Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Crème Caramel...and she turned eighteen

She is eighteen.  Eighteen.  I keep rolling the words around my tongue as I savor this profound change.  She has become my best friend and now my adult daughter.  

When I look at her I see the little roly-poly 3 year old with big soulful eyes that absorbed life's details so carefully and thoughtfully.

Or, I see the gangly 12 year old, waving goodbye with a soft smile as she trained for ballet for six weeks thousands of miles away from home.

And then there is the bookish teenager, deeply absorbed in novel after novel... so thankful to be homeschooling so she could geek out on chemistry at the same time as  Jane Austen everything.

As in all aspects of her life, simplicity is a cornerstone of her world.  I knew to give her my recipe book of simple desserts to choose for her birthday rather than think about or plan for a bevy of fancy frosted confections.

Crème Caramel.  Her choice. Simple but with depth and character...just like her.

This February birthday baby has had many birthdays filled with frigid icy temperatures in Michigan, New York, and then Kansas.  We've planned the 'garden' party and the 'tea' party trying to warm up a month known for being in a deep winter slumber.

Delightfully, this will be the second birthday here in the south where the sun is shining, cool breezes are flowing, and a variety of fresh flowers are possible to obtain.

But, a few towering confections made their way into the weekend celebrations.  She was gifted with these incredible cupcakes from a new cupcake shop here in town.  

They were enjoyed, in all honesty, but not quite as celebrated and savored as the crème caramel.  That flip of the caramel was anticipated with hushed suspense.  The slide of the custard onto the plate called for crossed fingers.  The beautiful amber sauce that pooled around the custard was indeed satisfying to ogle.  And the first soft velvety bite of that vanilla infused custardy goodness was so delectable.

We all enjoyed a slow and cherished weekend, punctuated by dinners out on the town with new shoes as well as scented roses nesting at the breakfast table.  M.'s beloved books are always nearby and new ones piled up to add to her bulging collection.

At the beginning of the year, the shock of college readiness, tests, forms, interviews, and college trips struck chords of fear as well as pushed acceptance that her high school years are coming to a close.

As I was busy with worries of this fear and that concern, she was delightedly basking in websites portraying dorm room options and potential club activities.

"Mom, this one has a 'manga' club!"  Or, this college has a french-speaking only dorm" she read off excitedly.

She is ready. 


We are ready.

That is the best gift that she can bestow upon us as parents.  I am no longer searching backwards with longing.  I am now side by side with her looking forward to her next turn of life's corner.

Polly Wolly peeking at what is absorbing my attention

And what would M.'s memories be without her beloved little cat, Polly.  Polly, indeed, is here cautiously and adorably peeking out at my intense interest in this delectable dessert.

Crème Caramel is a wonderful dessert for making ahead.  The little cups of the caramel can be made the day before a dinner and refrigerated.  Right before dessert, the cups are flipped over onto a plate and voila...a sweet and sophisticated presentation.

Planning birthdays will be a different affair next year.  I revel in the thought of bundling care package delights and pre-arranged surprises to be planned.

I look forward with amusement and great curiosity to her showing us her world, her people, her interests, her discoveries.

After planning, schooling, moving, organizing, and often worrying for so many years, I am tickled at the thought of sitting back and watching her master her surroundings.

For all of you who have written to me with seniors in high school, about to embark on this treasured and exciting time, and college age kids, thank you sincerely for your compassion, advice, and thoughtfulness.  

Most of all, thank you for just sharing your thoughts with me about this next leg of ours and your family journey.

**Pleased to learn that my blog has been nominated as one of the choices for "Best Food Photography"  for this year's The Kitchn Homies. If you would like,  you can vote here.

Crème Caramel
(makes 6 ramekins)

2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup caster or fine sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Special equipment: a pastry brush, 6 (4-ounce) ramekins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepot over low heat. Let the sugar dissolve. Carefully brush the walls of the pot with a little water to prevent the sugar from crystallizing on the sides. Increase the heat to medium-high and boil until the syrup turns golden brown. (Snippet's Note:  do not walk away.  First time, I burned the sugar caramel because it can instantly turned brown.) Remove from the heat promptly and carefully divide the hot caramel among the 6 ramekins. Let cool for at least 2 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and cream to just below a boil over medium-high heat. (Snippet's Note:  you can also scrape the inside of a vanilla bean instead of using extract and put the seeds and bean in the simmering milk.  Just be sure to take the bean out afterwards)  Meanwhile, mix together the egg yolks, caster sugar, and vanilla if not using a real bean)  in a large mixing bowl.  Gently whisk 2 tablespoons of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture. This is called 'tempering'. You do not want the eggs to cook so you keep whisking and adding the eggs slowly.  Slowly whisk in the remaining hot milk mixture 1/3 at a time, trying to prevent excess bubbles. 

Place your tray for the 'bain marie' in the oven.  The tray will be half filled with water for your 'bain marie'.   Fill each one of the caramel-coated ramekins. Place the 'bain marie' tray on the extended middle rack of the oven. Place the six ramekins in the tray.  Carefully pour hot water into the baking dish until 2/3 of the way up the sides of the ramekins. (Be careful not to get any water on the custard mixture.) Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and very gently slide it towards the center of the rack. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until the custards are almost fully set. Remove from the oven. Use tongs to remove the ramekins from the hot water bath. Let stand at room temperature for 5 minutes, then refrigerate until well chilled.

To serve, dip the ramekin in very hot water for 15 to 20 seconds. Run a sharp knife around the sides of the ramekin. Put a serving plate on top of the ramekin and invert.  The custard will slide out and the caramel will pool around the custards onto the plate. Serve immediately.


  1. Sweet!~ the girl, the gifts, the dessert....but most of all, your beautiful words about her!

  2. Exquisitely beautiful, as usual. You are nominated at Spread the word so your people can vote. I don't think it is your style but your blog is so head and shoulders above 99.9% of the others out there, it would be nice if others knew about you.

  3. What a beautiful post, it's nice to see strong mother daughter relationships. College can be scary at first, but I feel like my relationship with my own mother has grown and developed. We have a deeper respect for each other, and talk pretty much every day. Enjoy this next step!

  4. Charming and beautiful.
    I like everything - the girl,the gifts,the dessert.

  5. those ear rings are adorable :)

  6. Beautiful post! Happy eighteenth to your girl!

  7. awesome post and your family, I'm sure, is the same.
    don't you ever thought about being a make very quality, creative and beautiful pictures...

  8. Happy birthday and congratulations to you both, you're obviously quite a team!

  9. Such a beautiful post! Your daughter will cherish your sweet sentiments forever! Happy Birthday and Congratulations!

  10. What a lovely post. Beautifully written. A great collection of memories. I feel so lucky that I too have a friendship relationship with my mother. Happy Birthday to your daughter.

  11. I read this post this morning and had time to mull over it. You speak wise words, encouraging words. I am learning to love every moment and every phase of my son's life and make as many memories as we can together.

  12. What a heart warming post...I had to reread it. I am a daughter and I am a mom too. I just love the way you have poured out what your heart wants to say. Your pictures are so beautiful...
    Thanks for sharing this sweet recipe too.

  13. Beautiful and charming words, photos and the dessert.
    Thank you and Happy Birthday to your daughter!

  14. Aaaaah....18!! Such a tender and sweet turning point! Happy birthday to both of you!!!

  15. Happy birthday to your daughter! What a momentous turning point in a young woman's life. You are lucky to have such a great relationship!

  16. Happy birthday to your sweet daughter! My youngest is a senior, too...such a bittersweet year of firsts for him and lasts for me. Your creme caramel looks amazing...and I'm glad it's kitty approved :)

  17. Happy birthday to your daughter! Oh the sweet expectation of the new chapter :) Wish I could go back.
    I can only tell what my mom did after we left the house, she immersed herself in art courses, has been painting and doing water marbling art for years now. She has become quite successful, opening exhibitions and selling her work. I think it helped her to get absorbed in something requires detailed work.

    Brule looks great, so are all the pictures!

  18. Because I absolutely adore your blog - writing and recipes but particularly for me - your photography, I am always telling friends about it. This is what a friend said who went thru it today: "That's amazing! I just spent the last 20 minutes completely *absorbed* in it. I read everything and looked at every picture through and including the birthday for her 18 year old daughter. When I felt a tear drop, I decided I had to get back to work. Who has time and spiritied creativity to do this/ To write like that and take pictures and put so much thought and energy into every word? Wow. I can see why you like it. Thanks for sharing." Your site (I don't even what to say blog since it takes it to a different level from all the others) is amazing.

  19. Your friend's comments really brought tears to my eyes. I read it to my family and they were so amused that my fancifulness and food photo taking can have an impact to someone else outside our family. I'm telling you, I was just so impressed with those comments. I tried to write on your blog "Ralson Ramblings" but the "comment" button must be deactivated. I just hope you read this so you know I am saying 'thank you' for the kind comments. We loved living in Kansas. It truly is a hidden gem of the Midwest.

  20. oh 18... I remember being on top of the world and thinking I could anything I want to and I thought I was so free of my parents! Until I realized how deeply they were engraved in me:) Happy birthday to your daughter and also to you since you brought her into this world. Can't wait to read your observations and adventures in her world :)
    Creme caramel is one of my husband's absolute favorites. And I still have not learned how to make it! Shame on me! I will make your recipe and will let you know what the reaction is :)


How wonderful to hear from new friends...