I love food and feeding those I love. I consider myself an OK cook. A baker, however, I am not. I’m not good with measurements, precision weighing, and recipes that don’t allow improvisation.
I can make a few basic sweet things like chocolate chip cookies, banana bread, French Toast, tiramisu (which involves no cooking)… that’s it. I recently tried my hand at the novel internet craze: baked oatmeal. Unimpressed. I will give it one more try, adding more sugar and more crunch. One dessert that I am very attached to for sentimental reasons is crème caramel.
Think wobbly egg flan drenched in dark liquid caramel sauce. A more complicated version of crème brulée, minus the crunchy part. Old school Italian restaurants always have it on the menu, served in single portions.
I grew up eating restaurant crème caramel. But the best variation of it was my Nonna’s. She did not make it often, it was a treat we had to deserve. Mainly because it was a laborious recipe that involved way too many egg yolks.
My maternal grandmother was a sensational cook AND baker. Her crème caramel was legendary, as were her bagna càuda, cheese fondue, beef tartare, bollito misto and many, many other family heritage recipes. She shared all of these in a handwritten recipe “book”. We still use that cooking manual to this day. Over the years the pages have become a beautiful map of splotches and food stains. The cover of the book is still lined in padded green wool tartan. The handwriting belongs to another century. Nonna was born in the year 1895. The precious book contains all her recipes, but one.
She left my mother, my sister and I the testament of her cooking skills and her creative culinary prowess. But she did not share the recipe for crème caramel. It was not a secret, because we watched her make it many times. However she left no written list of ingredients, no method, no tips for us to consult.
For my mother’s 81st birthday, my sister bravely tackled the endeavor of baking Nonna’s crème caramel, and succeeded beautifully (not counting a minor accident involving scalding hot liquid caramel). I am very envious of my sister’s baking skills. She has Nonna’s dessert DNA.
In this moment of social distancing and being sheltered in place, I have made a few attempts at coming out of my comfort zone. Every day I do something new, something difficult, a daunting task, a scary chore. For example, as I swore in my New Year’s resolutions, every day I learn a new word in Russian, and I practice pronouncing it in front of the mirror. I feel very Anna Karenina whilst doing so.
My son and I are also learning to navigate the obscure world of online teaching platforms.
With my business partners I’m taking a leap of faith and jumping in brand new professional tasks that will expand our horizons and missions.
But the biggest challenge during quarantine will be making Nonna’s crème caramel. Wish me luck and stay tuned for results.