Saying Goodbye

Do you know how there are some people who seem always to have been part of your life? You recall approximately when you met them, but somehow cannot remember when they were not part of your life.

My friend Bunny was like that. Although I know the exact day I met her, I can’t fathom that she wasn’t with me all my life before that.

Bunny died on December 7 and, while I know she is physically gone from this mundane world, I know she will be with me until I pass, and perhaps then some. Friendships don’t die; they are forever, with no end... and perhaps no beginning.

Over the long course of our friendship, we shared mutual loves of music, art, theater, books, travel, family - and, of course, food.

It was music that first brought us together. Her husband, Fritz, was on the board of the Albany Symphony Orchestra, for which I was principal bassist. Their box seat for the Friday night series was right above and behind me. She asked me to house-and-dog sit at their beautiful home overlooking the Hudson River. I was honored, and said yes. That is how our friendship started.

Her home was a light, airy, and welcoming space. It was filled with art - works by her sister Edna Sara, her friend Madeline, and numerous other artists. We often drove off to Williamstown, Massachusetts, to visit the Clark Art Institute, or the Williams College Art Museum, where we marveled at their respective collections. Bunny was very supportive of my work and gave me many little sketchbooks made by her sister..

For many years we subscribed together to the local theater company. It was through this part of our time together that my world opened up to plays and playwrights I might never have known: Lanford Wilson’s poignant Fifth of July, David Stevens’ dramedy The Sum of Us, or Christopher Durang’s hilarious Laughing Wild Amidst Severest Woe.

When I look at my home library, I can’t find a shelf that doesn’t include a book Bunny shared with me... The Language of Flowers, Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth, Toni Morrison’s Beloved (we went to hear her speak), and any number of children’s books, as we both loved a good story and a wonderful illustrator. My favorite of these is Silver Pennies, a collection of poems for children by Blanche Jennings Thompson.

Bunny and Fritz had traveled extensively around the world. They were the epitome of Mark Twain’s famous words, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness...” They were open to all the peoples of the world. Bunny even had a special gallery in her house she dubbed, “All the World Washes,” with photographs she had taken of laundry from around the world. I delighted in having taken a few she found worthy of display.

I grew up with three brothers. As soon as my friendship with Bunny started, I found myself with the three sisters I had never had: her eldest, Jenny, a healer; her middle daughter, Sara, who is my age and a professional storyteller; and her youngest, Liz, a teacher and writer. We all have so much in common - I love my honorary sisters, and my heart is with them in their sadness.

Then there is food. While my mother is fully responsible for my love of food, Bunny opened my palate to things I would never have had growing up. She introduced me to arugula, shad roe, and Virginia peanuts... to tabbouleh, gazpacho, and spoonbread. And it was around her table that I attended my first of many seders. She was a marvelous cook, and her favorite recipe was “Inspiration du Jour,” which simply meant she cleaned out the fridge.

Naturally, we shared recipes... I have many in her distinctive handwriting, and even a small cookbook of family recipes. Today, in Bunny’s memory, I am sharing her White Chocolate Mousse with Strawberry Sauce. It’s perfect for spring. It was one of her favorite seasons, and I know many of you are yearning for it now. I hope you enjoy it.

~ David

White Chocolate Mousse with Strawberry Sauce
Elsa Gerst “Bunny” deBeer

12 ounces white chocolate, broken into pieces
4 eggs, separated
1 envelope gelatin (1 1/2 teaspoons)
3 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 pints strawberries
sugar to taste
Grand Mariner or Chambord to taste (optional)

Place 1 1/2 cups of the cream in a saucepan; sprinkle with the gelatin and let stand 10 minutes.

Place the saucepan on medium heat and add the chocolate. Cook, stirring with a whisk, until the chocolate is melted.

Add egg yolks and beat well. Remove from the heat and refrigerate for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Beat remaining 1 1/2 cups cream with vanilla until stiff peaks form. Fold into the cooled custard.

Using clean beaters, beat egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, while beating, until stiff peaks form. Fold the whites into the custard and stir until fully incorporated. (You may use a whisk for this step.)

Place mousse in a large, decorative dish and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or overnight. 

For the strawberry sauce, place the washed berries, sugar, and liqueur (if using) in a blender or food processor; blend until smooth. Pour into a bowl and chill until serving time.

Before serving decorate the mousse with fresh strawberries, mint leaves, violas, or Johnny Jump-ups, if in season.

To plate, spoon several tablespoons strawberry sauce onto the plates, and top with a dollop of mousse.

Serves 16. (Can be halved for a smaller crowd.)

Note: this can also be served in individual goblets or small dishes.

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