Friday, February 21, 2014

If there's good chocolate around . . .

She paused, watching Louis accept a chocolate . . . 
but then he began to cough and had to cover his mouth. 

He was in trouble with a caramel. 

She looked away, so that he could strangle unobserved.
"How dark it is," said Berthe, to let him think he could not be seen.

~Mavis Gallant
"The Chosen Husband"

Mavis Gallant, the great writer of delicately built short stories, died this week at the age of 91.

She was audacious and bold about her writing, and yet she wasn't sure she could trust its quality. When she was 27, she was becoming something she did not want to be: a Montreal reporter who wrote some short fiction when she could find a spare hour or two.

"I believed that if I was to call myself a writer I should live on writing. If I could not live on it, even simply, I should destroy every scrap, every trace, every notebook, and live some other way. Whatever happened, I would not enter my thirties as a journalist--or an anything else--with stories piling up in a picnic hamper . . . I had worked in an office where I watched people shuffle along to retirement time, and the sight had scared me.

"The only solution seemed to be a clean break [from reporting] and a try: I would give it two years. No city in the world drew me as strongly as Paris. It was a place where I had no friends, no connections, no possibility of finding employment should it be necessary, and where I might run out of money.

"I decided to send three of my stories to The New Yorker, one after the other. One acceptance would be good enough. If all three were refused, I would take it as decisive.

"The first story came back with a friendly letter that said, 'Do you have anything else you could show us?' The second story was taken.

"The third I didn't like anymore. I tore it up and sent the last of the three from Paris."


I thought of Mavis on her own in France as I cooked this delicate, wonderful chocolate sauce. 
It could be drizzled over creme brulee. Dipped into with an eclair or a lemon-scented madeleine. 

If there's good chocolate around, artistry seems a little closer to possible.

only 5 simple ingredients
Chocolate Sauce

1/2 to 1 cup granulated sugar, to taste
4 Tbsp. Dutch process cocoa
1/4 tsp. salt
3 to 4 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup water (add slowly . . . to make the desired consistency)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Chocolate needs tending
when the heat is on.
Combine sugar, cocoa, and salt in a heavy saucepan. Add half the water, or enough to stir. Add butter and more water as desired. Stir gently while bringing to a low boil over medium heat. You should be able to stir down the boil easily. 

    Cook at this temperature for 1 minute, stirring gently. 
    Remove from heat and add vanilla.

    Five ingredients, five minutes. And you're an artiste.

Poured over peppermint ice cream. Make someone happy.

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