I haven’t met many new people yet in our new town. That’s what happens when you work at home, and have shy personality. I’m starting to meet a few people and I’m taking an a season-long intensive gardening class starting in February, which will certainly help me center in my new place, literally and socially.
So I was really touched when a neighbor knocked on our door Christmas Eve, with a plate of homemade treats. She apologized for not stopping by earlier (we’ve only been in this house a month), and then invited us to join her family for Christmas dinner.
I can’t imagine inviting a stranger to Christmas dinner. I was blown away by her kindness, and the thoughtful gesture. We already had plans, but ever since then I’ve been trying to figure out what to make for her and her family, to express my thanks.
I know, this blog is supposed to be about sustainably but let’s face it, without community, none of us are sustainable. And in all the places I’ve lived, I’ve never had a neighbor make such a gesture. Nor -and here’s the part I’ve really been thinking about – made such an overture myself.
I wanted to make something out of the ordinary to share with her.
I’ve spent the holidays cooking with one of my favorite cookbook authors – Sarah Leah Chase. I fell in love with her books as a college student in the late eighties, and her recipes really do recall the excesses of those days; most of them are so rich that they have to be classified as special occasion food.
Chase was a co-writer of the second of the legendary Silver Palate books – but her first solo effort, the Nantucket Open-House Cookbook remains my favorite of all her books – and that’s saying something because I’ve cooked from them all. (I’ve just discovered she’s working on a new book , too!) My college housemates dined on homemade croissants, empanadas, polish butter cookies and French potato salad, all courtesy of Sarah. I used many of her ideas too, (like her red pepper and goat cheese gratin, from Peddling Through Provence) when KM and I belonged to a cooking club years ago in East Central Illinois.
Chase’s dessert are outstanding, rich and imaginative. I made a variation on her Pecan Chocolate Date pie for Christmas. And for New Years, and for my neighbor, I am making her Honeymoon Torte. It’s a flourless cake made from ground nuts and eggs – a dozen eggs, both whites and yolks, separately whipped to perfection. And you frost the cake with a mocha maple buttercream. It is as extravagant as it sounds.
Chase makes it as three layers – I made the one recipe as two cakes – one for me, and one for my neighbor and her family. And if you want to make it, I recommend this method –three layers is almost too much, at least at the end of the holiday season.
I’m hoping that a homemade cake and a thank you card will be an appropriate tribute, and help continue the conversation.