There are days when nothing goes right. Even though your favourite actress at the moment has won the Oscar for her part in The Favourite, a film that made you smile and laugh and sit in awe at the cinema, but still, that damn coffee machine keeps annoying you in the morning by spilling first water then coffee—never buy a Krups!— and the bus is late again and there’s another grey hair mocking your vanity and, well, you know what I’m getting at, don’t you? One of these days where really nothing bad happens and still you feel like life itself was a bit overrated—until you have dessert, that is. The moment you have some yummy and ever so spongy cake to be washed down with a Sauternes, bottled at a time when grey hairs were not yet an issue, then your day starts to be real’ fine. I mean, really!
When you’re somewhat blue, for any reason at all, or when the world seems to fall apart, or when there’s nothing really new on Netflix and you’re still angry with the producers of The Crown because that thing that happened in season 2, you know, in that episode where they had Jackie Kennedy comment disparagingly on the royal household in general and Her Majesty in particular, and then they had poor Elizabeth, as some sort of after-effect, take off all vexed to Ghana to dance away not only her marital problems but also her government’s post-colonial misconduct just to prove Jackie wrong, you do remember that, don’t you? Anyway, that thing was all made up! God bless The Guardian for their investigative journalism, it’s been a real life-saver as I had almost told anybody I know I had always known what a bitch Jackie was, and then it turned out she wasn’t a bitch at all, just the perfectly dressed, stunning little trooper she always was. In such moments of humiliation nothing presents a better cure than homemade crêpes, just spread some English orange marmalade (in honour of the Queen) and some Cointreau (in honour of Jackie’s French extraction) on it, no need to flambé the stuff, and there you go again. God save us all!
Fruit salad for dessert is a really joyous occasion. It’s so healthy! Full of all sorts of fruits from all over the world: pears, bananas, kiwis, apples, oranges, and, well, take whatever fruit you like. And then there are some very energetic rum raisins in it… They, along with the fresh-pressed-orange-and-lemon-juice-and-williams-pear-schnapps-dressing, take away the fear you might lead the miserable life of a health-absorbed puritan. Bon appétit and cheers!
Sometimes, when I’m awfully low, when the world is cold, I feel a glow just thinking of Sprüngli’s Himbeertorte and the way it once looked on my balcony’s marble table in Zurich. The raspberries were red and firm and tasted like real raspberries, grown on a real field, not like these wannabe raspberries from God-knows-where, that just look good, but taste like, well, nothing, like chewable air if you do need a reference. The rest of it was sweet and soft, a creamy delight with a hint of almonds, and just to be fair, I’m giving you a similar reference: to me, it tasted like a chewable 1998 Château Yquem.
The recipe sounded like it presented a shortcut to paradise: apricots, honey, rosemary, lemon peel and amaretti, all blended together, quirled and layered, little bits of heaven transformed into a cake. I followed each step as described, religiously. I picked the rosemary in the garden myself, chopped it with the utmost care and precision, quite lovingly one might even say, pelt the lemon, stuffed the apricots with the amaretti, quirled the eggs and the milk, spread the honey, I did not change a single step, and if there were any justice in this world, I would have created the perfect cake for anybody into apricots. If! Instead I got a perfect mess. The morale of the story? Perfection comes in a variety of appearances.
Cake. Who could ever live without it? I don’t like to compliment myself but I am said to be a brilliant baker, just to semi-quote one of Jane Austen’s characters from Emma. However, I sometimes have neither the time nor the longing to stir and quirl some dough, peel organic lemons for flavour, go buy organic lemons in the first place, slit vanilla pods open to get some pulp, have the scent of vanilla on my hands all day and make people wonder why I sniff my fingers all the time, and then wait for the cake to finally come out of the oven, and then wait some more to let it cool off so that I can put the icing on it. That’s why I love store-bought cakes. And believe you me, the cheapest ones are the best ones. Anything with lemon, these aren’t expected to be organic of course, but you can’t have it all, or marzipan in it are my very favourites. And they are spongier than my own homemade cakes. I don’t know why though, as I said, I’m said to be a brilliant baker myself.
Some time ago, in 2015 to be precise, when photos on Instagram were all square, I mistook myself for a food stylist and arranged everything I ate and drank in a fancy manner—a manner Marella Agnelli played a big part in, or the book on her I had just bought the same year at a Zurich book shop. I arranged müesli, tea or some cake from Sprüngli’s on some fine china, placed it on dear Marella, took enough shots to choose a best one from, and posted it on Instagram—not very successfully though, the New York Times food section never called, 23 likes just don’t turn you into an influencer, I guess. Anyway, I would have forgotten all about it, if these very pictures hadn’t attracted somebody’s attention again just now, today, after all these years, after all these billions and billions of photos we see on Instagram—it must be a sign. And so I give you the 2015 Marella Agnelli Food Shoot.
When I was 43, it was a very good year, I can’t actually remember what I was doing that year, but the vineyards of Château Haut-Batailley seem to have been enjoying some very fine weather, just the right amount of rain and sunshine, right enough to make me forget all about my favourite St.Émilions and to switch to Pauillac, to this property precisely. The fact that I like the label’s design helps as much, I guess, as the fact that I am easily influenced by anything that says Grand Cru Classé en 1855, it really gives the impression these people know what they are doing and it sounds so, well, classy. If I were to describe it, the wine, I mean, its taste, or better yet, its structure, they always talk about a wine’s good structure, don’t they, I wouldn’t be of much help, I just remember an earthy impression, a hint of black currants, too, but I might confuse it with the dessert, chocolate ice cream with cassis, I had a lot, especially of that gorgeous cassis liqueur my parents brought from France, it brings out the flavour of the cocoa so well, so I might be afflicted a little, but I do remember it as ever so pleasant, just like my company, we really had so much fun, okay, I might be compromised by this, too, I really am no authority on wine and most definitely not on this particular Pauillac, but as I said, the label looks smart and it says Grand Cru Classé en 1855, anyway, you just enjoy, cheers, santé and stuff…
One day, it must have been spring, I decided to lose some weight. You have to be slim for slim cut shirts. So, I had to find a way to eat less, at least for dessert, I had tried to have no dessert at all, but this didn’t work out well, it just made me cranky, and so, in order to keep some of my friends, I tried to eat just half of my crème brûlée or my panna cotta or whatever I was having for dessert, but this didn’t work out either. You cannot stop in the middle of something, can you? What idiotic concept is this? I then tried tiny portions. For instance, these ridiculously small things from Sprüngli. They made me burst out into tears. They seemed to mock me. So I gave up desserts altogether. Cold turkey. Now, I’m unbearably cranky, but quite slim.
Christmas is nothing but a neverending dinner party, you never seem to leave the table, you’re stuck with opulent entrées followed by opulent game followed by opulent desserts, you have your glasses filled and filled again, you’re in a time vacuum in which you might have changed your clothes or even your fragrance, but you aren’t quite sure, have you? Different guests appear on the stage, others seem to have left, but when? You never know, the candles on the Christmas tree burn perpetually.
This year, however, this sempiternity was forever interrupted by Alma, the dachshund. Alma made me forget about eating and asking the person next to me for more wine, instead she had me crawl under the table where I metabolized most of the dinners by cuddling her ears, asking myself why I don’t have a dachshund, a question much more important than what the meaning of life is, as this one has obviously been answered, it’s to have a dachshund called Alma. While I tried to give her lop-ears the shape of Elsa Schiaparelli’s high-heeled shoe hat, still under the table while another dessert was being served, my mother’s famous Charlotte Russe, I promised Alma two dachshund boys for company, Gustav and Franz, some kind of ménage à trois of convenience, as I was sure she was a reincarnation of Alma Mahler-Werfel, and she surely had some unfinished business with these guys. I grabbed my iPhone and we listened to Mahler’s fifth symphony, and later to his Kindertotenlieder, ignoring the comments from upstairs, all these people wondering if I had lost my mind completely. Dachshunds are very loyal.