While the conversation in the kitchen was taking an abrupt change in direction, the search upstairs continued - Odete was in her bedroom digging through her mother’s shoe box of recipes.
Odete’s bedroom was the only room in the house that had not been dramatically changed since her husband had left almost two decades ago. The room was of good proportion, big enough to contain a queen-sized brass bed, two teak wardrobes, and the night tables that Odete had made herself and painted a glossy royal blue – to match the pictures on the walls: a series of watercolours featuring the classic “m” shape of distant seagulls, flying off into a multi-hued, swirling stormy sky. Hope had completed the pictures in high school during her “Turner” classes. Odete didn’t know much about Turner or his paintings but Hope’s versions had garnered her an “A” and that had been really all that had mattered.
It had been in this room, stretched out on this bed that Odete had first read the letter that her husband had left for her with the babysitter the evening he had walked out. It had been here that she had first felt the strange mixture of joy and regret from his absence.
Jose had not been a bad man, in fact he had always been very kind and had continued to be so even after he had discovered the truth and left. Miraculously, every month, the mortgage payment for the house had found its way to Odete’s bank account. That, with the secretarial job she had found, ensured that she and the girls had lived comfortably.
After ten years of marriage, she’d finally gained her freedom – as had he – although she had no idea what he’d done with his. They hadn’t seen or spoken to each other since the morning of the day he left.
But all of this was a long time ago, and she tried not to think of it often. In many ways, it helped to drive her current focus, and at that moment, it was on the shoe box on her lap and the recipe now in her hand. As she scanned down the short list of ingredients in the Pudim Flan, she knew that she had forgotten nothing, but then it suddenly struck her – everything had been included in the flan, but what about the top of it? Odete dumped the contents of the box onto her bed and as she separated and glanced over the pages with their yellow curling corners, she saw it – the directions for the whisky glaze. Of course, she had forgotten to glaze the custard. Her mother’s absence had been a message – never forget the whisky.
A smile crept over Odete’s lips. Mama always knew what was important in life. She hadn’t come to visit today, but it’d be okay. There was still a next time. Another chance to get it right. Another chance to feel her spirit and her unconditional love. At that moment, it was impossible for Odete to even think that fate might be capable of surprises.
Pudim Flan (Crème Caramel), with the necessary Whisky Glaze
For the flan:
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla pod
¼ litre milk
For the glaze:
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
2 tbsps whisky
- Preheat oven to 180°C.
- Whisk one tbsp of the sugar with the eggs until a frothy consistency is reached.
- On very low heat, warm the milk slightly and stir the sugar/egg combination into it.
- Cut the vanilla pod open and scrape the inside into the milk.
- In a separate pan, over very low heat, melt the remaining sugar, stirring almost continuously until brown.
- Pour the melted sugar (caramel) into four small ramekins or pastry moulds and pour the milk mixture on top.
- Place the ramekins in a roasting pan, adding enough water to come half way up the sides of the ramekins.
- Bake just until set, 30-45 minutes. Be careful not to allow the water to boil and splash into the moulds.
- To test, stick a skewer into the custard, if it comes out clean, it’s done.
- Remove the moulds and let them stand to cool.
- Before turning them out, dip them briefly in hot water.
- Serve with a whisky glaze.
- For the Whisky Glaze, mix the icing sugar with the whisky and enough water to make a glaze that is pourable. Beat until smooth. Drizzle over the Pudim Flan just before serving.