Although I had been reading Jeffrey Steingarten’s column in Vogue for years before I came across a musty, yellowed copy of David’s Italian Food on a library shelf, I had no idea that a profession such a food writing actually existed. I had spent a semester studying in Italy not long before, where I discovered the beautiful and rustic simplicity of authentic Italian food; in many ways, it was so different from that found at the North American table. I wanted to recreate it with a longing that bordered on obsession.
David’s books were a revelation to me, celebrations of the regional and rural dishes of the Mediterranean. More than just collections of recipes, her essays were evocative pieces of travel writing, narratives in which she described where she went, whom she met, and what she ate in lush detail. In her books I discovered a perspective I could identify with; a penchant for simple recipes composed of the highest quality ingredients, a disdain for leftovers, and admittedly–a certain level of what can be regarded as a middle-class sort of food snobbery.
Stumbling upon Elizabeth’s book led to my discovery of other equally engaging writers who waxed poetic about food: MFK Fisher, Ruth Reichl, and more recently, Laurie Colwin. I read their books with the fascination of a scholar deciphering ancient texts. I sought to discover what made these works compelling narratives rather than boring recitations of meals enjoyed in exotic settings, yet never considered trying my hand at this genre of writing. Becoming a food writer seemed a professional limited to a lucky few. I could no more become a food writer than I could fly to the moon.
And then came along this little thing called food blogging.
I had no idea such a thing existed until a couple of years ago, when I stumbled upon The Amateur Gourmet while searching for an Ina Garten recipe. I know, I know. I’ve always been a little behind the times. I still don’t have an ipod and even my mother calls my computer a dinosaur.
My first thought was–as it often is when I discover something of great interest to me– I can do this. Why can’t I do this? I promptly enrolled in a food and travel writing class, sold an article with the first query I sent out, and started my own food blog. The rest is history. Or at least, history in the making.
Which brings me to why I write about food. I assume that it’s for the same reason anyone else writes about food–because its something I feel passionate about. I understand that it’s not a passion that everyone shares. After all, there are thousands of topics I’m not particularly enthusiastic about. Golf and entomology, for example. For some people, a meal is nothing but an antidote to a rumbling stomach and they take little pleasure from it. And I acknowledge this truth with a lot of love and no judgment on my part. Honestly.
But when you really think about it, food is about everything in the same way that money is about everything. It’s about culture, tradition, community. It’s about memory, curiosity. Cooking is not only a way to nurture others, but also yourself. Which was exactly what I had in mind when I whipped up a single serving of Elizabeth David’s chocolate mousse yesterday, which is the simplest I’ve come across yet undoubtedly the best.
This recipe makes two servings. Be aware that these are 1952 servings, however. They will be smaller than what we’re used to nowadays, so you might want to add an extra egg and another thirty grams of chocolate, just to be on the safe side. I used Callebaut chocolate, but any good quality chocolate will do– even a bar of Lindt from the drugstore. Be sure that your chocolate is at least 70% cocoa, otherwise the mousse will end up grainy.
adapted from Elizabeth David
2 large eggs
60 grams chocolate (about 2 1/2 ounces)
2 teaspoons sugar (or to taste)
1) Break the chocolate into pieces and put in the top of a double boiler filled with simmering water. When the chocolate is almost fully melted, turn the heat off. Stir as needed.
2) Separate the egg whites and yolks. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. To get the most volume possible into the whites, start at slow speed and incrementally increase. Whisk in the sugar.
3) Mix the egg yolks quickly into the melted chocolate until combined. Gently whisk in a third of the egg white. Fold in the rest of the egg white very gently as well. Be careful not to overmix.
4)Pour into bowl or glasses and refrigerate for six hours, until set. Serve with whip cream or shaved chocolate if desired.