Chocolate caramel tart with sea salt; it’s what I was going for. A new friend—mind you all my friends in Florida are “new,” though all aren’t “friends,” but we’ll scratch that surface later—invited me to a new tradition at her home: It’s A Wonderful Life Night. Her movie theater room will soon be flooded with sweet friends, salty confections, and booze. She’s invited us for a cozy showing of the holiday classic, with only one mandate: the dress code, much to her husband’s chagrin, is PJ’s, the fuzzy kind, not the “Hopeful Ho” variety.
After shopping for fuzzy pajamas—because no, I didn’t own any—I decided to confront my stack of cookbooks, and leafed my way to the Chocolate Caramel Tart with Sea Salt from The Perfect Finish: Special Desserts for Every Occasion because I could make babies with salt. In truth, I was deciding between this and the Walnut Layer Cake with Apple-Caramel Filling and Calvados Cream Cheese Frosting (I know, right? The best recipes in this book!). Then my mother offered to drop off some meyer lemons from my aunt’s tree, and I considered making my all-star all-time favorite lemon cake (email me for the recipe, if you’re a tart freak). Ultimately, I chose the chocolate caramel tart with sea salt because I judge books by their covers. That, and I left my spring-form pan (needed for the other two recipes) in Texas.
While contemplating how I’ll work Zuzu’s petals onto the dessert plate, I’m here to tell you this. If you over-whip a fragile homemade mayonnaise, it breaks into pools of oil and water, and yolk by yolk, you must coax it back to health (relative health; it is mayo). Overworked mascarpone mixed with heavy cream meant to construct a creamy tiramisu can instead create a curdled dump, rescued only by patience and another container of mascarpone.You can’t unscramble an egg, and there’s no, I realized tonight, rescuing bitter caramel. It’s good for flan, but it doesn’t suit much else.
Friendship can work the same way. You can see it progressing, thickening in a pot, then without explanation, like an overworked emulsion or an unattended sauce, it can turn into something unrecognizable.
I have been blown away by the high school crisis of friendship in Boca Raton. It takes more real estate than a single post to cover the damages. It takes a book, or at least a chapter or five. Chapters I’m now writing, or, more pointedly, chapters they’re writing for me. Because you can’t make this up any more than you can turn shit into shine-ola.
While we’re on the bitter, my burnt caramel has been painted onto buttered crusts, each an individual tart. Tomorrow I plan to flood each tart with an eggnog custard that makes flan faint and brûlée boil. Island rum whipped cream. Because all in all, life really is wonderful. Even the mess of it, the Potters and burnt pots, it’s really nothing in the face of family, in the face of friends who come as they are, and who act as they appear, jammies and all.