There are moments when I terribly miss Paris. The omnipresent Eiffel tower, the sunset over the Seine, the fancy-dressed musicians on the streets, colorful pavlovas dotting the patisseries, tiny little espressos, copper pots clinging to the walls, demure little macaroons, the flea markets, Rodin’s Thinker, carefully curated gardens, the morning vegetable markets, foie grass, carousels and all, but most importantly Danielle, my host in Paris and now my friend.
It was partly because of Danielle, a friend of my dear friend, that my Paris dream came true. I remember the first time I met her, on the bus stop where I was waiting for her to pick me up. I always thought Parisian women are very snooty (and believe me they are), but Danielle looked very kind and warm. She willingly took me to her beautiful apartment and instantly I knew that this month in paris, her home and she, will be a cherished part of my life for years to come.
I miss that 71-year-old, young friend of mine very dearly. At-least once a day, I catch myself remembering something she said, or something around her house, or the French potato gratin she made on my first day in Paris. Sometimes the wine bottle sitting on my shelf makes me think of her so much that I have a temptation to pour a little in a glass and swirl it to check its notes. Or simply make a creamy fish like she did and may be the aroma of the cream being baked will make me feel close to her.
Her bedroom, the room which she gave me generously for a month, was idyllic, like those you see on Pinterest. White French windows with pink and violet flowers in the balcony and the room full of books. How fervently I hoped I could read French, those books were alluring. And Danielle, whose daughter in law is from Kolkatta, and who visits India every year had very cleverly used cotton sarees as in-house curtains. Simple, yet so elegant.
The day before I started school in Le Cordon Bleu, she carefully showed me the way to school, which metro to take, which exit to walk out of, and all in English because I hardly understood French. Oh how it tired her, the act of thinking in French, translating and then talking in English. But we had some great conversations. I always used to look forward to having breakfast or lunch with her, and talking about the oddities of life, the dreams, hopes, desires, tales of cruising along through life and its myriad colorful lanes. How she would say Oh là là when she remembered a sweet thing, and how her eyes would go silent when talking of something estranged. Oh I miss her voice, her pause when she is remembering an english word, her acceptance of reality, her zest to help an older 85-year-old lady staying upstairs, her caramelised leek roast- the way her mom made it, the opera music filling the room when she knitted, and oh, simply her presence. I miss all of it so bad that I have to exhale deeply to empty my heart of the longing to see her.
Danielle invited me to her book club meetings, took me out for a classic French dinner, invited her friends and family so that I could meet them, showed me photos of her in her young days, took me around Paris, we even went for a Bollywood movie, and patiently listened to my tales from patisserie school every day and ensured that I don’t feel home-sick. And she did it all with such finesse that it never felt that she was intruding in my life, but was always solidly present.
All through the day I could go waltzing around Paris or be in the school for 9 hours, because I knew I would have company at night, someone to report the events of the day before going to sleep. Someone to pull me out of trouble if I get into one, while in Paris. Someone to look after me when I was an ocean away from home and someone to simply ask me how was my day or if I had proper dinner.
Five weeks later, when it was time to leave, she came to drop me off at the bus station and while bidding goodbye, a silent lonesome tear trickled down my face. Not a sad tear but a thankful, indebted one. And her parting words to me , the ones that got etched in my mind were “Thank you, you were kind to me.” It was the simplest, least dramatic but very emotional good-bye which was more of a see-you soon than a farewell. It was the beginning. Of a new friendship. Of a new me.
Today I will share with you all a simple go-to chocolate chip pound cake recipe. It can be baked in an hour and sometimes all you need is an uncomplicated chocolate flavor, with a hint of orange. Nothing fancy and assuming, but something robust yet tender, like a grandma’s wholesome cake.
Orange Chocolate Chip pound cake
What you will need:
- 240 gm all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 225 gm salted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (only if using unsalted butter)
- 200 gm granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
- 2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
What to do :
- Pre-heat oven to 175C. Generously butter a 9*5 inch loaf pan.
- Whisk together flour and baking powder to mix evenly and break any clumps.
- Beat sugar and butter till pale in color.
- Add eggs, one at a time till fully incorporated. Add orange zest.
- Fold in the dry ingredients with a spatula, taking care to not over-mix.
- Stir in the chocolate chips.
- Spoon the batter in the prepared pan and level it with the spatula.
- Bake for 40-60 minutes till a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
- Once baked, let it rest for 15 minutes before removing from pan and transferring to a cooling rack.
- Serve with fresh orange pulp , drizzled with some chocolate syrup.
- Resist the temptation to cut into the cake till it has considerably cooled down, or it has a tendency to crumble when hot.
- The orange zest can be substituted with vanilla extract/ vanilla essence, but I highly recommend orange zest.