Wednesday, December 30, 2009
When Pavel turned 40 (a couple of years before me), I threw him a big party, filling our small living room with three long tables. With help from family, I made choucroute for 40. Our kids, then 9, 12, and 14, mixed martinis for the guests (hopefully they'll always be able to find work). It was a wonderful party, done largely to celebrate Pavel.
But, as most people who are married know (and a few might even admit), marriage, besides being about sharing and forgiving (yourself as well as your spouse), also is about score-keeping and escalation. A small part of me figured I was setting the bar for him to jump over when I turned 40 two years later.
Pavel cleared the bar easily, as I knew he would. He surprised me with a trip to Venice and Rome; a dream, really. We spent New Years' Eve in Milan, and arrived in an eerily quiet Venice on New Years Day, my birthday. All my life I've wrestled with the problem of a New Years birthday. There's the problem of people not wanting to get up that day, and then when they finally do, they're often not in the most festive mood. As a kid, I wanted to go to San Francisco's Hungry Hippo for a hamburger, which came with a sparkler on birthdays. But they were always closed January 1.
Venice was shut pretty tight on New Years Day, so we ate dinner at the only place we found open. Nothing great about the dinner, until it was time for dessert. I certainly, by the advanced age of 40, knew better than to hope for a birthday cake. But what I got was just as good.
Turns out that Italy, post-Christmas, is lousy with panettone. When you stay at bed and breakfasts, you get slices of it every morning. The cafes all push it. And that Venetian restaurant was no different: they had panettone, and wanted to get rid of it. But here was the genius of it. It wouldn't do, alone, for dessert. Instead, our waiter cut a big hunk of it, and set it on a plate. Then, from a large silver colored warming dish, he ladled yellow zabaglione over the top. Just like that, two of my very favorite things on earth came together on my birthday, on my plate.
Much as I loved this dessert, I'm not ready to part company with birthday layer cakes. But it occurs to me that there's always panettone lying around her after Christmas (not that I'm wishing it gone!). In fact, I made these with some warmed panettone leftover from, hold on to your hats, last Christmas. And it was pretty tasty.
I think I'll make another batch of zabaglione late on New Years Eve, and Pavel and I will ring in 2010--and my birthday--with a little memory of 2003.
Happy New Year to all!
Here's one recipe for zabaglione. Traditional recipes often suggest using the eggshell to measure the sugar and marsala, and it works fairly well--each half shell holds about 1 tablespoon. If you want an easy to remember recipe, for each serving you need 1 egg yolk, 1 half eggshell sugar, and 2 half eggshells marsala. I usually make it with at least 3 egg yolks. I also use a heavy saucepan instead of a double boiler. But you have to be extra careful, then, not to cook the eggs.
For more about zabaglione, here's a story I wrote for Culinate last year.