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!"