My Grandma

I have been away too long, and I thought today was a good day to change that. For reasons I won’t divulge, I haven’t felt much like writing, sharing, or being social lately. The wind was knocked out of my sails, I lost my inspiration, my mojo, my zing. I am still not 100%, but I miss writing, so here I am.

I spent the afternoon and evening with my grandparents yesterday, and my ever supportive and encouraging grandpa noted that I hadn’t written anything in awhile. I’m not sure if he knows how much it means to me that he notices things like that, but I know he is reading this, so, grandpa, thank you.

I decided that on the eve of Mother’s Day I’d tell you all about the woman I am named after—the woman who has never given up on me and who can make me feel restored and right no matter what is happening in my life. Her name is Anita. I call her grandma, and my kids call her Nini. She is my father’s mother. She is kind, gentle, patient, and brilliant. She is simply the best. IMG_1885

Spending long stretches of my summer vacation with her was the best part of my childhood. I loved it. She has since moved from the house that was ‘grandma’s house’ when I was little, but I can still remember the way it smelled. When I dream, I dream of that house, not of the house I grew up in. I won’t tell you how many times I’ve wished for a time machine.

I can still remember how it felt to crawl into bed with her in the morning after my grandpa went to work. We’d just lay there and chat and giggle while I played with her elbows. I’m sure this sounds silly, but it’s a memory that still makes us both laugh. I’d pinch the soft skin of her elbow between my index finger and thumb and it would stay in a little point until she bent her arm, then I’d repeat the process until she made me stop. Her skin was (and still is) so soft and she smells so good. I always take a big breath in when I hug her. Sigh.

My grandmother is the mother of 4 boys—my three uncles and my father. Incredible men with extraordinary brains and personalities. A diplomat, a physics professor and dean, an artist/photographer/graphic designer/mobile app designer and developer/jack-of-all-trades, and an international man of mystery who has worked in many different countries and who makes the best food anyone has ever tasted. All of them are fathers, and in a few days they will all be grandfathers as well. She raised them all. She is the matriarch of the incredible Parris family and she is always there for us all.

My son is 12 now, and when he was a year old I moved in with my grandparents for about a year and to this day that year is my favorite year. The time my son had with his great grandparents—the bond they created—is irreplaceable and I will always treasure it. We still recall moments from time to time, still talk about that year and the memories we have from it. Priceless.

My grandparents and my kids. Love.

My grandparents and my kids. Love.

Now I only live about 3 minutes from my grandparents, and I am the luckiest girl in the world for it. Yet, even with our closeness, the craziness of the last several months has kept us from getting together as much as I’d like. I can actually feel when I haven’t spoken with my grandma, like something is physically missing from me. Whenever I feel like that, I pick up the phone and I feel my shoulders relax as soon as I hear her voice and her signature laugh. It is such a rich, heartfelt laugh that makes anyone who hears it feel rewarded.

Oh, and she makes the best cherry pie ever, and it just so happens cherry pie is my favorite. Lucky me, I get one for my birthday every year. Best. Present. Ever.

This is just a tiny glimpse into the greatness of my grandma. I could write an entire book. But, for now, this will do. Happy Mother’s Day.

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Crème Brûlée : Perfect for Valentine’s Day

In the pastry/dessert world, it just doesn’t get sexier or more romantic than Crème brûlée. People swoon over this stuff; it is fantastic, irresistible, and so delicious. When I thought about a Valentine’s themed blog post, it was the very first thing that popped into my head.

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Crème brûlée is one of those desserts that everyone loves. The funny thing is, most people think it’s terribly complicated and fancy to make. This is sneaky, sexy French simplicity at its finest—4 simple ingredients composed in a way that mystifies people while simultaneously knocking their socks off. It makes people wonder why it’s served in such tiny vessels as they desperately scrape the final bits out with their spoon and look around wondering if anyone will notice them licking their ramekin.

Make this for your Valentine; I guarantee you will both be very happy. (and you’re sure to get lots of smooches.)

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**You can find my original crème brûlée article, along with the story of a curious praying mantis, on DcFud.com.**

Classic Crème Brûlée

Special equipment:

  • 6 4-ounce ramekins (although I have made this in small coffee mugs and very small mason jars before…. When the urge for crème brûlée strikes, nothing can stop me.)
  • small kitchen torch

Ingredients:

  • 1 vanilla bean split lengthwise, or 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • pinch of salt

For the crunchy top:

  • a few tablespoons granulated sugar

To Prepare:

Heat oven to 325 degrees and boil a tea kettle or a small saucepan of water.

Place the ramekins in a baking dish large enough to hold them comfortably and set aside.

Add the heavy cream and split vanilla bean (or extract) to a small saucepan over medium-high heat. You want the cream to get hot, but not boil, so keep an eye on it, and if you see bubbles around the edge, turn off the heat.

While waiting for the cream to heat, whisk the yolks, sugar, and a pinch of salt in a large mixing bowl until the mixture thickens and becomes pale yellow. When you lift your whisk a long ribbon should fall. (You can use a mixer, but I always feel like a very fancy French pastry chef when I do it by hand. Plus, it really isn’t worth dirtying a mixer.)

When both your cream mixture and yolk mixtures are ready, slowly add the cream mixture to the yolks while whisking.

Just as a curdle precaution I then pour this mixture through a fine mesh sieve set over a large measuring cup. (the measuring cup helps with the pouring process.)

Next, divide the mixture evenly between the ramekins. Place your baking dish in the oven, and very carefully add the recently boiled water to the pan, making sure not to get any in the ramekins. Loosely cover the entire dish with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes. When you gently shake the ramekins they will be very loose and wiggly still, but set. They will firm up after refrigeration.

Remove the ramekins from the water bath and let cool to room temp, or if you’re impatient like me, just stick them in the fridge as soon as they come out. Let chill for 3-4 hours (at this point you can let them sit in the fridge covered for 3 days before moving on to the next step)

5-10 minutes before serving, sprinkle each ramekin with a light dusting of sugar. I like a very delicate layer of crispy sugar, but if you like it thicker, just add more sugar. Holding your kitchen torch close to the surface of the crème brûlée move slowly and constantly back and forth until the sugar bubbles and turns a caramel color. The sugar will harden within seconds.

Enjoy! (In front of a fireplace, preferably.)