The Florida sun is like no other. Morning breaks at the height of summer in a dazzling blaze of light, a haze of heat pulsing through the early morning hours already steamy. Blinding white light bouncing off of the sidewalk, searing light burning into one’s soul. Eyes squinting, sweat trickling down one’s back, peering through the light into the distance, an eerie oasis in the distance, stillness moving in the light.
Too much light.
One searches for respite from the brightness but to no avail. Light much too strong, heady, powerful, allowing no shade under the trees. Feet burn on sidewalks, in the grass, the tough Florida grass, as unforgiving as the light, that bites into one’s feet.
The watery winter light filters through the grayness, breaking through here and there in faded yellow bursts. A winter light that has no resemblance to the flashy light of my childhood winters. A light moody, blurred and dull, lacking definition and lacking inspiration. A light ineffably sad.
Like the light outside, our own inclination fades and falters, lacking its own definition in the lazy light of winter. This weather, this nebulous light inspires nothing more than staying in, slouching on the sofa and letting one’s mind wander to ghosts of our past.
A veiled light, at once weary and romantic.
Night falls, the light is swallowed up into blackness so complete the memory of the day falls away into the unlit recesses of the mind, forever gone. The lights of the city dot the landscape, glitter joyously, shimmering in the glass panes of the window which are now misty against the cold.
The Hanukkah candles are lit one by one against the backdrop of night. One by one a single flame catches and blazes up in a wonder of light. A warm glow fills the room as we gather around the menorah and chant on this Festival of Lights.
The holiday spirit has invaded Nantes if ever so discreetly, understated elegance, so very French. The great swags of glittering lights in red and silver are already hung from lamppost to lamppost, shop windows have already begun adding to the display with shows of elves and polar bears, lush wreathes and bright garlands, trees green and beribboned or merely the suggestion of trees in delicate white lights. I love the holidays yet how I miss the vibrant, exciting, overdone American version of Christmas. Homes weighed down under millions of gaudy, whimsical, colorful holiday lights; Santa in his sleigh, drawn by a team of reindeer prance across front lawns or perch precariously on rooftops, in a halo of neon, a brilliant circle of spotlight. Over the top, ostentatious beauty infuses every observer, whether celebrant or not, with an energy and enthusiasm strictly reserved for December.
Arriving late one Christmas Eve to a balmy Florida town, we drove my young boys around the city, up and down every street just to ogle the outrageous Christmas decorations and the romantic luminaries all aglow, all intermingling in one glorious dance, a sight neither had ever seen or experienced before. Hands clapping and faces brimming over with delight, faces bathed in the warm lights, my boys light up, astonished in front of the festivities, in front of such a celebration, to the music of Christmas.
Too much indulgence. Too many rich, heavy meals topped with cheese and laden with sauces. Too many slices of cake, bowls of ice cream, chunks of bread slathered with butter. Comforted and warmed by spoonfuls of rice pudding, sweetened oatmeal and too much cream. A winter spent bundled up in sweaters and coats, socks and padding and hidden under shawls and scarves. As we slip off the layers one by one, as the temperature inches up and the days grow warmer, we see the damage done.
Eat lighter, they exhort! Lighter than light, we fill our basket with lettuce and tomatoes, fruits and vegetables. We sidle up to the cheese counter and stoutly ignore the bleu and comté and request that la fromagère scoop up ladlefuls of low fat cream cheese into a tub.
There is always a profound sense of deprivation when one eats light. Or is there? Fromage frais topped with seasonal fresh fruit, chunks of grilled meat swept through spicy mustard, the crunch of pickles and the sweetness of berries roasted in just a tad of sugar and a swirl of rum.
The lightness of mousse, the delicate ethereal lightness of homebaked ladyfingers, the comfort of a bowl of Rice Krispies and lowfat milk, light indeed.
We met in Paris, the City of Lights. Neon days and nights aglow in the flickering Eiffel Tower and the blazing Champs Elysées. By day, we would walk the quays along the Seine, the sunlight flashing off the water, turning our heads away from the glare. We would duck into a wine bar, lights dim. Glasses of red and plates of warm lentil salad were the only witness to our tryst. Light of his eye.
We married on a July morning, a day bathed in light. I carried myself lightly, skipping to city hall on winged feet, lighter than air. The light filtered in through the windows suffusing the hall with a golden glow. Light of my life.
We toasted our marriage with flutes of Champagne, giddy with bubbles and love. Lightheaded.
Whether winter or summer, there really is nothing better than an ultra-light dessert. Cool, tangy, ethereal Lemon Ricotta Mousse paired with melt-in-your-mouth light ladyfinger cookies is the perfect treat when a sweet tooth must be sated or as a light finish to any meal. I adore lemony desserts and the ricotta gives this mousse body and the taste of a light cheesecake without the heaviness. Beautiful topped with fresh berries. These ladyfingers are a favorite recipe, using them to prepare Tiramisu, a charlotte or with any kind of whipped filling, lining the pan or dessert glasses with them instead of a pie crust. My husband loves them dipped in milk as a snack.
JAMIE’S LEMON RICOTTA MOUSSE
Serves 4 – 6
1 cup (250 g) ricotta cheese, drained if wet
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of ½ lemon and more to taste
1 Tbs limoncello, optional
3 Tbs powdered/icing sugar and more to taste
¼ - 1/3 cup (100 ml) cold heavy whipped cream
1 egg white
Beat or whisk the ricotta with the lemon zest, lemon juice, limoncello and 2 tablespoons powdered sugar until smooth and creamy. Beat the cold heavy whipping cream until thick and soft peaks hold. Gently and delicately fold into the ricotta mixture.
Using clean beaters in a clean bowl (I prefer a plastic bowl for beating whites), beat the egg whites until opaque; add one more tablespoon of the powdered/icing sugar and beat until peaks hold. Gently and delicately fold into the ricotta-cream mixture until well blended. Do not overfold as the mousse should be light and creamy. Taste and add more sugar and/or more lemon juice as desired, to taste.
Divide into glasses, verrines, cups or even wine glasses or Champagne flutes and chill until ready to serve, at least an hour.
3 large eggs, separated
6 Tbs (75 g) sugar
¾ cup (95 g) cake flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla
6 Tbs (50 g) confectioner’s/powdered sugar
Separate the eggs. Place the yolks in a large mixing bowl. Place the whites in a medium-sized metal or plastic bowl and add a pinch of salt. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line 2 large baking or cookie sheets with parchment paper ; “glue” down the corners of the parchment with a dab of softened butter or batter to assure that the parchment lies flat and won’t move when piping the ladyfingers.
Beat the egg whites on low for 30 seconds then increase the beater speed to high and beat until the whites hold soft peaks. Continue beating while sprinkling on about a tablespoon or 2 of the sugar and continue beating until the whites are stiff.
Beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar and the vanilla until thick, pale and the batter forms a ribbon when the beaters are lifted up. Using a spatula, fold the whites into the yolk mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the flour, also added in 3 times, until smooth and well blended. Do not overfold.
Fit a pastry bag with a large plain tip (or just snip the end off; you could also use a plastic freezer bag) and fill with the batter. Pipe the batter into 5" long and 3/4" wide tubes (or larger or smaller as needed) leaving about 1" space in between the piped fingers. Sift half the confectioner's sugar over the ladyfingers and allow to sit for 5 minutes. The sugar will pearl or look wet and glisten.
After the 5 minutes, sift the remaining sugar evenly over the ladyfingers. This helps to give the ladyfingers their characteristic crisp top. Bake the ladyfingers for 10 minutes then turn the baking sheets around back to front and continue baking until the fingers are lightly golden, about 5 minutes more depending on your oven. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and allow to cool slightly before removing them with a metal spatula onto racks to cool completely.