When Jacque Pepin's mother was just married , the famed chef wrote in his memoir "The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen" that the 17 year old didn't know much about cooking at the time, but her new husband, probably like all new French husbands wanted a soufflé. So, without batting an eye, the young wife, somehow pulled off a magical feat. She didn't know she was supposed to separate egg whites from egg yolks; she didn't have any fancy equipment. But she did have a husband she loved and he wanted a soufflé!
The word itself in French seems almost a metaphor for life itself. Souffle means to breathe, to blow – to inflate. The first recipe for the dish appeared in the book The Modern Cook, written by famed chef Vincent La Chapelle. But it was another French chef Marie-Antoine-Careme, known for practically inventing France's Grande Cuisine, who breathed life into this luscious and light dish that can be either a substantial meal or just a petite little dessert.
France's Grande Cuisine usually involves lavish banquets, fancy sauces and elaborate dishes, but Pepin's Maman didn't worry about all of that. She came up with this recipe, and in one of my darker moments after watching Too Much News, I decided the only antidote to a Global Apocalyptic Pandemic was to make this soufflé, just like Maman. I knew equipment was Key, so after a mad dash through Amazon, I found this beauty – a BIA Cordon Bleu Classic Bakeware Souffle Dish and another furtive adventure at the supermarket whose shelves hadn't yet been stripped bare, I got the essentials: Eggs, Cheese, Flour, Chives and Whole Milk. It was as simple as that. Pepin recommends Swiss Cheese or Gruyere but times being what they are – I could only find low calorie shredded Mozarella. C'est La Vie.
Finally, with Mozart playing liltingly through the room and Lulu, my recently adopted doggy at my side, I set to work. Feeling like a combination of Julia Child and Maman herself, I cracked eggs, mixed flour, chopped Chives and poured milk. Tentatively, I poured it into the Souffle bowl. And of course, said a prayer to the Cooking Angels. "Please, make my soufflé rise, please?"
A friend came in and asked ominously – "how's it going?" I gave a tentative peek into the oven. "Wonderful," I lied. Nothing much seemed to be happening. I said another prayer: "Please???" But the magic of time did the trick and 40 minutes later, the Souffle had Risen – and for a short time, as Lulu, my friend and I devoured this light and nourishing creation, our spirits rose as well.
There's something almost like an animal contentment that comes over a person after they
have dined well, with a dear friend or companion, and have drunk many glasses of Pinot Noir the world looks a bit brighter. So, with a storm and a Pandemic raging outside, I took comfort in my first soufflé, and sent an air kiss to Jacque Pepin and his wonderful Maman. Merci, Chef! Merci Maman!
And French kisses to all. We will get through this somehow – One Souffle, One Moment, One Day at a Time. I would love to hear about how you are coping -- How are you getting through it all? Please let me know.
Look, Peter, the sky. (she looks up through the skylight) What a lovely, lovely day! Aren't the clouds beautiful? You know what I do when it seems as if I couldn't stand being cooped up for one more minute? I think myself out. I think myself on a walk in the park where I used to go with Pim. Where the jonquils and the crocus and the violets grow down the slopes. You know the most wonderful part about thinking yourself out? You can have it any way you like. You can have roses and violets and chrysanthemums all blooming at the same time? It's funny. I used to take it all for granted. And now I've gone crazy about everything to do with nature. Haven't you?
From the Play, "Diary of Anne Frank," by Alfred Hackett and Frances Goodrich, based on Anne Frank's Diary
Living through a pandemic is nothing like what Anne Frank and her family went through while hiding from the Nazis in Holland during World War II, but I thought of these words today while walking through the park near where I live. Our enforced isolation is making me look at the World with new eyes, feeling even more appreciative of the little things, like Daffodils blooming and children playing and couples walking arm and arm -- social distancing be damned...
I have seen all of those things in the past few days, including crazy hot rodding teens doing gravity defying feats like flying through the air on their skateboards; Lulu, my little darling Chihuahua weenie leaping and whirling at the dog run where pet parents met to commiserate and offer warmth. Civil society is holding and a sense of our common humanity is emerging. I saw a sign today in my neighborhood saying anyone who needs help, please text or call.
Our sense of mortality has never been so apparent, both individually and as a global community. Amid all of this, I found in myself this mantra.
As Susan Hayward once declared in the movies: "I want to Live!"
Make Voyages. Attempt Them. There is nothing else."
To enter Agnes Vardas' latest film, "Faces Places" is to enter a world where kindness, feeling and joy rule and where the sometimes ravaged but still beautiful faces of so-called everyday people are celebrated. In the film, the 89-year old Belgian filmmaker and her traveling companion J.R., the French muralist and photographer travel through the French countryside encountering people whose heroism is of the everyday quality -- staying alive in a world usually indifferent to them.
The duo, who create a sometimes comic, occasionally sparring partnership, travel around in a van equipped with a photo booth and a large-scale printing press that enables them to produce huge, mural-like prints of the people they encounter. One of the first people they meet is Jeanine, one of the last residents of a former miner's community set to be demolished. Jeanine tells them about her friends, her husband, what life in the mines were like. "You have no idea what we have lived through," she tells them. Varda, who was one of the stars of the French New Wave and J.R., who became known for his Inside Out Project take a portrait of her which they enlarge on a huge scale and paste onto the wall of her house as a way of honoring her. When she sees it, she begins to weep. Among those they encounter on their journey are farmers, factory workers, a mailman and militant dockworkers and their wives. They create huge mural photos of the the women and adorn them to buildings adjacent to the harbor.
Varda, who will be the first female director to receive an honorary Oscar this year, and whose films include "Cleo From 5 to 7," "The Gleaners and I" and "The Beaches of Agnes" told IndieWire that she loves documentaries because "I learn more discovering people." She is also careful, she said, to not exploit those whose stories she tells. " We go, we meet people, they just give themselves to the film, and then we go to festivals. Documentaries raise a process -- do we keep a connection with these people we film? We can't just do it and go home," she said.
There is a poignant moment towards the end of the film when Varda and J.R. go to Switzerland to see filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, with whom she once shared a close friendship and who she has not seen for many years. Godard doesn't show up and leaves her a cryptic note about her late husband French director Jacques Demy who made the iconic film "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg." She weeps but forgives him anyways, leaving him a bag of pastries at his door.
Varda and J.R. acknowledge the ephemeral nature of the art they create when the tide washes away the large-scale portrait of the late photographer Guy Bourdin they attached to an old German bunker on a Normandy beach. They had stood admiring their handiwork and the memories the photo had evoked. But when they return the next day, it was gone, vanished into the sea.
The little boy came walking towards us, his hand outstretched -- a white bird perched on his shoulder. His palm was filled with nuts and candy.
It was 1979 and Yugoslavia was still at peace, as was Skopje, in Macedonia, the town we had stumbled upon after hitchhiking up from Athens and Thessaloniki, relying, as Blanche Dubois once said so eloquently, "on the kindness of strangers." We were hungry, the two of us -- my traveling companion and I, both of us, emotional refugees, running from what our lives had become, searching for some kind of solace, for inspiration. For awhile we found it in each other. But we were also hungry, starving that day for food. The two of us had just pennies to our name . I had been traveling for about 9 months. Liam, my friend, had been on the road for years. On that day, we hadn't eaten much and the traveling had been slow. A few rides here and there from friendly truck drivers, but in between, hours of waiting on the side of dusty roads.
I don't remember his name, just the sparkling of his eyes and his warm voice. "Bon Bon?" he said, and he stretched his arm out to us, his hands filled with hard, bright candy. "Take it," he said. "You need it." We were hungry and depleted and the candy and the kindness brought me back to life. We sat then and talked for a while with the boy while his bird stood patiently on shoulder. We stayed like that for awhile then until his family came forward. They stood there by the door, a man and a woman a couple of kids. I don't remember how many. There was an old lady too, I think. They spoke little English, but seemed to be saying with their warm smiles and dramatic hand gestures: "Come inside!".
The inside of the house was sparse. There was a dirt floor and the central attraction inside the main room was a huge old fashioned looking television and a beautifully polished dining room table. "American Bandstand!" they cried, as they saw Dick Clark, the show's star, make an appearance. "Dance!" they said. They took our bags and asked us to stay. Of course, we agreed. Our hosts were poor, but showing us a good time, being generous hosts seemed all they cared about.
We didn't know anything about each other except that we were hungry and tired and they were offering food and shelter, no questions asked. They drove us into town showing us the crowded, bazaar-like market place. It was like a circus of sights and sounds and while they diverted us with this chaotic splendor, they were spending like crazy, buying us a magnificent feast. When we got back to their home, the gifts kept coming: a huge bottle of Vodka, a million different kinds of cold cuts, wine and bread. Our hosts, despite their poverty, had spared no expense.
That night, they took out their best plates, their treasured silverware. They toasted Tito, the man who was holding Yugoslavia, in his firm and mostly benevolent grip, together. We all toasted him -- and each other's health, their happiness and ours. And then we toasted Tito again. "To you, my friends," we said. "To you," they said back to us. After dinner, the woman took me aside, dressing me up in an elaborate, harem-like costume. It sparkled, with many veils and layers a girl could hide behind. She taught me a sinuous dance, and filled with many glasses of vodka, it wasn't hard to coax a performance from me, or me from her. We all laughed.
Years later, after the War created blood and death in Yugoslavia, and the country was divided up into tortured ethnic enclaves, I thought often of my friends. I still do. I don't know if the white bird was really a dove. I don't know if it flew away -- or if it stayed.
It all began with a Tweet.
She was just 7 years old last September and she had already seen what no 7-year old -- or 70-year oldshould have to see. Living in Aleppo with her parents and two brothers amid the bombs and screams, she only wanted one thing. "I need peace," she wrote in her first Twitter posting. A little later she wrote: "I can't go out because of the bombing. Please stop bombing us."
Since that time, she she has garnered 362 thousand followers on her @AlabedBana feed and has been dubbed Syria's Anne Frank for giving a child's eye view of trying to grow up amid the horrors of war. Showing the power of sharing through words and stories, Bana and her family's isolation was eased as she began getting supportive messages back on Twitter.
She has recently published a book: "Dear World," which tells of the loss of friends, of hiding in bomb shelters and of seeing her beloved home destroyed by bombs.
“I didn’t know what it was when the first big bomb came. It was just a regular day,” she writes in the book, as reported by The New York Post. She was sitting on the floor playing with her dolls, making them “talk in a funny voice” when “suddenly there was a BOOM! It was the loudest noise I had ever heard in my life, a noise so big you could feel it in your body, not just hear it. The sound and the surprise made my body feel like jelly. "
She learned about the differences between phosphorous bombs and cluster bombs and what it was like to lose her best friend, Yasmin, who lived in the building next door. "[Her] black hair was completely white with dust like she was old. The only place she didn’t have dust was on her cheeks, where tears were running down her face,” Bana wrote. “She was floppy like she was asleep, and a had a lot of blood and dust on her. I couldn’t move or breathe because I was so scared seeing my friend like that … I couldn’t play the rest of the day — all I could do was see Yasmin and all the blood on her in my mind.”
Not long after that, her own apartment building was destroyed.
“This is our house," she wrote in a Twitter posting. "My beloved dolls died in the bombing of our house. I am very sad but happy to be alive.” The family found an empty building to sleep in but had nothing to eat, drink or beds to sleep on.
"I had never felt worse inside before,” she wrote. “Hungry and thirsty and tired and scared and sad and freezing cold, since we had no heat or blankets. My ears were still ringing from the bombs too. It was so many bad feelings at the same time that I didn’t know what to do. I just laid in Mummy’s lap and tried not to think about anything at all.”
Just before the family was evacuated in December of that year along with other civilians in rebel-held territories, she wrote one last message from Syria. “My name is Bana, I’m 7 years old. I am talking to the world now live from East Aleppo. This is my last moment to either live or die.”
Her book now tells her full story.
My first student walked in shyly. She didn't have much confidence and kept her head down. The job was to analyze a poem by Audre Lorde for her composition class. The poem was complex and dense and reading it was a revelation as much for me as it was for her. We worked slowly analyzing it together. The main thing was she was afraid to say what she thought. My goal was to get her to hear her own voice in relationship to the poem. At the end of our session -- her voice was stronger -- and we both understood something more ab out Audre's Lorde's work. And when the student walked out, I felt she wasn't hiding anymore. I fell in love with the process of helping her get to that quiet confidence -- and her Eureka moments. And I couldn't wait for the next student to walk in the door...