Note to the Beaver while making crème brûlée, french for knick-knack

Dear Beaver,

I was making crème brûlée and thought of you by way of the owl.

The crunch of the burnt sugar top from the last stand of the crème brûlée last night, paired with the fruity taste of my blueberry tea made me think of that Tootsie Pop commercial.  How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, this little kid who looks like Barney Rubble asks an owl.  Then the owl eats the kid’s candy in three licks, being the asshole owl that he is.

image of a cartoon kid holding up a tootsie pop to an owl
Why is that kid naked?


Quit, with the proper and not phonetical spelling of her name (pronounced Kwee, as in Bisquit [Beese-kwee], which means Cookie or Cake, as in “I married Cookie Monster”, but that’s a whole other story), told me the crème brûlée we’d served her friend Cri-Cri from France was delicious.  However, neither of them finished their dessert that night.

One ramekin sat deserted in the fridge for 2 more days after Cri-Cri stumbled back to Montréal.

I decided to eat this last one while watching Damages.  Quit discovered that using my American Netflix account while in Canada enabled us to watch the 5th season of Damages.  If one were to log in using an internet shield, say, and watch ‘from America’, one would only have Seasons 4, 3, 2, 1 to contend with.

In the aforementioned show, Glenn Close plays a lawyer who drinks a lot of Bourbon or Scotch, and when I thought about watching another episode I felt a sensation in my chest as though I too drank a lot of said beverages.  The color of the alcohol in Glenn Close’s tumbler reminded me of the color of butterscotch.  I kept telling myself that they couldn’t be drinking butterscotch to emulate the alcohol, that it was probably iced tea.  But my pallet preferred the butterscotch path, which got me to thinking, Hm, what can help with this sensation?

Enter failed dessert.

I’d been told for years that crème caramel is the same as crème brûlée without the burnt sugar offering to the dessert gods, the easiest thing to make.  Plus, I had everything for it – been preparing for it, literally, for years.  For fun, I worked in Robyn’s kitchen store in Jamaica Plain right before the occasional holiday because she needed the extra help and because I loved seeing the delight in the customers’ eyes when I told them, Yes, we do indeed have eggtray doily sampan graters – in six different colors and flavors.  I bought six aubergine colored ramekins and a hand torch while working there in preparation for the event.  Though being in the Commonwealth of the Queen now, I suppose it does not do to call my kitchen blowtorch a flashlight.

These items went noted and ignored for years in various cabinets, various apartments, and two countries until the time finally came, with Quit obsessing over dessert and her friend.

Sugar, check, egg yolks, check, vanilla extract, check, assorted bowls, extra thingamabob for the custard bath?  Yes already!  What about the heavy cream?  Um.

I tried to ‘get’ heavy cream from my stash of raw milk because I had the DIY bug.  I was in touch with my inner cheapskate.  What can I say, I thought I could do it.  I saw on the internet that extracting cream from raw milk was easy to do…until I read more closely, 5 minutes before I began making the dessert, and realized that I had neither a huge glass jar with a spigot nor a CENTRIFUGE. Oh, sorry, IT’S STILL AT THE REPAIR SHOP AFTER I TRIED SPLICING GENES FOR APPETIZERS.

Then I thought that perhaps using a turkey baster would do the trick (when doesn’t it?) if I left the milk out long enough for the cream to rise.  I’d already left the milk out for a couple of hours, and so pushed back my lift-off time to ensure catching the cream rising.

But I could not discern through the plastic milk jug any layers of cream.  It was just all white on white crime.  But time was a-ticking, and when one lives with a theatre director, one often finds oneself bullied by the clock.

I’d looked online for a recipe and bypassed all those snobs that required the vanilla bean encased in something that had to be slit.  For some reason doing that to get authentic vanilla flavor seemed to be too much labor – and somehow making my own cream wasn’t.  Good thing I wasn’t making cookie dough or I’d have gotten to making my own butter.  But poor, old neglected vanilla.

The recipe warned that novices might overcook the crème in the ramekins, that it should be barely set when pulled out of the oven.  I let it bake an extra 5 minutes, anyway, since I tend to overdo things, and since living in a bit of altitude from these make-believe mountains kind of messes with the baking.  I was not concerned about the jiggling, no I was not.  It just needed time to set.  It needed chill time.  It looked like a successful crème brûlée.

When I pulled them out the next day they were still jiggling but not bad.  I threw on a whole bunch of sugar on the top and got my fire on and applied it to a large clump of sugar, burning it.  The smell did not displease me.  But I didn’t get every last grain.  When I bit into my dessert, parts of it gave way like silica to liquid beneath it.  And the taste was like milk with some eggs and a little vanilla in it.  It did not hit transcendence.

image of creme brulee
It was never anything like this

But no one noticed it, really, because then the conversation had annoyingly gone to What Is Love, which to me was fine when I was 24, but what I find really dull now that I am older.  Maybe it’s a bad thing that I am no longer silica, silica for love.  There’s an interesting difference between the French and Americans.  I’d like to say between the French and Anglophones but really who understands the Irish and the British?  Not a lot of Americans.   And who misunderestimates the Canadians?  Les Québécois?  Guilty.  The French seem to have this attitude towards the couple as though it were a unique antimicrobial cluster.  Ha ha, that’s just a little lemon joke.  They talk about the couple as an identity that’s not the same with Americans.  How is the couple doing?  Where is going on with the couple?  Is she happy in her couple?  It seems to me a deeper consideration than just the usual,  Shall we invite this couple over for the Christmas eggnog?

Quit admitted to Cri-Cri that her written French was shite.  Her mother tongue was French but not her mother hand.  Too many knick-knacks, she said.  She actually said Knick-knack in English.

Knick-knacks?  What is a knick-knack, he asked, looking around wildly.

I pointed to the windowsills with the oil lamps and handful of rocks collecting dust.  To the various barometers hanging on the walls.  To the wooden spoon and iron thingamabob in the kitchen, not serving any purpose other than to be looked upon.  Those are knick-knacks, I told him.  Oh, he said. Yes, French has a lot of knick-knacks.

Fine, I am forcing myself to get more accustomed to the keyboard that allows me to use accents so that even though my mother hand can’t make the easiest dessert in le monde, I can at least spell it right, in its mother language while watching an American tv show in Canada.


What do ya think?

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