an electric mixer for 30 seconds to blend. Add the softened butter and the remaining ¾ cup sour cream (I added about a quarter of the egg mixture as well). Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened and then increase mixer speed to medium (high speed if using a hand mixer) and beat for 1 ½ minutes to aerate and develop the cake’s structure. Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients. Scrape down the sides. Stir or fold in the chocolate chips.
Scrape the batter in the prepared pan and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until a wire cake tester inserted in the center (halfway between the side and the tube) comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly. (As my own oven is very uneven, the cake began browning quite quickly, so I simply covered it loosely with a piece of aluminum foil; my cake also rose into a hill and cracked: no need to worry, it refound its shape as it cooled and the bottom, once flipped onto the serving platter, was perfectly flat.) The cake should start to shrink from the sides of the pan only after removal from the oven.
Shortly before the cake is done, prepare the Grand Marnier Syrup: Place the sugar, freshly squeezed orange juice and the Grand Marnier in a small saucepan and heat just until the sugar is dissolved; do not allow to boil. As soon as the cake is out of the oven, place on a wire rack, poke the top all over with a wire tester and brush on half of the syrup. Cool in the pan on the rack for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack placed over a piece of waxed paper or aluminum foil and brush all over (top, outside and inside) with the remaining syrup (I waited until the cake was completely cool before turning it out of the pan and brushing with the remaining syrup). Cool completely then carefully place on a cake/serving plate or platter.
CHOCOLATE GANACHE GLAZE
2 oz (55 g) dark semi-sweet chocolate
¼ cup (60 ml) heavy cream
1 to 2 Tbs blanched and slivered almonds for decoration, optional
1 to 2 tsps edible sugar pearls for decoration, optional
Chop the chocolate and place in a small heatproof glass or pyrex bowl. Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan over low heat just until it reaches the boil and bubbles appear around the edges. Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate and stir until all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Allow to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, until desired drizzling thickness. Drizzle evenly over the top of the cake, allowing the ganache to drip down the sides of the cake. Dust with slivered almonds and sugar pearls.