Warning warning! Sob story ahead! This may start out sounding maudlin or sappy, maybe even a touch self-pitying, but rest assured that it is none of the above. It is simply the story of my life, of spending years being Odd Girl Out and finally, thanks to this wonderful invention called internet (do I see Al Gore out in the audience raising his hand? Down, Al, down!) having met an amazing array of like-minded folks, kindred spirits, and have made a mess o’ friends.
It all started out fine, small and cute and living by the ocean. Carefree and happy-go-lucky (or maybe happy-go-mucky as a slip of the finger indicated). Siblings to play with, the ocean within walking distance, a huge (albeit sticker-filled) yard as my playground. Tents and basketball, hopscotch and books. Saturdays at the high school swimming pool learning to swim, Sundays out in the groves bagging oranges or in the fields picking strawberries, bike riding in the Florida sunshine, every day an adventure in my own front yard.
But as I grew up, I felt more and more odd, different. Grade school was fine, filled with afternoons playing at friends’ homes, but the closer the teen years approached, the more distance I sensed between me and my schoolmates. The pre-teen years are cruel years, and I felt that they were particularly cruel to me. Surrounded by classmates growing into tanned, leggy young women, their straight, shiny blond hair flowing down their backs, blowing in the breeze, pretty, confident and popular, I was the eternal pal, the Plain Jane, lots of hallway “hellos”, yet no party invitations, lots of “friends” but never part of a group. I always wanted to be necessary, desired, yet I was just one step outside. I also realized that I just didn’t have that much in common with all these people above and beyond the Beach Bunny lifestyle, didn’t feel really at home where I was. I felt marooned.
If I can put everything in “Gilligan’s Island” terms, I was Mary Ann. Honest, sweet, spunky, everyone’s favorite kid sister. Not wealthy like Lovey, not glamorous like Ginger (although we did often smear our lips with sour cream or chocolate pudding during mealtimes and put on our pouty lips like Ginger… but that’s another story). Plain, friendly, practical and domestic, but merely a foil to the famous, the gorgeous, the desired.
But in a world of Gingers, Mary Ann eventually gathers up her courage and falls back on her own resources, dressing her own style, honing her skills, sharpening her mind and eventually building her own raft, pushing off from the desert island, waving good-bye to all her friends she has left stranded on that bit of dirt, and goes off to search for her own Eden.
(And, by the way, although most people had her pegged to marry Gilligan the Simpleton, she actually ends up marrying The Professor, the man who can build anything out of coconuts and bamboo, scientific, literary, creative and a damn good cook!)
Hand in hand, Mary Ann and The Professor wandered the world (or part of it), building a hut wherever their fancy led them, foraging the land for food and searching the underbrush for fellow travelers, yet always feeling like true castaways; often finding acquaintances and colleagues, yet fighting off societal constraints that left them never quite fitting in, never quite being able to follow the rules or fit into a mold. We may have just spent too much time on that desert island, creating our own private Idaho, or, as he sometimes says, “We have our own zip code”.
And then internet happened. From the beginning, since The Professor set us up with e-mail addresses and a google search engine (using sand and palm fronds, of course), I have always been somewhat afraid of all the new technology, funny thing coming from a girl whose father helped put men into outer space and eventually onto the moon.
But little by little, I grew into bigger shoes, understanding my computer’s potential for opening up new worlds to me, allowing me to learn about the world or create my own space or talk and debate with other people outside of my own city. I created my food blog and connected with fellow foodies all over the world, I followed a passionate Presidential election alongside fellow political animals and caring Americans (and fellow citizens of the world), I wended my way over to Facebook, hooking up with old school and youth group friends, friends made through Mudflats political blog and forum, through various great food blogs and friends met through friends. And now I have found my place among these new friends. A place where we are accepted for who and what we are, a place where we can intuitively know who a person truly is and quickly feel a compatibility and a connection.
And I am all grown up. My internet friends crowd around me now, whether I wear my Mary Ann braids and apron or my Ginger evening gown and puckered lips. I have even been known to borrow The Professor’s books and glasses and sound all smarty pants. I am who I am and I have found people who accept me for who I am and with them in turn I feel right at home, even if our homes are separated by miles or by oceans. No longer shipwrecked, I have grown into the person I knew I could be and it thrills me to no end that I have friends now who like me and are always happy to see me. And invite me to join their parties and clap when I show up.
This is for you, friends. I created my own version of the mud pie dubbed Mudflats Pies in honor of my first internet friends over on the Mudlflats : a deep dark chocolate base like the mud deposits on the bottom of the coastal wetlands and mudflats found both in Alaska and outside of Nantes, a creamy layer of coffee ice cream, representing both the murky waters of Alaskan politics and all the coffee drunk by nameless bloggers and forum members over at the ‘Flats, and topped off by barely sweetened whipped cream, a fluffy layer like newly fallen snow through which tiptoes chocolate moose and other political animals. (This post and this dessert were born out of a guest post I wrote for I (Heart) The Mudflats.)
And I bet that Mary Ann could kill a moose with her bare hands… or, better yet, she would probably train it to pull a plow.
A little bit dark and bitter, a little bit cool and sweet, a happy place to hang out
CHOCOLATE WAFER COOKIE CRUST
(chocolate wafers by Maida Heatter)
1 ½ cups flour
1 ¼ tsps baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
¾ cup butter
1 ¼ cups sugar
½ tsp vanilla
¾ cup cocoa powder (preferably Dutch processed)
Sift or stir together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.
In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar and beat for 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla.
On the lowest speed, gradually blend in the cocoa powder, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
Gradually beat in the flour mixture until smooth. If you can’t beat in all the dry ingredients with the mixer, fold it in with the rubber spatula until well blended and a dough starts to form.
Press into a smooth dough and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until firm enough to roll.
Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a couple of baking sheets with aluminum foil.
Work only about 1/3 of the dough at a time, keeping the rest of the dough wrapped and chilling in the fridge.
On a lightly floured surface, carefully roll out the dough to about 1/8” thin, keeping the rolling pin brushed with flour (if you dust the top of the dough with flour to keep the rolling pin from sticking, you may end up with blobs of white flour spots).
Cut out 3” circles (Ms. Heatter uses a 3 1/4 “ cutter). Carefully lift and place cookie rounds on the foil-lined baking sheets about ½” apart. Brush with milk.
Bake 8 to 10 minutes, turning the baking sheets during the baking to make sure they bake evenly (I ended up baking them for 8 minutes, turning the sheets back to front, then baking for 1 more minute). Do not let them burn or allow the edges to turn brown.
Remove from the oven and, using a wide metal spatula, carefully lift off the (still soft) cookies onto cooling racks. They will crisp up as they cool.
Continue with the rest of the dough, saving and gathering up all the scraps to rechill, reroll, reuse.
36 to 40 cookies, depending on the diameter of your cookie cutter. These are the most delicious, perfect chocolate cookie ever! And so easy to make!
To make the Chocolate Wafer Crust :
1 ½ cups fine chocolate wafer crumbs, about 10 – 3” cookies
1/3 cup butter
Crush the chocolate wafers either in a food processor or by hand (a rolling pin and a plastic sandwich bag work the charm) until you have 1 ½ cups.
Melted the butter and stir into the chocolate crumbs until all the crumbs are moistened and they clump together.
Prepare the pie :
Line either one large pie plate or several small molds – I used four 3 1/4” x ¾” metal molds and one 4 ½”-wide tartlet pan. To see what would happen, I simply wrapped 2 molds with foil, and 2 I pressed in and lined with plastic wrap as well.
Divide the crust crumbs into the chosen molds and press into the bottom to line, pressing a bit up the sides.
Place in the freezer while you prepare the ice cream (if making your own). If using store- or parlor-bought ice cream, have the ice cream softened and fill your molds about ¾ full, then place in the freezer to firm up.
COFFEE ICE CREAM
A simple, quick recipe from my Donvier Ice Cream booklet that came with the ice cream maker
For 1 pint :
½ cup sugar
¾ cup milk
¾ cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 ½ Tbs instant coffee granules
Have the egg, the milk and the cream chilled before you start.
Dissolve the coffee in the smallest amount of warm water as needed; I used 1 ½ teaspoons.
Beat the egg and the sugar with an electric mixer until thick and pale. Blend in the dissolved coffee. Add the milk, cream and vanilla, mixing well.
Pour into your ice cream maker and follow instructions to produce a wonderful, light coffee ice cream. I used low-fat milk which makes something closer to an ice milk.
Take the molds out of the freezer and divide the coffee ice cream between the molds, filling about ¾ of the way, saving room at the top for the whipped cream.
Make chocolate shapes :
I wanted to decorate my Mudflats Pies with chocolate moose and hearts, so I just melted some good quality dark chocolate, smeared it on parchment paper on the back of a cool baking sheet and cut out the shapes as the cooling chocolate firmed up. Keep the shapes in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Finish the Mudflats Pies :
I used maybe a cup of chilled heavy cream, beating it on high in a chilled glass bowl with chilled beaters. I added about a tablespoon of powdered sugar as I beat the cream.
When the cream is whipped up thick, push the mud pies out of their molds and place on dessert plates. Pile high with whipped cream and decorate with chocolate shapes, chocolate curls or grated chocolate.
Serve and eat immediately. If the Pies have been in the freezer, take them out and allow them to soften for a few minutes before serving.
Can’t you guess? I was a bit worried the crust would freeze up and be hard to eat, but it actually was perfect and I’ll be making this again. Next time, though, as much as I love this ice cream, it melted a bit too quickly for me, so I’ll use either store-bought or I’ll ask Clem to bring home a pint of gelato al caffé o cioccolato from where he works. I may just make one large 8- or 9” pie with it, which will be much easier.