Summer. It’s warm, light, full of breath and life, and perfect for a brief, shining moment. Turn your back, and it’s gone.
I spent the summer in Maine with my family, and we drove back to North Carolina over the Labor Day weekend. Nearly 900 miles. As we tooled down I-95, leaving behind the falling acorns and blushing maples of Maine, and eased our way back into the lush magnolias and twining kudzu of North Carolina, I couldn’t shake a bittersweet feeling. My 2-year-old blithely says, “Bye Bye, Maine!” as we cross over the Piscataqua bridge. My 4-year-old wants to count how many states we have left until we get there. Meanwhile, I wrestle off a tinge of melancholy. Another summer. Gone? As my children nap in the back seat (at the same time, miracle of miracles), I conjure up my favorite summer 2009 “souffle” moment: beautiful, fleeting, effervescent.
At the cottage in Maine I’ve been coming to for over forty years, my two children are running across the sand, clambering on the rocks, hunting for crabs and snails and sea urchins, digging, dumping, splashing, and moving, constantly moving. Every now and then my daughter stops to yell, “Mom! Look!” And I lift my head from my book and peer out at whatever she has in her hand. It’s like time has stopped. Because I spent every year of my young life playing on those same rocks, picking up the ancestors of those same crabs, and shouting across the sandy beach to my mom who always peered over her reading to say something encouraging about whatever I treasured in my palm. “Oh my, look at that one!”
Eventually I put down my book and wander over to watch up close the things that so fascinated her. Just rocks, shells, a few small sea creatures scuttling along the sand. We tucked a few things into the tiny pockets of her “zookeeper’s vest” which will be too snug for her to wear next year. I was reminded of how long and slow and seemingly endless summer days can be to a child and it was a gift to my 41-year-old self to remember that feeling for an afternoon.
As for the chocolate souffle, it was equal parts bitter and sweet. It had a brief moment of glory — straight from the oven, it was something to see. But by the time I hauled out the camera and snapped a few shots, it had lost at least an inch of height, deflated into a diminished thing.
The chocolate flavor was nice, but it could have used a shot of espresso or caramel to intensify and concentrate the flavor. As for the texture, if I had adequately incorporated the egg whites, it would have been lovely. Because I was too concerned about overmixing the batter, I wound up undermixing the batter, which left unappealing puffs of egg white in the finished souffle. Ugh. All in all, not my best effort. But an apt symbol of summer’s end.