Gâteau d’amour

Suhail AlHammady

My Milania:

It’s quite odd how all places become a replica of one another when you are away! Dreadful is Paris without the tiny wrinkles that so joyfully encircle the edges of your lips every time you laugh. Alone, I drift through the streets of this wretched city knowing it is our third anniversary. Oh! by the way, Happy Anniversary! Yet, how unhappy I am alone among all the great love stories in the making every day on top of the gentle waves of the Rein.

Today was my first-time visiting Chef Bourdain’s grave. It seems he still shouts, “Encore! Encore de le lait!” ‘Inspiration’ is usually the conversation between our two souls. He told me to make “le gâteau au fromage.” The bastard knows you too well!

Once again, glimpses of memories we used to share in the market lead me to that route. French cooks are never proud of using ready-make mixes—a major faux pass here! Yet, it was our own little hush-hush secret. I happened to pass by a little cheese shop. I took the filling, after a glare of disgust from the shopkeeper.

I know how much you love ginger crust on top of the gateau; you used to fill the emptiness of the house with your ‘ginger man’ song. I can’t say that your voice is great, but damn how much I loved those fluctuations you so call “melody.”

Time to make our “love cheesecake”.

You used to tell me, “Love is the most important ingredient.” But, I would say “YOU are what is really important.”

You never liked the blender, so I stick to the traditions. The ginger must be manually turned into crumbs—lumpy but delicious! A shadow of your ghost appears, tempting me to snuggle you like we did in the past. You first hated me sneaking-up behind you in the kitchen to hug you, at least until you did it to me one October night. The ginger crumbs must bathe in a tub of butter, sugar and salt. Your technique of mixing was unorthodox! How the hell were you able to use the spatula in that motion?! I tried once to mix like you do; the kitchen was catastrophe. I spring the crust on a pan, trying to cover the vast spaces between us. I bake the crust for 10 minutes in an oven preheated to the temperature of the longing my heart feels. Meanwhile, I prepare the cream. “You never want it to be too soft” was always your gentle remark for poor, ignorant me. I smoothly unpack the packs and whisk, tenderly.

I forgot about the crust! Phew, that was a close one!

Our tradition was to spread the cream hand-over-hand on the crust. I try to go through it, but it is not the same without you. The crust reminds me of myself a bit; slightly burnt and bruised.

Mon ami, should I use the old cliché, “I’m nothing without you”, to summon the very presence that once occupied every inch of my life?

Le gateau must be baked now. It was a secret technique your mom invented to sell the whole “cake thing” to your father before they got married; maybe it’s why you adore le gateau au fromage so much! We put the gateau on top of a foil to prevent it from being over-cooked, and then we bake it on a pan of warm water for about 50 minutes.

Time becomes infinite in the absence of a loved one. I, helplessly, delve into the playlist we made together to pass the time. It seems that, recently, we both got caught in the trap of country songs. I guess we find ourselves in their stories. “Help me hold on” might do the trick.

Seconds pass, yet the distance is never closed.

I pick some cherries to garnish the cake. Enfin, here it comes! “The final weapon for of the roof cheesecake is rest,” comes to my mind as I let it cool for a while. Cherries on top to ‘seal the deal’ and… Fin.

Well, did you think I’d let you enjoy the part where all my taste buds bask in this glory? Come for yourself and see. I’m waiting for you.




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