End of an Era


In 1996 my friend JC (no….not Jesus Christ) asked me if I could store his Harpsichord for him for a few months because he was moving out to Cleveland. I said, “sure, that’s what friends are for.” This morning, February 3rd, 2013 at 9:00am, his parents came and picked it up.

Harpsichord

For those of you who don’t know what a harpsichord looks like…..

An era of my life has ended.

It seems to me that we have such a temporary, convenience oriented view of friendship these days. I suspect it is in large part due to a group of people who grew up with social media. I kind of live on the cusp of that revolution and I often find that I have very different opinions about friendship than people who were fully emerged. A friend might ask for one favor, maybe two, but that seems to be about the end our tolerance. Of course, JC did me some favors of his own. When I went to Cleveland, he put me up. He and T arranged a trip for me to go Niagara Falls with T. When I needed comfort or an artful conversation, I could alway, always rely on JC. We are friends on Facebook now and keep sending each other messages about how we should message each other more, but work and families get in the way more often than not. Maybe it’s time for another trip.

My friend S mentioned something to me the other day about how other people perceive your actions (which deserves a whole other post) and people told me over the years that I was crazy for keeping this damn Harpischord for JC. There were offers to make it disappear because he “obviously wasn’t going to come get it”. People told me he was taking advantage. But JC isn’t my friend because he’s convenient or easy, he’s my friend because he is a good, kind, genuine and generous person who has failings just like any other human being. “When he’s ready he will come get it,” I said.

I knew I could call him and say “come take this damn thing”, and it would happen. But I never did. I said I would do something for my friend. I didn’t put a time limit on it; I didn’t qualify it; I didn’t give him caveats or excuses; I didn’t change my mind when I was angry or upset with him. It is much easier now for us to stay in touch than it was in 1996. In this world of easy friendships, virtual connections and pretend associations, I think it is easy for my friends like S be misinterpret that kind of dedication. And there are probably a lot of other people out there who don’t understand what it means not to give up on someone. Some of you who don’t understand might even be reading this right now, wondering why you are still on my distribution list (aside from the fact that I get too lazy to edit it).

“Well, thanks for your 17 years of dedication,” JC’s dad said after we carried the harpsichord down a flight of stairs and loaded it into their truck.

“No problem,” I answered, “that’s what friends are for.”

S informed me Friday that his Green Card application was audited and he will likely have to return to India in a few months. He has a large coin collection that would be very expensive to ship….

Caramel Soufflés with Ginger Crème Anglaise (From Fine Cooking’s “Dinner with Friends” series – it’s worth the effort)

caramel-souffle-recipe_medFor the ginger crème anglaise
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
4 large egg yolks
For the ramekins
2 to 3 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened
3 to 4 Tbs. granulated sugar
For the caramel pastry cream
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream, heated
4 large egg yolks
1 cups whole milk
3 Tbs. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. table salt
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
For the meringue
8 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 oz. (1/4 cup) confectioners’ sugar; more for dusting

Make the crème anglaiseIn a 2-quart saucepan, heat the cream, sugar, vanilla bean seeds and pod, and ginger over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until simmering, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and let sit for up to 30 minutes; the longer it sits, the more intense the ginger flavor will be.Whisk the yolks in a small bowl until smooth. Return the cream mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Whisk a quarter of the cream into the yolks to warm them. Using a wooden spoon, stir the yolk mixture into the cream. Continue stirring over medium heat until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon and an instant-read thermometer registers 170°F to 175°F, about 2 minutes. Immediately remove from the heat and strain through a fine sieve into a bowl. If you want to serve it cold, cover and refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until chilled, about 2 hours.
Prepare the ramekinsPosition a rack in the lower third of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F. Generously butter eight 6-oz. ramekins (3-1/2 inches in diameter and about 2 inches deep). Coat the insides with sugar, tapping out any excess.
Make the pastry creamSprinkle the brown sugar in an even layer on the bottom of a 3-quart heavy-duty saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, undisturbed, until partially melted, about 3 minutes. Whisk until the sugar melts and begins to darken, 1 to 2 minutes more; remove from the heat.Carefully whisk in the heavy cream; the caramel will sputter and possibly harden. If it hardens, stir over low heat until melted again. Remove from the heat.In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, milk, cornstarch, and salt. Whisk half of the hot caramel into the egg mixture, and then whisk the egg mixture into the pan of caramel. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles, about 4 minutes; it’s OK if it’s lumpy at this point. Continue simmering while whisking until smooth and very thick, about 2 minutes more. Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla . Transfer to a large bowl set in a larger bowl of ice water and whisk often until cooled to room temperature, about 10 minutes.
Make the meringue and assemble the soufflésIn a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl, using a hand-held electric mixer), beat the egg whites on high speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. With the motor running, add the cream of tartar and continue beating until the bubbles become smaller and the whites almost form soft peaks, 30 to 60 seconds more. With the motor still running, add the confectioners’ sugar 1 Tbs. at a time and beat until the whites hold a glossy, pointed, stiff peak when you remove the beater, about 30 seconds more. If the peak droops, finish whisking them to stiff peaks by hand to avoid overbeating.Stir the pastry cream with a large silicone spatula to loosen it, then stir in a third of the meringue until combined. Gently fold in another third of the meringue by starting at the edge of the bowl and slowly bringing the spatula up through the middle of the pastry cream and then back to the edge of the bowl, rotating the bowl and repeating this motion until the meringue is mostly incorporated. It’s OK if there are a few white streaks at this point. Add the remaining meringue and fold until just combined, leaving no white streaks visible.Divide the soufflé mixture evenly among the prepared ramekins and smooth the tops with an offset spatula. Run your index finger around the edges of the ramekins to create a shallow trench. Put the ramekins on a large rimmed baking sheet and bake until a skewer inserted in the center of a soufflé comes out with just the tip still wet, 15 to 20 minutes. Dust the soufflés with confectioners’ sugar, if you like, and serve immediately with the sauce.
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