A couple of nights this week, I had the pleasure of making dinner for a lovely gentleman named Wally. My mom personal chefs for Wally and his old friend Frances. When my mom and my dad went away for their anniversary this week, I offered to stand in as a cook.
Wally is eighty-six years old. He lost his wife, Claire, just three weeks ago. Though dinner is usually served in the dining room, Frances decided to rest that night, and Wally asked if he could eat dinner in the kitchen with me for company. It’s a funny and typical part of being human that each of us tends to feel our own suffering most acutely. I am intensely sad for Wally’s loss; I can’t imagine what it must be like to lose a person that you’ve loved nearly all your life and shared and grown with. But I also couldn’t help feeling just a little envious. Sixty-one years. How can you know, when you look at some one, with all the thrill and ignorance of youth, that you want to be beside them for the next sixty-one years, and more if you could have it?
But it’s easy to ask that after the fact. He told me, “I asked her to marry me for four years before she finally said yes; she had a wartime divorce and she wanted nothing to do with it.” And even when you do find people and places and things to occupy time that make you happy, it’s a rare happiness that doesn’t engender some sadness. He said, “If she had married me the first time I asked, we would’ve celebrated our sixty-fifth.”
I find it both comforting and disappointing to be reminded that there is no getting out of some suffering in this life. I neither want to deny sadness nor grow more out of self-pity. I want to be with life the way it is, and uplift it where I can. If I’m being honest, I am shaky on my feet right now. From relationship and career changes, from loss of community and the uncertainty of youth. These things happen. But as Stanley Kubrick said, “However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”
For Wally, there is finding consolation in the company of others and a small cake made with love. For me, there is the beauty of objects and the hope that I may be of comfort to others when I can.
Financiers are French almond cakes, created in the financial district of Paris and traditionally made in the shape of a miniature gold bar to appeal to the clientele of the neighborhood. They are chewy on the outside and moist on the inside, with a flavor akin to frangipane. These taste especially great paired with whipped cream and warm cherry jam, though they are stellar on their own as well.
Honey Lemon Financiers
adapted from Epicurious
12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup honey
zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup ground almonds
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
5 egg whites
Preheat the oven to 425˚ F. Financiers get their diverse texture from a high-heat start that gets reduced as they bake, so be prepared to stay by the oven. Grease two half-dozen muffin pans.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter and continue heating it on medium-low until the milk solids brown and it begins to smell nutty and delicious. Stir in the honey, lemon zest, and almond extract. Set aside to cool.
In a medium bowl, sift together the ground almonds, confectioner’s sugar, flour, and salt. Whisk in the egg whites. Make sure the butter is cool enough to touch; it doesn’t need to be at room temperature. You just don’t want it to cook the eggs. Pour in the melted butter mix and whisk until combined.
Portion the batter into the muffin pans and place them in the oven on a middle rack. Bake them seven minutes at 425˚ F. Reduce the heat to 400˚ F and bake them for seven more minutes. Turn off the oven heat and leave them inside for ten more minutes. Use a toothpick to ensure they are cooked through, remove them from the oven, and cool them in the pans. Eat for dessert or breakfast or afternoon snack. Share with some one who needs their day brightened.