Light and fluffy as literary inspiration
Waterloo, Day 2 1/2.
It’s showtime — or very nearly.
When we arrive at Conrad Grebel University College and make our way into the dining room, the voices of 200 students rise and fall with laughter and conversation.
This is Community Supper.
Every Wednesday, the room is reserved for exactly one hour.
Dinner is prepared by Old Colony Mennonites ladies.
There are rapid-fire campus announcements, followed by a 20-minute presentation.
“You’ve been briefed about our timeline?” I’m asked by tonight’s hostess.
“6:05 to 6:25, not a minute longer,” I affirm.
The timeline, although not sacred, is inviolate, a part of the Wednesday ritual and not to be messed with.
I like it, this adherence to social timing.
Sixty minutes and then, for better or worse, everyone breaks company and no one is left stranded in the middle of a conversation trap.
First, though, there is dinner and tonight’s menu features salmon.
What I’m much more interested in, however, is this basket of bread before me.
Bread that is pillowy and white and so like my grandmother’s that, by the end of this evening, I will forget what was served with the salmon and only remember this.
This and the hot fudge-drizzled cream puff, split and filled with pastry cream, that makes me forget I always lose my appetite before stepping up to the mic.
So when, at 6:05, I do step up, there’s a very good chance I have hot fudge on my chin.
According to reviewers, my stories are consistently two things: Dark, even when they move towards the light and, page after page, filled with the imagery of food.
Be-smeared with fudge, therefore, isn’t quite the chord I aim to strike.
Though I dare any “nice fat gurdie” to push away from the table when there’s a cream puff on it.
Now, looking out at 200 faces, I take a breath — and plunge.
“When I was told I’d be speaking to a room full of students who’d just eaten dinner,” I begin, “the voice in my head immediately began to toss out the stories that are the least easy to digest.”
Out with Ice House and its hallway of butchered pigs.
Out with Year of the Grasshopper, an invasion of creeping insects.
Instead, I read passages set in kitchens, with peach pie, roll kuchen fried in lard and bowls of rising dough.
I read about families torn apart and knit back together.
I read about a young girl who’s about to face her mother for the first time in three years, abandoned after a fight over frozen yogurt.
Then, having known that fish, and not lamb, would be on tonight’s menu, I take back my promise and read from Little Lamb, introducing a little dinner trauma.
And, at 6:25 exactly, I close the book.
In the dining room, there’s a box on the far wall labelled “Yum Yuck List,” and, before I dash to the chapel for another hour on stage, I wish I had time to scribble a note about the bread and the cream puffs.
1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp (flaked) kosher salt
2 large eggs
In a medium pot over medium heat, combine water, milk, butter and salt. Bring to a rapid boil. Add flour and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until mixture comes away from the sides of the pot.
Cook and stir for one minute. Transfer to a bowl to cool for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Beat in one egg until mixture is smooth. Beat in second until smooth and glossy.
Scoop into a pastry bag (no tip needed). Shape into 2 1/2-inch wide by one-inch high puffs.
Bake at 400 F for 15 minutes. Reduce to 375 F. Bake 20 to 25 minutes. Turn off oven, pierce the bottom of each puff with a sharp knife to release steam. Let dry in oven for 10 minutes. Remove and cool puffs completely on a cooling rack.
Slice tops off puffs and fill with whipped cream. Replace tops and dust with powdered sugar.