- Image by Protoflux on Flickr
I have taken a break from writing over the holiday season, not necessarily consciously, however my personal life has been so busy that I just haven’t found the time to gather my thoughts. I have been training for the ING half marathon, competing in Lululemon’s 12 days of fitness, buying/wrapping gifts, traveling to visit family members and working a 40-hour job. Yesterday was a wake-up call, though. My great-grandmother passed away, after a full life of 95 years, in a hospice room with the air thick with unease.
You see, there are times when families can be the hardest on each other, imposing impossible demands in the most difficult of situations. While I thankfully have been able to keep my distance from the madness, this has also provided an outsider’s view on the situation. Life and death are not simple. Nothing is ever black and white, there comes a time in everyone’s life where a decision made will haunt them forever. But it shouldn’t be that way – we shouldn’t beat ourselves up (or our family members, those we are supposed to love and support) for decisions that NO ONE would have been able to make. When it comes to a 95 year old woman on her last leg of life, is it better to force her to eat, willingly prolonging the inevitable? Or is it better to listen to a doctor’s seemingly cold, unemotional response to allow your great-grandmother…grandmother…mother starve to death?
Whilst these thoughts soar through my brain and out into cyberspace, I do feel better. I’d love to provide a proper farewell for my great-grandmother, but the truth of the matter is that I really didn’t know her that well. My memories of her are fading, as most are from when I was very little. I remember eating at her house many weekends, near the beach and quite a distance from my grandmother’s house. She would prepare homemade pasta, tomato sauce, and cream puffs. My cousin and I would play around her house, decorated as if she never left the seventies. She would wear flowery dresses and dress suits, I remember one dress in particular: dark blue background, flowing to the floor, tiny white flowers dotting the entire length of the dress. And I remember the large palm tree near her front door, she let someone take the heart of it one day and my grandmother got angry, fearing it would be killed. I’m not sure if it died or not.
Sadly, these are the most memories that I can conjure up of her. I remember that she always had a preference for my cousin, never really paying much attention to me. I had more than enough attention from my own grandmother, so I never felt that I was missing much of anything. I don’t blame her for anything that happened, the family is full of strong women and they overpowered her. My aunts always took center stage, the youngest of the siblings and the fact that they are twins.
And so, I believe the best way to show my appreciation, my memory of her, is through her food: the one thing that I will never forget about her. While this is not her exact recipe, this is my own rendition of our family’s cream puffs. I hope you enjoy it – cherish these times with your family, and don’t let decisions, whether big or small, come between you. In the end, the only thing you’ll remember is how much, or little, you cared for one another.
Grandma Amato, Matilda Amato, I love you and I wish the best for you. I know you have gone to a better place and that you can rest now, everything is alright. You are in the hands of someone much more powerful, more peaceful, more loving and caring, and he will take care of you now.
Bocconcini con Crema (Italian Cream Puffs)
For the pastry dough:
For the filling:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix sugar, flour and salt for the dough in a medium bowl. Over medium heat, melt butter and water until boiling. Turn off heat and slowly add the sugar mixture, stirring constantly. Continue stirring until the dough forms a tight ball in the pan. Transfer dough into your mixing bowl and beat (either by hand or on low) for one minute to cool the dough. Lightly beat the four large eggs and, once the dough has cooled some, slowly beat in the eggs to the dough. Once it is in a thick paste, with your hands or a spoon, make small balls and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Each ball should be roughly the size of a walnut. Bake 20-25 minutes on 400 degrees until golden. You should hear a hollow sound when tapping the puff. Allow them to cool on a wire rack.
While the puffs are baking and cooling, boil two cups milk and ¼ cup sugar in a saucepan. In a separate bowl, mix the six egg yolks with the remaining ¼ cup sugar. Slowly add in the flour while stirring constantly. Whisk a third of the boiling mixture very slowly into the bowl with the egg mixture. After mixing thoroughly, start gently pouring the egg/milk mixture into the boiling saucepan. Stir constantly over medium heat. After it begins to thicken, stir for one more minute and then remove from the heat. Stir in the vanilla and cinnamon and transfer to a cool bowl. Put in the refrigerator for at least two hours to cool.
Once the puffs and cream is cooled, carefully cut the tops off of the puffs lengthwise and spoon out any dough from the center. Using a pastry bag or a spoon, add the cream to the center of each puff and replace the tops. Sprinkle all with confectioner’s sugar and serve. They will keep for up to one day in the refrigerator, however they are best served immediately.