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“It is not length of life, but love of pastry.”

September 26, 2010

Before we moved, I was digging around in the garage (looking for who-knows-what) and I found this portrait of my Mama in a Rubbermaid bin with some other framed things that had gotten stashed away.  At first her face was all I saw.  I’ve always been kind of spellbound by this picture.  You can’t really tell from my photograph, but the eyes are sapphire blue and they just seem to stare back at you when you look at  the portrait.  Only when I went to move the plaque above it, did I notice the quote.

“It’s not length of life, but depth of life.”

Anyone who knew my Mama knows that she understood “depth of life”.  While hers was cut short at only fifty years old, she probably had a hundred and fifty packed in there — all of them full of being present in each moment, of loving so deeply that you never had to question her feelings.

I’ve been missing her lately.  Lots, actually.  It seems that her space in my heart is  magnified and the triggers that make my heart ache are everywhere.  The Redskins, relentless reruns of Dirty Dancing, a Beach Boys’ song, the yummy eclairs I made today … they all make my breath catch and it hurts — that whiny, selfish hurt that makes you fake sneeze or cough or yawn or excuse yourself to the bathroom repeatedly so the tears aren’t obvious to everybody.

She wouldn’t approve.  At all.

She did approve of the Cream Puffs at the Chestnut Hill Bakery though.  She approved of that as often as possible.

((A funny aside:  I just asked Berg if he thought the Chestnut Hill Bakery was still open.  He answered, “Why?  Are you calling for take-out?”  Dork.))

I’ve tried making those Cream Puffs a million times and I remember exactly how they tasted, so I know that I haven’t hit on the right recipe yet.  I haven’t hit on how to keep the pastry crisp.  I haven’t figured out how to get the whipped cream to taste exactly like pastry cream.  (Yhea.  Imagine the texture of perfectly whipped cream and the exquisite flavor of the best pastry cream you ever tasted.  Sigh.)  I haven’t figured out how to pipe the choux into a knot the size of a bowling ball and get it to bake perfectly (only one Puff would fit inside a ten-inch cake box!).

And yet I don’t consider myself a failure.  I have just resigned myself to believing that those Cream Puffs were made using magic.  That is the only realistic conclusion.

But believing in magic doesn’t satisfy my craving, so I continue experimenting and taking bakery field trips looking for just the right combination of effects.  Someday.  I just know it.

Choux + cream + ganache:  Ingredients so basic in baking they hardly earn a page or a photograph in most cookbooks and yet no matter how many times I try, I just can’t find that taste … that memory.

I think Emerson got one thing wrong.  “It’s not length of life, but depth of love.

I think she would definitely approve.

This eclair was made using the recipes for choux and pastry cream from the Tartine cookbook.  Though these specific recipes are very, very basic, this is one of my very favorite sources because of the attention paid to every little detail of making extraordinary pastry.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. September 26, 2010 8:15 am

    Ah, I loved this. Made me weep. Your mom was beautiful! I love that picture and I love the print! I truly believe that was a sign, the way you found it! Of course your food pics always look so perfect and so good. I bet it tasted just as great too! Your mom would be so proud of you! You do everything, you cook, you clean, you play, you read, you teach, and yours kids are good! You are a fabulous mother, and I miss you!

  2. Lisa permalink
    September 26, 2010 8:37 am

    This made me teary. Your mama is gorgeous and you look exactly like her. I’m not brave enough to attempt eclairs. Don’t you feel like having me over for some? 🙂

  3. Lauren Dillon permalink
    September 26, 2010 8:38 am

    Delicious and poignant. Wonderful post. Now I have to come visit just for the éclairs. And your company, of course.

  4. September 26, 2010 8:45 am


  5. September 26, 2010 12:24 pm

    Annie… I loved this. There’s some ingredient imbedded in memory that is so hard to locate, but always worth the quest. XO

  6. September 26, 2010 9:50 pm

    I got teary eyed reading this. The picture of your Mom is beautiful and you look just like her! Miss you Ann the Great!!! Wish I could hop in my car and have an eclair! Smooch!

  7. melissa permalink
    September 27, 2010 7:27 am

    Reading this was like taking a bath in the most beautiful cream-filled memories. That photo of your mom is very Jackie O – obviously you inherited her love of pastry and her love of style. xoxo

  8. September 27, 2010 8:08 am

    Yes Ann, your mother was one of a kind! I so fondly remember spending countless hours in her presence, along side a tobacco wagon. Slinging leaves and harrassing jabs at Barney Roakes was a favorite pastime for her! When she laughed, everyone laughed. I can hear it now. — so I smile with fondness.
    You, precious Anne, are her legacy. Look within that portrait…. you will find much of yourself. Your smile, brings her alive to me. Rejoice.

  9. Julie permalink
    October 2, 2010 7:51 pm

    You know what I said when you found this and now it leads to eclairs? Oh, Annie. I can taste the pastry cream from that photo. Bravo!

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