I’ve been consumed with the concept of pleasure, how it can bring us back to stillness, joy and abundance. With the intention of throwing out a thesis question to the Universe, “Does more pleasure bring more abundance?”, I had the idea of going on a pleasure quest somewhere obscenely sensual like Italy. But the truth is, I have not been able to travel for reasons other than work for a while now.
So, I thought to you myself, why not start here, now? Why wait for Italy, or Portugal, or France (Cannes didn’t count. Trust me). Why not start in my Aunt’s kitchen?
My pleasure quest started prematurely, here in Saudi Arabia, a place that is far from ideal for sensual excursions. The form of pleasure that I’ve decided to start with? Cooking.
Bread was my first project. I wanted to knead something, flatten it out, ball it up; perhaps my frustration with everything that wasn’t going as I planned could be persuaded to leave my body. I made Whole wheat bread that I stuffed with dates and orange rinds. It didn’t rise and was practically un-chewable. We had to throw it away.
My prowess picked up soon. I made succulent chicken with an orange and clove sauce, lots of garlic, of course. I set the chicken breast, golden and sizzling on the outside and tender on the inside, right where I needed it on the plate. I drizzled the orange glaze so that it dripped and pooled around it perfectly. I was waltzing with those flavors on an effervescent culinary stage, quite soothed by the delicacy of what I was achieving with this dish.
Then, my cousin, who was helping me, spooned some of the dill salad I instructed her to make, right next to the chicken…and that was when my Ratatouille soundtrack came to a lurching stop. My cousin put too much vinegar in the salad so that the dressing ran into my orange sauce and it became an orange-flavored soup on the plate.
“Noooo!” I shrieked, and realized how much like Monica Geller I was in that moment.
The next day, I decided to make chocolate mousse, using my aunt’s recipe. My aunt broke Kit-Kat’s into the mousse to make it more interesting. However, I tuned into my own intuitive ideation center, where I often go when I vision something to cook. Nope, no kit-kats, it said. Soak some tea biscuits with coffee, like we do for tiramisu, and then spoon the mousse over it. Chocolate ganache on top. I was fasting as I made the mousse and the all of the creamy foamy texture made me heady and eager for a taste. My aunt helped me spoon the ganache on top of the mousse but, because she had a schedule, like she always did, she took over and rushed the process. The result was that the ganache, instead of evening out into rich smooth layers over the mousse, was spread out in blobs. Impatience began to rise in my throat now. This was not what pleasure looked like!
The same happened when I tried to cook fish, something I am usually good at. It was hammour, not sole, and, being an unfriendly fish to cook, it toughened in the oven and barely complimented the pungent lemon sauce that I made.
I soon began to realize that I was not looking for pleasure but perfection. People showed up in the kitchen to help but ended up committing culinary crimes that tipped over the balance of what I was creating. I failed myself and could not meet the perfect vision in my mind.
I had turned to the kitchen to create the perfection that I was missing in my own life and still failed. When I realized this, I laughed. I stopped going to the kitchen altogether.
I began to find pleasure in a diffused pool of light coming in through the window, soft, like melted muslin. I found pleasure in the way I turned my ankles and shoulders to feel the creaking of my muscles. Perfume in the perfumery when I went shoppin. Hot hot coffee after I broke my fast, the stuff of ancient shamans. My aunt’s flaky Samosa dough, which, if you tried it, you would forgive her as well for the mess with the ganache!
And the pleasure quest continues…and who knows, I might end up in Italy after all, writing about food and lemon trees and gorgeous men!
For your benefit, here’s the recipe for the chocolate mousse. You might make it better. You might not make it all. You might find your own version of imperfection with it:
In small dessert bowls (or you can make one big bowl for everyone):
- A thin layer or tea biscuits, broken up
- Soak the tea biscuits with instant coffee. Not too dry, not too wet
In a bowl, mix:
- 2 cans of clotted cream (ours in Saudi is thick. This is not a liquid cream)
- Nesquick Powder + Unsweetened Cocoa Powder until color and sweetness are to your taste (I usually use 5 heaping tbsp. of cocoa powder and 4 heaping tbsp. of Nesquick)
In another chilled bowl:
- 2 sachets of Dream Whip. Make the whipped cream as instructed on the box
Once the clotted cream and the chocolate powder mixture is ready, make the whipped cream and fold contents of both bowls together. Make sure your clotted creat and chocolate powder mix is instense enough so that it does not get diluted by the whipped cream. Otherwise you will need to add more chocolate powder to the mix and fold it in, which could cause the whipped cream to fall flat. Once you’re satisfied, spoon the mousse mixture into the dessert bowls on top of the coffee-soaked biscuits. Let cool in the fridge.
When you’re ready to serve, make the ganache:
- Melt some semi-sweet chocolate chips in a bowl over steam from a boiling pot.
- Add some cream and mix well
Consistency needs to be not too liquid but not too thick. Let it cool a little bit before you spoon over the mousse, just enough to cover the surface.
Serve immediately or serve later with the ganache chilled.
Et voila! Bon apetit!