The other day I was sitting at my computer, filled with self-loathing, when I looked out the window and saw a chunky, hirsute raccoon, crawling up my fence.”Oh great,” I thought, “You again.” I am weary, WEARY, of this pestilential bandit being my spirit animal. I just assumed my totem would be a sleek wild horse, a leaping narwhal, or something equally charismatic and agile.
Somehow, whenever I feel my life is crumbling into a pile of rubble, a raccoon comes skulking around to taunt me. I know I said in my last blog that I am “open to the wonder and beauty of life.” What rubbish! Who reads this stuff? That was last week, before I hit the mood turbulence that I have come to refer to as “the raccoons.” This critter represents everything that provides me with abiding dissatisfaction. There are yards a raccoon would never dare enter, my mother’s for instance. But mine? “Hey!” they all hiss to their friends, “There must be a lot of junk back there and maybe food scraps. Let’s go!”
You can tell me it isn’t the season, but it was plain that this animal was pregnant. She was moving along exactly like I did when I was ponderous with child; it was like gazing into a hairy mirror. I shuddered at the memory of my slothful, miserable hugeness, something I didn’t want to be reminded of that day, when it was gloomily raining sideways and the whole of the outdoors was locked down under early winter’s steel gray skies.
There was only one thing for it: tiramisu. The name is Italian for “pick me up.” If this doesn’t pick you up, you are unpickupable and I will refer you out to someone who bakes therapeutic hams. I have a fondness for the process of assembling this dessert, because it involves no baking, just meditative mixing, whipping, dunking, and layering. It’s quite pleasant to make with a friend – I made my first with my friend Tim, and this time my youngest daughter did the dunking. Even if you make it alone, don’t eat it alone, because someone might find you face down in it later.
You will need: a pint of whipping cream, an 8 ounce container of mascarpone cheese, some powdered sugar, two packs of ladyfingers, a great quantity of espresso, rum (some prefer marsala wine) and a dash of cocoa powder and vanilla. You can add vanilla to the whipping cream if you like. Some genius dessert inventor decided to bring coffee, booze and saturated fat together in a big devil-may-care extravaganza, and I applaud them. Feel free to crumble some tobacco flakes on top to round out the vices.
Tiramisu is a trifle, and I have good luck with savioardi biscotti for any trifling I need to do. It’s sometimes difficult to find these, so when you do, buy a few boxes, in case you foresee needing your mood tweaked frequently. Other ladyfingers will work as well, though.
Make 5 tablespoons of coffee, (I favor decaffeinated instant espresso) then mix with about 5 tablespoons of rum, and sweeten just a bit with powdered sugar. I don’t like particularly boozy desserts, so the coffee to alcohol ratio is up to you. Erstwhile, whip the mascarpone to loosen it, then add the cream, whip it all together, sweeten and/or flavor with maple syrup (I sometimes use it in place of sugar) and vanilla as you like.
Then prepare to get into a flow state, gently dunking the biscuits into the coffee mixture for just a couple seconds on each side (don’t let them sit but a moment, or they absorb too much liquid and become soggy) and create a layer of them in a dish. I used about 36 savioardi this time. Interfile the biscotti layer with the cream mixture layers. The trick is to set aside enough of the cream to spread over the top in a smooth layer (I didn’t manage this). Sift cocoa over the top as the finishing touch.
I heard this dessert went through a long, dark night of being publicly maligned. Apparently it’s kitschy? I do not understand the practice of badmouthing desserts. With the exception of deep-fried twinkies, (and I admit a grudging admiration, even for those) why would sweets be the object of derision (I mean, besides for health reasons, obviously)? Why not channel your anger into cleaning oil off gulls or something, rather than poking fun at other people’s pudding?
I have an acquaintance who radiates graciousness and class; tiramisu is her favorite dessert. Even as I write this, I am getting ready to deliver a walloping chunk of it to her door. I climbed Mt. Ellinor with her this fall and at the pinacle, when I was looking like I had been dragged behind a truck, she donned a cashmere sweater and perched on a rock, serenely composed. I could see her spirit animal was something way less sneaky and rabid than mine. Kitschy, huh? I’ll have what she’s having.