Wednesday 14 May 2008
[I miss you – Homemade calissons, just like the real ones]
Let me tell you something guys. You are so sweet. I mean, I don’t post for a few days and instead of the hatred words I was expecting, all I get are sweet notes and emails. One of you even sent the comforting recipe for his favourite cookies – thank you Chris.
You – or more exactly some of you – are obviously concerned; and well, you’re just damn right. I first did not intend to share the following story with you; it just felt a little too personal. But since my closest friends know – and more importantly, since I consider you as friends; special friends that is, but friends nonetheless –, I thought I would let you know.
On my birthday, my dog – Chiffon – died. I hadn’t seen her for two months and wish I could have spent her last days with her, while I was just in Revel, not knowing what she was – and had been – going through.
You might probably not understand, let alone care about the following, but I want this to be a tribute to her. A place I’ll always be able to look at and help me not remember her. Not that I think I’ll actually forget; but I need to celebrate what a beautiful being she was.
I first met her when she was just a baby. It was some day around March 1996 – I’d say the 17th from memory, but can’t be sure about that.
My parents, sister and I were at that Spring party we used to attend every year; near St Tropez, in a wild yet gorgeous garden on the hills and a tepee as a main house.
As usual, the crowd was dense and cheerful. People from all over France – and the world. A couple from Paris. They had that tiny little dog. Beige with fluffy hair and the most adorable ears – yes, ears – you could ever think of.
I waited for my parents to get tipsy – but don’t tell them I told you – , and asked – well, begged – if that fluffy little person could be mine. If we could take her back home.
As you might have guessed, we did. She slept during the whole journey, comfortably snuggled in the small gap between my two legs.
And she grew up with me. Or maybe, I was the one to grow up with her. You would always find us together, either playing, reading or dancing. I’m not senseless; I just was crazy about her. As with most of my friends, she had her own special nickname; seasonal. La petite chinoise – for her pretty almond shaped eyes. Boubinou. Chérie. Boops. Loulou. Cacahuète. You name it.
She was always so happy. Unless Pirate – our turkey-look-alike cat – ate her food or got a little too much attention. Unless she had some kind of branches stuck in her messy hair; in which case, she would totally stop moving and look at me so I could understand how uncomfortable she was and how she needed me – well, my hands – to remove the spiky stuff.
She had her favourite soft-toy, which we would refer to as her bébé. And although she sometimes forgot it around the garden or in one of the house’s room; she would always find it for some cuddling or playing.
But is there is one thing I’ll always laugh at when remembering her, it has to be her love for anything crispy. As soon as she heard one of us eating something with crunchy noise, she had to have it. She would first approach the table, then put her head on your lap, moving her nose in what we used to call a piggy fashion – son petit nez de cochon. Adorable.
Whether the chomp came from a carrot, biscotti, raw vegetable sticks, or nuts, she needed it. So I always used to get her to try what she saw as yummy – even if truly, she might have preferred a thick slice of meat, at least gastronomically speaking.
At first, she moved towards the food, smelt it and gently took it away from my hand with her teeth. She would then start chewing, in a very delicate way. Sometimes, when she would like it, it would disappear in a matter of second; other times, she would put it on the floor and look at me. Those times, I would encourage her to taste again, and in the end, she just seemed to like everything and beg for more, with one or two paws. The rare times when she didn’t actually like what I gave her, she would slowly move to the door, get outside, find a quiet place and burrow the piece of food in a small hole dug with her museau, which would inevitably end up covered with earth.
The one thing she loved were nuts, or more accurately, almonds. She even used to sneak into the kitchen and reach the basket into which my mum places the almonds she picks from our tree. Whole almonds, with the shell. Using her sharp teeth, she would open them and eat the soft yet crisp inners.
So when I made those calissons last week, on the day I learnt she had had surgery – to remove tumors on her spleen – fifteen days earlier, I couldn’t help but think about her. I was in shock. She had been sick and didn’t even know about it; I guess my parents thought it was the right thing to do and I do think it was. Yet, it made me realise how fragile she was and made me want to spend as many hours in her company as I could. Since I would see my family on the following week end, I already saw myself taking thousands of pictures of her, so I would always have her near me.
I didn’t get the chance to. On the next day, she died. She just stopped breathing. There is nothing my parents could have done. She didn’t get over the surgery. Things could have turned to be different and she might have lived for a couple more years. But here she was. Dying on my birthday. Clearly, I didn’t want to celebrate. And didn’t really; or in a very restrained way.
I love her and miss her more every second. I feel numb. Torn. My whole body stopped working altogether. I was all tears. Cry and scream.
Today, I’m just starting have feelings again. Slowly getting conscious that life isn’t over. Yet.
It just hurts to know I’ll never get the chance to feel her, smell her again.
Now, only memories remain. Like when she thought my dad couldn’t see her when she was hiding under the kitchen table with her tail evidently banging on the floor. We were certain she thought she was perfectly hidden, just because she couldn’t see him.
Or when she was sleeping on my bed, while I was reading some book, and she heard my mum’s steps approaching. She would wake up, and gently shake her head, but wouldn’t move a paw. But if she recognised my dad’s steps, you can be sure she would jump straight to the floor.
She truly was the sweetest dog ever and will be remembered as such. We all miss her. Luckily, we shared so many moments with her that we have no regrets; just happy memories. And trust me, those memories, I’m not going to allow them to disappear. Secured. Preciously. Like little grains of sands. Or – more appropriately – like small almonds in a tree.
Calissons maison comme des vrais
Calissons are a French specialty from Provence – and more precisely – Aix en Provence, where they’re so dearly-loved that they’re mass produced. Originally made with almonds and fruits confits [candied fruits], I took the easy way and made some with almonds mixed with a little icing sugar, homemade apricot jam, natural almond extract and orange blossom flower water, to a smooth and fragrant paste.
Here I used ground almonds, but you could obviously use blanch almonds, which you grind yourself. However, I’m not good at lying and honestly – and as much as I love anything homemade – I’m glad with how those calissons turn out and don’t get the point about trying hard when you can get terrific results with bought – but high-quality – ground almonds.
Calissons maison comme des vrais
180g ground almonds
80g icing sugar
50g apricot jam
1/4 tsp almond extract
2 tsp orange blossom flower water
for the royal icing
one egg white
200g icing sugar
Blitz the ground almonds and icing sugar for a couple of seconds, then mix in the jam, almond extract and orange blossom flower water until it forms a smooth paste (it should feel like slightly sticky pâte sucrée).
Place the ball onto a large piece of cling film, which you then fold over. Using a rolling pin, or your hands, roll out until 1cm thick.
Uncover and leave at room temperature for a couple of hours.
Using an 5cm long almond-shaped cutter, or falling that a knife, cut-out shapes and slide them onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper.
Prepare the icing by mixing the egg white with icing sugar until smooth. It should be soft to touch, but not too runny. Gently dip the top of one calisson into it, then remove, allowing the icing to drip for a couple of seconds. Place back onto the baking sheet, iced-side up. Repeat with the remaining calissons and allow them to set at room temperature overnight.
pour une quizaine de calissons
180g amandes en poudre
80g sucre glace
50g confiture d’abricot
1/4 tsp extrait d’amande amère
2 tsp eau de fleur d’oranger
pour le glaçage
un blanc d’oeuf
200g sucre glace
Mixer la poudre d’amandes et le sucre glace pendant quelques secondes; puis ajouter la confiture, l’extrait d’amande et l’eau de fleur d’oranger. Mélanger jusqu’à formation d’une pâte souple et homogène (comme une pâte sucrée un peu collante).
Mettre la boule au centre d’un morceau de film étirable, puis rabater. Etaler la pâte, au rouleau ou à la main, jusqu’à 1cm d’épaisseur. Laisser à température ambiante pendant quelques heures, puis découper à l’aide d’un découpoir oval pointu ou d’un couteau. Placer les calissons sur une plaque recouverte de papier cuisson.
Préparer le glaçage en mélangeant le blanc d’oeuf et le sucre glace – il doit être un peu moins liquide qu’une préparation formant un ruban. Tremper une des faces du calissons dans le glaçage, égoutter quelques instants puis reposer sur la plaque. Répéter avec les calissons restants et laisser à température ambiante une nuit entière.