Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cookie Day Coming Soon!

Gearing up for cookie day is perhaps the greatest distraction any office could know. Practically EVERYONE likes cookies. Every year for the past five years we have gathered at Isabel's house to bake cookies for friends and family. The week prior is spent "working" but we cannot go for long without discussing the ingredients we still need to buy and checking on the varieties the others are planning to bake.

Isabel's house is perfect for this event since she has two ovens and a HUGE dining room table that ends up covered in platters of freshly baked cookies. I wish I could say I give the end result, which is dozens of boxes of beautifully packaged cookies, to orphans and the elderly. The fact is, I do no such thing, I usually lock myself in a closet and eat them all! No, not really. Isabel actually did that once and we had to call paramedics, too much sugar it turns out can actually kill you if left untreated. Here we are last year at Isabel's in the throes of baking. Next week I will post the final tally and some photos from this years endeavors. Here is a little suggestion, sign up for the cookie of the day newsletter from Martha Stewart, it is a good thing! click here!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Isabel prepares the flan.
On the whole, Isabel Allende is just like any other loving mother, totally normal, if you count making flan for your kid EVERY day normal? I asked for her recipe and filmed this little movie of her preparing the flan:

Here’s my recipe for Chilean flan, my son’s favorite dessert and probably the only reason he still speaks to me.  I make it in a flan mold with a lid, in a pressure cooker, but considering that nowadays few people know what a pressure cooker is I will offer an alternative.

Nicolas’ Flan
6 eggs
1 can of sweet condensed milk
4 cups of half and half
1 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
a slice of lemon

Melt the sugar in a small saucepan at medium temperature until it turns into a honey-colored caramel. Cover the interior of the mold with the caramel.
In another saucepan stir 3 cups of half and half with condensed milk and vanilla.  Warm it.  Test it with a finger; it should feel lukewarm.
Mix eggs and the rest of half & half in a blender, briefly.  Should not get too foamy.  Stir into the milk mixture and pour immediately into the caramelized mold.  Cover with lid.  
Place mold in the pressure cooker with 2” of water and put the slice of lemon in the water to avoid darkening of the steel cooker.
Cook on the stove at high temperature until it steams, then lower the heat to medium and cook for half an hour.  
Wait until it cools completely.  Refrigerate. Turn it over to unmold.

Alternative for those unlucky ones without a pressure cooker 
and a mold that fits into it:
Place the mold in a pan with 2” of water and cook in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. 
(Good luck!)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Isabel Is Short

Remember I said that Isabel is short? Well, she really, really is. I am 5'10" on a good day and here I am standing next to her. She is standing on her books. I was supposed to crop that part out but I am going to pretend I didn't understand the Spanish. That ALWAYS works. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What Isabel Reads

I once went to see Isabel talk, back when she was promoting Aphrodite. She was at one of the local bookstores in Berkeley. I didn't know her well at the time. Her daughter-in-law is a friend, and I hadn't yet gotten over the fact that she was famous. She would walk into a room and I would go into a stupor. That night, though, I managed to ask her what she reads when she isn't busy writing. She totally blew me off. Her answer was vague and calculated, as if she got the question often. I don't think she wanted to say. Perhaps her publisher forbade it; I was never sure. Luckily I am pretty sneaky and occasionally manage to peruse the stack of books on her nightstand.

Among the pile of books she always has on her nightstand I saw Great House, by Nicole Krauss (The History of Love, Man Walks in the Room) and Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith, an author she says she often reads to reconcile her feelings about humankind.  Fortunately for her, she will never run out of books by this guy: he has written 57 novels and he produces an average of 5 books per year. She told me she met him at Book Passage in Corte Madera, which is located near here in Northern California.  It's Isabel's favorite bookstore in the whole world because they have made a shrine of her books.
When I last saw Isabel, she was curled up in her living room, completely absorbed in Man in the Woods, Scott Spencer's most recent novel.  Spencer is an author she says she follows faithfully (A Ship Made of Paper, Willing, etc.).  The protagonist of Man in the Woods is a self-made man—a quiet, moral, and solid human being.  One day he sees a man in the woods brutally beating a dog. He intervenes and his life changes forever. Suspense, fate, death, redemption, crime and regret—it has all the elements of a memorable story.

From what I can see, Isabel can't live without a story.  Preferably a good story.  She always carries an audio book in the car so she doesn't have to focus on the traffic.  She has crashed her car 36 times, surviving with minimal scars and only a couple of missing teeth.  One wonders how she still has a license.  Right now she is listening to To Kill a Mockingbird, beautifully read by Sissy Spacek in a Southern accent.  This Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, the only book that Harper Lee ever wrote, is one of Isabel's favorites.  I am told she reads it, watches the movie (starring Gregory Peck), or listens to the audio at least once every decade.

I will try to sneak a peak at the books on the nightstand from time to time and post what I see. Just so you know: She won’t endorse your book here. I’ll simply report what I spy her reading or listening to.