A weekend when I sort of go home again

This is the first moment I’ve had to sit and try to catch up- last week I went to the opera, went to my new book group, went to "stitch and bitch" night at Knitting Workshop and today was my zoo docent training day- Meercats and Hissing Cockroaches! I LOVE the time I spend over there.

In between all of that I boarded the Amtrak on Friday and headed back to Michigan for a gathering of women friends. I’ve written often of BCMA (Book Club, My Ass) here and this was an opportunity to see them again. I believe I’ve said that a finer group of women doesn’t exist and I’ll stand by that.

Audrey picked me up at the train station (fare, 26.00. First class upgrade to a clean leather fully reclining seat with giant footrest, near the dining car, 8.00. Is there any question here?). Audrey lives on a beautiful farm in Chelsea, about 15 minutes from Ann Arbor and that was good because I really wasn’t ready to spend time in Ann Arbor yet. Chelsea is also the home of actor Jeff Daniels and his Purple Rose Theatre. He lives there and his children go to school with Audrey’s children and it’s about as far as a person can get from Hollywood. Mamacita is familiar with the virtues of Chelsea, Michigan- ask her.

Audrey is half Japanese and half Finnish- although the Japanese prevails in her appearance and demeanor. She is one smart cookie with a gentle and calm spirit. On her farm there are children and their many friends, chickens at the back door, goats in the front yard, ducks mack,mack,macking by the barn, a darling pony and, as of today, a handsome new horse. She works at the University and her husband climbs mountains-literally. He did Denali this past Spring and it drove Audrey mad that he left her with three children and end of the year school and 4H activities to spend more than a month on the mountain. But for Audrey, mad is a quiet grrrr and then getting about the business of life. Besides, he does a lot more than climb mountains.

So Audrey and I went to dinner at The Common Grill and then we knit until bed. In the morning, Patti arrived early. Patti is another example of a truly exceptional woman. Patti works full time on budget and planning at the University. She is a senior social scientist in a high stress position. To calm herself down she adopts feral cats (only two, but they are a handful) and does this blinding work on the most astonishing bead work you’ve ever seen. No kidding. She doesn’t have a website so here is a picture of some gifts she has made for me over time- including a hand crocheted amber necklace, my wedding pearls and that stunning little blue vessel. We keep telling her to make a website for her Whale Tail Designs, but she hasn’t the time; she’s also a quilter and a volunteer and active at church.Whaletail

Saturday, the organizing event for the group was Patti teaching us how to make a piece of jewelry, from start to finish. (Now that I’ve left they are getting organized- I think I was the element of chaos and insurrection that led to the "My Ass" aspect of the club.) She came completely organized with these little projects pre-packaged and all the tools and she demonstrated every wrapping and threading technique we needed. And, instead of coming home with another unfinished project everyone left with necklaces and earrings and pins that they REALLY liked and would wear- and enthusiasm to do more.

While Patti demonstrated, Audrey filled the farmhouse kitchen with wonderful odors and a spread fit for royalty. We dined on white chicken chili, squash soup, cheeses and fruits and breads. Her specialties and the club favorites, rosemary cajun nuts and chocolate cloud cake were also on the menu. The chocolate cloud cake has become an institution and poor Audrey is required to whip it up for practically every meeting plus those times when we had couples poker nights.This time it was warm out of the oven so the mountain of fresh whipping cream collapsed over the sides of the plate and we couldn’t eat it fast enough.

Judy and Amy came. I cried. Then I wept for joy all over again when I discovered Judy brought her famous creamed potatoes that she knows I love. Roberta, my funny funny friend since our girls went to preschool together, and Ruth were there- both survivors of breast cancer. My strong and kind friend Linda, recently widowed far too young, came.
We laughed that we each chose the same front door for our  house
renovations-we both have such exceptional good taste! She is moving from a large family home to a smaller place
now that David is gone and the boys are mostly grown. How much do I
admire a woman who grieves and simultaneously gathers herself together
to make a new and good life for herself and her sons? You have no idea. Linda told me to stop whining midway through the jewery project ("Pattiiiiiii, I can’t dooooo this! Help meeeee!) and I straightened up.

These women are a wonderful influence in my life. They make me want to do better, to be better. When I am around them I want to be calmer and quieter. I want to be more patient and less of a fuss budget. I want to eat healthier, exercise more and stand straighter. I want to rise up in my faith and my love for others and my curiosity for learning. They bring out the best in me. More than anything, we laugh together. We have been laughing and laughing for years now and I think, at times, without this laughter, I would have shriveled right up and blown away.

Do you know what the icing on the cake was? They miss me as much as I miss them. Go figure.

Speaking of cake, here is, bar none, the best you will ever eat:Asset_299_hl_1

     CHOCOLATE CLOUD CAKE

-9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids
-half cup unsalted butter, softened
-6 eggs: 2 whole, 4 separated
-three-quarters cup superfine sugar
-2 tablespoons Cointreau (optional)
-grated zest of 1 orange (optional)

9 inch springform cake pan

    for the cream topping:

-2 cups heavy cream
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-1 tablespoon Cointreau (optional)
-half teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder for sprinkling

    Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Line the bottom of the cake pan with baking parchment.

Melt the chocolate either in a double boiler or a microwave, and then let the butter melt in the warm chocolate.

Beat the 2 whole eggs and 4 egg yolks with 1/3 cup of the sugar, then gently add the chocolate mixture, the Cointreau and orange zest.

In another bowl, whisk the 4 egg whites until foamy, then gradually add the remaining sugar and whisk until the whites are holding their shape but are not too stiff. Lighten the chocolate mixture with a dollop of egg whites, and then fold in the rest of the whites. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is risen and cracked and the center is no longer wobbly. Cool the cake in its pan on a wire rack; the middle will sink as it cools.

When you are ready to eat, place the still pan-bound cake on a cake stand or plate for serving and carefully remove the cake from its pan. Don’t worry about cracks or rough edges: it’s the crater look you’re going for here. Whip the cream until it’s soft and then add the vanilla and Cointreau and continue whisking until the cream is firm but not stiff. Fill the crater of the cake with the whipped cream, easing it out gently towards the edges of the cake, and dust the top lightly with cocoa powder pushed through a tea-strainer. Serves 8-12

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16 responses to “A weekend when I sort of go home again

  1. All that and a recipe too? I can hardly stand it! (in a good way,of course).

    It is wonderful to hear the love in your voice (so to speak) when you talk about your friends in Ann Arbor. Every woman needs friends like that, and you are lucky to have them – but I think they are luckier to have you (further away, to be sure, but still theirs). Makes me a little envious of them.

  2. A woman’s friends are important in so many ways – thanks for the reminder. And the recipe!

  3. You are so blessed, but it is because you have taken the time through the years, to make these wonderful friendships. I envy these and wonder how women can make more deep friendships. Perhaps being in one place for many, many years helps. I am so glad you had a great trip.

    And hey! How about those Amtrack prices…. really amazing there. For me there would be no other way to go!

    I just can’t read that recipe…. just reading it will add five pounds.

  4. A good group of women to go through life with. Now I feel guilty that I have skipped my last 2 book group meetings.

    I would love to hear you whine in person.

  5. Right on all accounts, Vicki. It was an absolutely wonderful afternoon. I had to make myself leave before I moved in with Audrey and family. (They are really amazing and as welcoming as can be.) Everything was just perfect. Patti was so patient and made teaching our crew look like a piece of cake. Her tricks of the trade even stuck. Mom and I got together yesterday and made about 6 pairs of earrings and another beautiful pendant.

    Everyone should be so lucky to know a group like BCMA. 🙂

  6. I was hoping you’d give the recipe for the cloud cake. Now if only there were a recipe for a friendship group like yours. I’d follow it to a T.

  7. Everything Vicki says is absolutely true. EVERYTHING.

    I didn’t realize that Amtrack was so inexpensive; I’m definitely going to use that to my advantage some day.

    Love you madly, dear Vicki.

  8. Wonderful to read about your time with your dearest friends. Good food and good company — there’s really nothing better.l

    Amtrak travel is fantastic. We’ve taken the train from Seattle to LA, had a private sleeper car. They have wine tasting on the train 3:00 – 4:00 pm in the parlor car. It’s such a civilized way to travel.

  9. How wonderful that you could be with your friends. I love reading about your time with them.

    And as others have said, the trip by Amtrak sounds wonderful…and the recipe as well. Thanks.

    I especially love the amber necklace that your friend made.

    Thank you so much for your comments about my granddaughter. All prayers are appreciated. My heart hurts for the little guy with the heart problem and his parents. That has got to be so hard.

  10. Your posts always make me wish I could hang out with you…

  11. Your friend Patti is immensely talented.

    I hope I never have to move away from my book club.

  12. Your friends sound delightful, but I could never hope to be like them. I am way too NOT calm, and hyper. They would probably be a good influence on me though, and that chocolate cloud cake-OH, MY!!

  13. It really was a fantastic day, wasn’t it? Thanks to everyone who came and helped make the day so special. I just wish we could have all spent the weekend together! Maybe that should be our plan for next time …

    In the mean time, thank you for all your kind thoughts, Vicki. I really am blessed to have such a wonderful life – family, friends, and farm. It’s always a joy to have everyone gather at the house, and Patti is a patient and talented teacher. She made us all feel like such talented artists!

    If anyone is interested, the cloud cake and nut recipes come from the lovely Nigella Lawson’s cookbook: Nigella Bites. This is a cookbook that Roy bought me, and I have to say that her cooking program is one that Roy seems to tolerate more than others (can you blame him? She’s gorgeous!) Anway, here are the links to the recipes:

    Cloud cake:
    http://www.channel4.com/life/microsites/N/nigella/bites9.shtml
    (I use a splash of vanilla in place of the liquor.)

    Nuts:
    http://www.channel4.com/life/microsites/N/nigella/bites11.shtml

    Wishing all a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving!

  14. that dessert looks devine, and that jewelry is beautiful!

    You went to Common Grill huh? …you probably dined on the culinary expertise of one of my friends who works there now. I hope it was a good meal.

  15. Dropping back by to wish you a happy Thanksgiving. Your posts always make me appreciate something either in my own life or yours. The power of the shared word!

  16. That cake sounds wonderful and your friend is very talented.

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