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Toujours Amour & Caramel Pots de Creme

[Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite, February 2011.]

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.

– Raymond Carver


Yosemite in winter: quiet, still, white, the waterfalls full and pouring down, El Cap silent and chilly looming over the valley, Half Dome shimmering in the distance. For a brief stretch of lovely days we slept in and drank good coffee and hiked through the snow up the Mist Trail as far as possible, slipping a little on the icy parts, and had hot chocolate at the Ahwhanee and dozed in front of the great fires. It was perfect and went by much too quickly.

Sometimes I think: I can hardly imagine how things unfolded the way they did — all that time, all that separation, all that wondering if it would be worth it in the end? Then to know, absolutely, yes. To say it, too, after taking a deep breath, thrilling and terrifying both. You and me; there is a kind of comfort in it.

[Near Happy Isles, February 2011.]

Last night I stayed up late, way past my bedtime, stirring out-of-season basil into a pot of roasted potato-leek soup and baking a Guinness chocolate cake to take up north. The rain beat against the windows mightily and I ate a piece of cheese and took swigs of water to fortify myself while I cooked. It was chilly in my apartment but the oven had been on so it wasn’t too bad. I stirred and thought about making tea and stirred some more. I’m usually fast asleep by 10.30, and at nearly midnight it was a little late for me: Restless.

When I was in college and it rained I’d go for a walk on my school’s ‘mall’ to smoke cigarettes and listen to Joni Mitchell and miss California with every single bit of me. Now when it rains I wind my ipod into a plastic bag and wear an extra shirt and go out into the night, trying to dodge puddles and the occasional biker who glides silently out of the mist and away. Never underestimate the insanity of the runner: rain, sun, sleet, hail, snow, humidity — I have run through them all, and gladly so. I’m never the only one.

Back then, when I’d listen to Joni Mitchell (‘Blue,’ mostly), and smoke (my shameful secret), and count the days ’til I’d be going home for break, I knew so little about love. I was learning it though — I was learning that I loved California terribly, that I loved my family and didn’t like being so far away, that I loved my pup and wished he could come live with me, that I loved eating well (I blame the wretched dining hall food for this realization) and I might like to cook more, that I wanted more than what I was doing then. So much of being young seems to be biding time and yet when we’re young time is our most precious commodity, though we often don’t know it. Like happiness – like love — it can be elusive and perhaps if we were aware of its brevity it wouldn’t be so easy to waste it. That in itself is the gift.

[Before, February 2011.]

The past ten years have taught me so much about love! The feeling of holding your best friend’s baby for the first time and seeing the look of pride and incredible peace on his face is the truest kind of love you can imagine. Seeing your brother marry a wonderful person and knowing how much they love each other — there is a grace to that, a special beauty, that I doubt I will ever feel again in quite the same way. Baking the fluffiest pouf of a coconut-pineapple cake for your parents’ 40th anniversary — that is the cheerfullest kind of baking, and the best savored. Or making soup for someone who is very ill — that is a bittersweet kind of cooking, but perhaps the most necessary.

I have learned that love is letting go and letting in and losing and sometimes so painful you can’t imagine why except only that you have to, and sometimes love is also so easy and sweet it feels like no trouble at all.

A few summers ago I wrote here

Sometimes love creeps in over the doorstep slowly and gently to land up at your feet with a shy smile. At others it sweeps in on a great booming rush of wind and sound, filling up a room with its presence until there’s nothing else to hear or see. At still others love arrives on a sunny afternoon by the water, the air blue and the sky bluer, with white wine and a mediocre dessert you hardly notice because you’re too busy noticing other things. And then sometimes — oh, sweet sometimes — love just is and you don’t know why exactly except that it’s simply beautiful and delicious.

And it’s all true. But still you have to take that plunge.

[Bridalveil, February 2011.]

Last weekend I took my biggest leap to date — far bigger than moving across country for school, far huger than breaking off an ailing relationship, far larger, even, than moving back home to California. My life will change intensely in ways I can’t even imagine just yet — and I don’t simply mean that I must learn to share closet space. Quite frankly this scares me a little bit, as perhaps it should. After all, I have always been the girl who, as Emily Bronte wrote, “walks where my own nature would be leading.” My independence is precious to me (not to mention, all that closet space!); for a long time I have walked by myself and have been content.

So last weekend when I took that proverbial leap I was glad I could see Half Dome almost every time I turned around. I leaned against it a bit in my mind. I’ve climbed it three times so far and at each I thrilled and worried (the cables! oh, the damned cables and the equally damned quarter-dome, always hiked in the burning sun) all the while pushing myself higher. Every time it was worth the effort and pain and slight trepidation for that sweeping view, the sweat drying on my arms as I stood so very close to the sky, the knowing I could do it, and well.

I guess life is a series of leaps — often you’re poised on that cliff above the Mediterranean and must decide whether to jump, to stay, or to go back. I always want to jump, to go forward, no matter the cost. Reminder to self: no matter the cost. In the end it is worth it, even if the ‘end’ is not what you initially expected.

So I chant to myself: Be open to possibility. Let it in. Be true and honest and real and sad sometimes, if that’s what you are. Be real, always. It’s the only way.

[Yosemite Valley, February 2011.]

After all, we have known each other for so long, you and me. When we were very small we looked for tadpoles in the pond up the hill and played with the dogs; when we grew up a little bit you took my brother and me out to Wildcat backpacking for the first time and we were hooked immediately, were In Love and only wanted more. In between then and now there have been sand dollars on an early morning beach, whole and perfect and like I have never seen before or since. There have been whales, turning and blowing in the sun out past the breakers, completely out of season. There have been countless cups of tea and letters through the international post and friendship — oh, a very lot of that as well as the other.

Life: You are funny and sweet and you do these things to us humans and we must only laugh and shake our heads and give in to the inevitable. Toujours amour indeed — as long as I got you and you got me, we can do anything. I know it in the very breath and bones of me. The rest is just the dishes-washing; no big deal.

And so we begin, and break into something new.

[Now to think about what kind of cake to bake — and will Jessie really disown me if I bake it myself (quite possible) — and can I really make and can 100 jars of Pt. Reyes blackberry jam by October (YES, emphatically, come hell or high water or both or none). Now to try not to immediately fall into the deep morass of wedding planning (and my brother just getting married last June!), to tell my friends, to freak out just a little bit but not too much because. Because of the rightness of it.]

Today it is very cold in San Francisco and they say it may snow tomorrow (!) and I feel grateful for hope and knowing and old friends and pretty rings and the reality that sometimes you have to do the hardest, biggest things to change your life — and everything turns out just as it should. As it must.

[Pots de creme, February 2011.]

All of which is a funny segue into a recipe for caramel pots de creme except when I made these last week all I could think after I sunk my spoon into my little Weck jar of custard was that it tasted of love — old love, and new love, and love always, in all its forms. They are plushy and smooth, winding flavors of deep caramelized sugar across your tongue — rich, but not overly so.

This recipe also is incredibly easy to throw together, and you probably have all the ingredients in your fridge right now. Maybe check? And then make this afternoon for the weekend.
Caramel Pots de Creme, via williams-sonoma.com

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups milk
8 egg yolks

Place the sugar and the 1/3 cup water in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Cover and bring to a boil. Uncover and cook until the sugar turns golden amber in color, 8 to 12 minutes. Be careful, as the caramel is very hot.

Meanwhile, combine the cream and milk in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and warm until small bubbles appear along the edges of the pan. Remove from the heat.

Preheat an oven to 325°F. Have a pot of boiling water ready.

When the caramel is ready, add the remaining 1/4 cup water and whisk vigorously until the bubbles subside. Pour the caramel into the hot cream mixture and whisk together until mixed. Let cool for about 10 minutes.

In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly add the caramel mixture to the egg yolks, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until mixed. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher.

Pour the custard into six 2/3-cup ramekins. Place the ramekins in a baking pan. Pour boiling water into the pan to reach about 1 inch up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the edges of the custards are set, 40 to 50 minutes. Remove the baking pan from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool for 10 minutes.

Remove the custards from the water bath and let cool. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight until well chilled. Serve chilled.[/print_this]


  1. To you! To some of the most beautiful words i have read in recent memory (and for lovingly winding some gorgeous Carver and Bronte in as well), and to your happiness, your hopes, and to continuously leaping. congrats!!

  2. Love reading this! You are an amazing writer. Take the plunge in more ways than one! I’m so happy for you, you special person you.

  3. First, I love this post (as I’m wiping the tears off my cheeks)… just beautiful! I am so happy that you have found love and accepted it. He must be something because you are fabulous!

    Second, I would never disown you… after this many years together, you could never do anything that would warrant any withdrawal of love on my part. However, I will physically restrain you if you attempt to bake your own wedding cake… I am trained to do it and I think between me, Andy and Brian V, we could definitely take you down!

    I love you! Thanks for the shout out!

  4. Oh how wonderful! Your love story offers so much hope, as much as your recipes always offer delicious treats!
    P.S. Put some hints in pictures soon – ring, him, you both, etc!

  5. Gosh! I’m speechless ( not quite (: ) with this poetic post. Dylanesque , brilliant and relevant photos, and honesty of emotions. The next stage awaits two real and genuine individuals. May happiness and joy surround you both. (Oh, no! another wedding and so soon!)

  6. I expect someday to purchase a book of poetry or short stories or something written by you. Your blog is the one I look forward to reading. I am a 57 year old woman with the heart of someone your age or place or whatever. Keep writing for God’s sake and congratulations…..

  7. Special, life-changing events really DO happen in Yosemite in February! Many, many congratulations!

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