The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Dining with Divas

We had another meeting of the Dinner Divas. It’s been a few long months since our last one because a) one of our members realized she hated cooking and quit and b) another one had a baby. But now we are back in business and cooking like we mean it.

We take turns meeting at our houses for each meeting. This month's meeting took place way up the 15 in one of those eucalyptus-filled suburbs that are oh-so desirable and self-contained.

I am unabashedly geo-centric. I love California. I don't want to live anywhere else in the United States (outside the U.S. is another matter). Specifically, I love San Diego. I find other cities in California to be both beautiful and amazing, but I always want to come back to San Diego.

My geo-centricities become very apparent when I leave California. I know that other places in the U.S. have value. There are rich and amazing things to be discovered everywhere. But somehow what I know never matches up with how I feel or how I respond. When I moved to Florida a few years ago, I kept being amazed that this whole other state--this whole other coast--had the same things I was familiar with in California. One embarrassing moment that lasted about three months was my constant referring to the Gulf of Mexico as the Persian Gulf. Another time (and more recently, I am embarrassed to admit), I told a friend I was visiting in New York how it was "back home in America." Again, I knew the right names for things, but they just didn't feel right. I felt out of place. Out of my state both geographical and being.

In San Diego, my geo-centricities have taken a finer focus. I have issues going too far north and east out of the city of San Diego proper. My
boundaries for living here are quite specific: I don't like to go north of the 8, east of the 805, south of the 94, and (of course) west of the ocean (note that Coronado is "west" of the ocean boundary, so I don't like to go there). I joke that I can't breathe beyond these boundaries, but in reality, it's only a half-joke. I love San Diego. I love the neighborhoods that make up this beautiful (albeit screwy city). And the area within I choose to conduct most of my living consists of the best and most diverse neighborhoods--the ones most true to the socio-economic and cultural diversity that makes up any large city. The places outside of my chosen boundaries do have some merit and cultural diversity, but many of these neighborhoods are just rows of cookie-cutter houses, strip malls, large chain grocery stores, Starbucks--in short, southern California suburbia at its worst and most homogeneous.

Of course, I do leave these boundaries when I have to; in fact, I go far far east of the 805 everyday to work in my lab. However, I've found loopholes/exceptions to my boundaries that work for daily functioning. Here are my rules:
1. I can leave my San Diego with impunity if I use public transportation (or if I am carpooling with someone else). This rule is how I make it out to SDSU Monday through Friday to work in my lab.
2. I can leave my San Diego if a neighborhood starts within my boundaries but ends outside of them. But I have to be walking.
3. I can leave my San Diego if I am going a) north of Del Mar, b) south of the border, or c) east of the Colorado River.
4. When I am going north, the 5 becomes my eastern border until I get to Sacramento. Then the Rockies become my eastern border. But once I get into Washington State, the 5 becomes my eastern border again.

I'm sure there are more rules. Quite frankly, I make them up as I go.

I've found that when I leave my San Diego outside of these rules, alcohol makes the air just a little bit easier to breathe. So for this Divas event, I made a booze dessert that ostensibly goes by the name of Strawberry Tiramasu. This desert also had the merits of using up all of the CSA strawberries I've been accruing.

1 1/4 cups strawberry preserves
1/3 cup plus 4 tablespoons Cointreau or other orange liqueur
1/3 cup orange juice
1 pound mascarpone* cheese, room temperature
1 1/3 cups chilled whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar1 teaspoon vanilla extract
52 (about) crisp ladyfingers (boudoirs or Savoiardi)
1 1/2 pounds strawberries, divided

Whisk preserves, 1/3 cup Cointreau, and orange juice in 2-cup measuring cup.

Place mascarpone cheese and 2 tablespoons Cointreau in large bowl; fold just to blend.

Using electric mixer, beat cream, sugar, vanilla, and remaining 2 tablespoons Cointreau in another large bowl to soft peaks. Stir 1/4 of whipped cream mixture into mascarpone mixture to lighten. Fold in remaining whipped cream.

Hull and slice half of strawberries.

Spread 1/2 cup preserve mixture over bottom of 3-quart oblong serving dish or a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Arrange enough ladyfingers over strawberry mixture to cover bottom of dish. Spoon 3/4 cup preserve mixture over ladyfingers, then spread 2 1/2 cups mascarpone mixture over. Arrange 2 cups sliced strawberries over mascarpone mixture. Repeat layering with remaining lady fingers, preserve mixture, and mascarpone mixture. Cover with plastic and chill at least 8 hours or overnight.Slice remaining strawberries. Arrange over tiramasù and serve.

*Italian cream cheese available at supermarkets and at Italian markets.
Bon Appétit, April 2006

I added a lot more alcohol than called for (about double) and did more preserves than the recipe said. The desert was a hit. And the alcohol induced sense of well-being allowed me to appreciate the lovely home and neighborhood of a fellow Diva.

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