Saturday, March 22, 2008

Fresh Memories

I decided to make financiers again this afternoon, just as I had done two years ago at about this time, for Easter weekend as well. I pulled out the same recipe I had used then, from a past issue of Elle à table, and checked to see what I would need. I knew I still had some ground almond powder leftover from a past recipe, so I really would only need to get some strawberries at the market because I like to make the version with half a fresh strawberry planted in the middle of the almondy batter. [And as an aside, I scored some luscious early-season Gariguettes at the market, 4 barquettes for only 3 €! Still not sure what I'm going to do with the rest of them...] My financiers had been quite successful the first time around, and I had even made them a few times since then, but I think I'll always remember that first time, because it was one of the first pastries I had brought to contribute to a family meal at my in-laws' home in Le Havre... Two years ago this month, and I had also brought a tarte bourdaloue, recipe taken from the same magazine. I think I was feeling ambitious that weekend... Miraculously, both recipes had turned out well, and even though I was suspicious of the pear and almond tart results, it was scarfed up pretty quickly, which is always a good sign...

When I try to think back to that weekend, I don't remember many details, but it was one of the last times we spent with my mother-in-law before she passed away unexpectedly from a sudden and severe stroke. It was an enormous shock for my boyfriend's whole family, and I still recall that period like it was yesterday, stunned into such silence and pain for several weeks, trying to make some kind of sense of her loss. Even today I know it is still fresh and very painful for my boyfriend, and he often tells me of his desire to pick up the phone and share something with his mother -- and suddenly realizing that he can't do that, because she isn't there anymore...

You see, my mother-in-law was someone really, really special... Perhaps the exception to all those stereotypes we all hear about mothers-in-law. She was strong and supportive from the beginning of my relationship with her son, never suspicious and critical, and if anything she encouraged me in my new cooking and baking ventures, telling me to have more confidence, to not worry about every little detail like I tended to do. I would call her up for a small tip when trying a new recipe, and she would laugh and say, why, if I were doing that I would just improvise... She would reassure me and tell me that she was sure it would turn out great. Oftentimes it did, and to this day I think this was the case because of her words; I am so grateful for her support, for the short time that I knew her, for her trusting smile and her respectful warmth and discretion, always giving advice when needed but keeping a certain distance when things got délicat. I never knew anyone quite like her: she had such wonderful taste, chic and yet simple at the same time, warm and yet not afraid to say what she thought, a marvelous combination of her German heritage and her time spent in France for most of her life.

My boyfriend is still very attached to his German roots, in spite of spending his adult life in France, having grown up on French soil. He tries to go back to visit his uncle and cousins in Konstanz, on the border of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, whenever possible, but as you can imagine, it seems to be less and less in recent years... We made a brief trip there two years ago this past winter and had a wonderful time at the Karnival, visiting the region and spending time with his German family. I have vivid memories of the many pretzels and huge glasses of beer, my pathetic lack of skill with the German language, my struggle to breathe after eating so much for so long... (Man, can they put it away in Germany!)

Who would have ever thought that we would lose her so soon? We all have those fleeting thoughts of the things we would do if only we could be with that person again... I know she would have helped me to decorate our apartment, to choose curtains for the windows (Something I STILL haven't done! Maybe partially because she isn't here to share it with me...), to make it through the tough times in my pregnancy. She was a warm presence and shared so much with me in such a short time... I learned to use a Romertopf baking dish because of her, with the one she passed on to me, and took to preparing a pintade aux pommes et lardons on a regular basis, as I knew it was one of my boyfriend's and his father's favorite dishes. I plan on making one again this weekend, as a matter of fact...

Now if only I could find enough confidence to attempt the sacred linzertorte, the German tart that my boy's mother would bake for him every year, without fault, on his birthday and bring to him especially, even taking a train from Le Havre to Paris just to see him and to bring him his favorite dessert. This year his sister e-mailed me the recipe, but when we dashed off to visit his father again I didn't get a chance to give it a try the weekend of his birthday. I still plan on trying my hand at it, but I have to admit that I'm more than a bit intimidated, as I know how much he loved that tart, and how much he associates it with his mother and his memories of her.

I think of her so often when I'm in the kitchen, baking away. And I think of her now, as I head back into the kitchen to pour the financier batter into the baking molds. I know she would be happy for us, for the baby we are expecting and have desired together, and I know she would ease all of my fears about being a good mother.

I miss you, Brigitte.

10 comments:

Charlotte said...

What a beautiful and moving post, and how sad that you lost such a wonderful person so young. She sounds like the kind of mother-in-law I must remind myself to be one day.

Oh, and after living in Germany for 11 years, I haven't mastered a Linzertorte either.

Megan said...

How nice.. That is good to have supportive in laws, especially when you are in another culture.. Mine are great too. In fact, I am going over there for Easter Dinner even though DH is away on business.

La Page Française said...

This is a very lovely post, your mother-in-law sounds like she was a very special and supportive person, and even though she is gone, I am happy to read that you have such wonderful memories of her. And that her voice continues to encourage you in your cooking and baking ventures.

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

What lovely memories you have of your mother-in-law. xox

Anonymous said...

I've believe that just a very fortunate few are gifted with the chance to create memories with people who impact us permanently. Though it s bittersweet, how lucky you are to be able to carry her love around no matter where you are. - phillippa

Le Tigre said...

This is quite a touching post, thankyou for sharing it with us. Brigitte sounds like she was a really wonderful person (a rare breed).

Of course you're going to be a good mother! Don't give that a second thought...

Dumdad said...

What a lovely and moving post. I haven't visited your blog for a while. Good luck with baby!

joy suzanne said...

Your memories of her are so touching! How wonderful too, for your Boy, that you knew and loved his mother. That your baby will grow up with inherited memories of her, and her recipes... lovely.

The Late Bloomer said...

Thanks, all, for your sweet words -- as always, it really does mean a lot! Charlotte, thanks for stopping by! Although I don't know what to think now -- if after 11 years you haven't mastered the Linzertorte, what hope is there for me?! ;-)

Yes, Megan, it is nice to have some support from his family, and I'm also lucky that both of his sisters are wonderful. It's a blessing when we live so far from our own families!

Hi Page française! Yes, she was in fact an incredible person. And I feel very lucky to have known her, even if for such a short time.

And Anne in Oxfordshire, thanks for coming by my blog as well. It's nice to see a new "face"!

Philippa, I will always remember the weekend Brigitte and I spent together in Le Havre getting to know each other a bit better. I was very nervous at the time, as it was early in my relationship with my boyfriend, but it went so well, and I felt very comfortable with her. That is definitely something that I miss terribly today... But as you said, I will always hold those memories very close to my heart.

And yes, R, she was indeed of a "rare breed" -- no one quite like her! And I don't know about my mothering skills -- guess we'll just have to wait and see! I only know that I've always wanted to have children, and I hope to bring as much love to this baby as possible.

Dumdad, hey there -- I haven't been by your blog in a while either, so the feeling is mutual -- I need to see what you're up to! Thanks for the nice words, and thanks for passing through here to say hi. I'm WAY behind on my blog-reading these days; I've been a bit swamped with other stuff going on -- but I'm going to try to catch up ASAP!

Joy Suzanne, oh how bittersweet it is to know that I was able to spend that short time with her, but that the baby will never get to know her... The day she passed away, when my boy came to tell me, the tears came immediately and I realized in that moment that she wouldn't get to share the joy of her son's child with us, when that time came. It was a sharp, biting realization, and one that I think will remain with me for a long, long time.

poppy fields said...

What a gift that you were able to spend time with Brigitte.