The Larousse Gastronomique defines a croquembouche as a ‘decorative cone-shaped preparation built up of small items of patisserie and glazed with a caramel syrup to make it crisp…the traditional croquembouche is made of little chou buns, sometimes filled with some kind of cream and dipped in sugar and cooked to the crack stage…It is usually served at buffets, weddings and first-communion meals.’
Or, at James’ 40th birthday party. We’ve been playing a bit of hand tennis lately, usually at the end of a workout with the mighty Kris or Devon at Push fitness. When we realized that our dining room could easily be transformed into a hand tennis court, why not host a party? And so it spiralled from there. Guests wore tennis gear, Justin the bartender kept us hydrated, our friends at Highland Drive provided the charcuterie et fromage, Matt and David brought the KFC to keep it greasy, and best of all, THE SUGAR QUEEN made us the ultimate ‘ball’ cake, a stunning and delicious croquembouche.
All of this 40th excitement got me thinking about what it means to become and adult. I remember when my father turned 40 – he had four daughters and a thick mustache. He was of a different world, thought my ten year old self. Then the other day I was invited to my friend Andrea’s forty-fourth birthday dinner. No presents allowed – just our presence. I later asked Andrea what being grown-up meant to her:
someone once told me that you never truly grow up unless you have kids. so i waited for that grown up feeling but didn’t end up having kids… so then i thought, you must become a grown up when your parents die. but, really, you can live a lot of life with your parents still around. and then i had an epiphany- it struck me that you grow up, when you stop blaming your parents for fucking you up- when you finally see them as the amazing, complicated, flawed humans who they are who did the best they could. but even when i did that, i still didn’t feel like a grown up. this past year, approaching my 44th birthday, i’ve been struck, many times, by how grateful i am to have been born, experiencing my time here surrounded by a wonderful community. when i finally turned 44, i wanted to celebrate this sense of gratefulness by giving something away so i made dinner for a few dear friends and this is when i thought i figured it out: you’ve finally become a grown up when you bake your own birthday cake (mine was a key lime pie). but now that i’m 44 years + 1 day old, i can see i missed the point all along. you never really grow up. you never really arrive anywhere. you just keep growing.
Amen sister. And that pie was amazing – full of flavour and love and wisdom and softness. Naturally all that goodness made me think of the croquembouche – a sophisticated tower of golden deliciousness – and James’ party. When clock struck midnight something interesting happened: as we sang happy birthday and I carried the croquembouche over to my crazy, golden-clad, hand-tennis playing husband, he took the croquembouche in his hands and raised it over his head as if it were a trophy. He kissed it, he posed with it, then the croquembouche brought him to his knees. Eventually I pried it from James and passed it around. Our friends tore off the cream-filled ‘chou buns dipped in caramel syrup’ saying, ‘this is the most delicious timbit. Ever.’
Perhaps growing older is also about knowing how to have fun. How to embrace a moment. How to turn a classic French patisserie into a trophy.