Food, food culture, food as culture and the cultures that grow our food

Birthday picnic au plein air for proximi et intimi

December 25, 2006

Deb transporting a porcupine of cream puffs
Transporting the cream puffs using a porcupine

Several years ago I sort of got stoned and envisioned myself making a grand birthday party entrance with a giant croque en bouche tower perched on my head. Croque en bouche is traditionally a wedding or baptism cake for French people, constructed out of cream puffs and glued together with caramel. Having heard from ‘everybody’ that making cream puffs was the baking equivalent of falling off a horse, I set to work the night before my big party, thinking I was very smart indeed to get such an early leg up. By 3 am, an utter lack of experience and a faulty oven had turned several hundred dollops of batter into a pile of crunchy dog biscuits.

Panicking, I abandoned the vision of the elegant croque en bouche and decided to resort to Plan B, an apple crumble, the humble pie of all earthly pastries. (That’s apple humble to you!) Although I’ll be the first to say that I make an insane delicious apple crumble, (cinnamon splinters, blood oranges and their zest are the secret ingredients) there is nothing inherently superlative about this dessert that warrants serving it to guests at a birthday party. And adding insult to injury, apple crumble makes one heq of a shitty hat.

Only later did I learn that a hot and reliable oven is a key factor to the success of making cream puffs, but in the mean time I had already distanced myself from the notion of wearing food on my head. Must be the onset of maturity.

deb transporting a porcupine of cream puffs

This year I was finally able to realise my croque en bouche dream albeit sans chapeau, thanks to my fabulous cousin, Chef Rebecca. In the wee hours before the big day, and in the time it took me to peel four tangerines and shoot the shit, Auntie Sheba somehow whipped out a massive strudel and Cousin Rebecca cheerfully produced several hundred cream puffs.

Cream puffification
Cream puff action shot

We celebrated this year’s birthday amongst a small group of intimi et proximi right down the street at the Duvenek Ranch. Because I’m not a practical woman by nature, we ended up transporting the croque en bouche sans bouche in the form of a porcupine on the belly of the birthday gal herself. And because I am a bonafide socialist and not a champagne socialist, I served the croque en bouche porcupine with cremant, aka ‘the bubbles of the poor’ and the pickles of the Bubby.

And because Nathan deeply understands me, we sipped tangerine juice and nibbled a salad of local fruits from a set of glassware used on the former Concorde! Can life get any better?

C is for Culiblog
Mom and cousin Bec get the giggles when they pull out a pickle and figure out that C’ is for culiblog

The birthday cream puffs were filled with seven different cream fillings, invisible without x-ray vision: smoked whitefish, smoked salmon, avocado lime zest, tarragon, rosewater, orange flower water + tangerine and maple syrup + date. The puffs were slathered with caramel and sprinkled with fleur de sel and flying fish roe. All of the flavours of cream puff went well together, although my father somehow was able to hog all the avocado cream puffs leaving Nathan with a load of whitefish. C’est la vie.

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