Friday, November 18, 2011

The Washington Interlude

Although the Hurricane of '47 has been eclipsed by Camille and Katrina in its destructive fury, it was a storm of some significance to Point Cadet.

My mother's family lost their home on East Howard Avenue -- and everything in it -- to the unnamed storm. Grandpa lost both of his boats, too, which left the family homeless and destitute.

Enter Plan B.

Nona had relatives in Bellingham, Wash., so she, Grandpa and Uncle Michael, who was then about five, temporarily moved up there for 10 months so that Grandpa could make some quick money fishing on the West Coast tuna boats. The rest of the kids moved in with Aunt Marie, who was, by then, married and living on Oak Street.

Living on the West Coast took some adjustment. Everything -- the terrain, the customs, the food, the accents -- was different from what they knew in South Mississippi. Uncle Michael adapted quickly, as kids do, and in no time at all was talking like he'd been born and raised in Washington State. He also delighted in Bellingham's hilly terrain and regularly reported home on the number of steps it took to get to the mailbox, the store, the bus stop and anywhere else he went.

He and Nona learned that unlike Point Cadet, where it was perfectly respectable to refer to elders by their first names prefaced by "Miss" or "Mr.," in Washington, everyone was addressed formally no matter how well you knew them. Nona never could get used to being referred to as Mrs. Soljan by her auntie's friends.

In Bellingham, ladies played bridge at parties where the hostesses all served a new dessert that was all the rage: Floating Island. Eventually, Grandpa amassed enough of a nest egg to come home and rebuild the house and finally bring the family back together under one roof.

They were glad to be home.

Floating Island

The French dessert Ile Flottante or Floating Island - airy meringue islands swimming in sea of creamy vanilla custard -- was the "it" dessert for fashionable hostesses in Bellingham, Wash. circa 1947. My nona brought the recipe back to Point Cadet although it never really caught on despite the area's sizable French population.

3 eggs
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups whole milk

Separate two of the eggs. In top of double boiler, combine 1 whole egg and 2 yolks with sugar, salt and vanilla, beating until smooth. Stir in milk and cook over simmering water, stirring constantly. When custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, remove from heat. (Do not boil. If custard should start to curdle, remove from heat and beat vigorously until smooth.) Cool completely.

In a medium bowl, beat egg whites with electric mixer until stiff. Gradually beat in 4 tablespoons sugar. Pour cooled custard into serving dish. Drop meringue by heaping tablespoons onto custard to make islands. Chill before serving.