Morning without you is a dwindled dawn. – Emily Dickinson
Up at 5:30, downstairs by 6:30, that is my everyday. Fueled by coffee. Or it should be.
Downstairs at 6:30, first clients begin filtering into the breakfast room at 7:15, sometimes earlier, and we jump into action as if someone has flicked on a switch. Sometimes the hotel is quiet, no one needs an early start, and the hallways remain eerily silent until 8:00, 8:15, 8:30. We jump at every sound, the hollow thud-thud-thud of footsteps on the stairs, over our heads from where we stand in the kitchen, but then slide back into our languid posture when we realize it was just Jean-Pierre up and down, and the wait continues, our hushed voices weaving in and out of the passing time.
Some breakfasts glide along smoothly, merrily, guests arriving two-by-two like Noah’s passengers. Some breakfasts hurdle forward riotously, guests arriving all at once, the patient and the impatient, a mad rush. We seat them, serve them, sprint back and forth, weaving in and out among the chairs and tables, skirting clients as they head for the buffet. Hoping nothing, no one has been forgotten. Just a little frustrated that it hasn’t been smoother.
And I crave coffee. When there is a lull, she pours coffee for the both of us, hers black, mine white, a single brown sugar cube plopped into the steaming liquid. Stir. But we both know what this does, what this simple act of pouring two mugs of coffee precipitates. It’s become a joke. As soon as the coffee is poured, the guests come for breakfast. When we get tired of waiting, when no one is showing up for breakfast, I always say “pour us coffee and they’ll come.” And they do.
And the coffee gets cold.
At about 9ish or so, I become grumpy, angry, annoyed and I realize it is because that cup of coffee is still sitting on the counter, untouched, deadly cold. I desperately need to feed that manque, that need, that craving. And while I am at it, add a chunk of baguette smeared with butter and jam.
Coffee to calm the beast.
Summer arrived suddenly, from one day to the next, hot on the heels of cold and torrential rain. The sun is now blazing, the air warm and pressing, the flooding, the rising of the Vienne River all but forgotten, and clients now breakfast on the terrace, clients now gather together in twos or clump together in posses on the terrace in the afternoons, sipping tea or slugging back beers and chilled rosé. We’ve swept up the fallen rose petals, faded yellows, gentle pinks, vibrant magentas and purples scattered across the stones. The kiwi tree is in bloom and the herbs we bought this weekend, the lemon thyme and the orange mint and the sage are tucked into the earth.
And JP plays Konrad Lorenz with a nest of plump blackbirds, puffs of down still halo their innocent little heads as they scream and squawk, famished and abandoned. We noticed that the mother had been gone for days, the father feeding them until late yesterday afternoon. We could stand on tippy toe and peer through the vines against the limestone, following the wild cheeping, and see the little beaks, deep yellow, positioned upwards, mouths open wild, dad meting out some insect or other. Today we painfully listened to them squawking hungrily, alone and apparently abandoned even by papa blackbird. Sometime after lunch, the girls run to me waving their arms “the baby birds have fallen out of the nest! One is wobbling into reception!” Adorable, sad little things. JP arrives, scoops them up one by one and places them gently into a cage, until now simply adornment, standing jauntily among the garden plants. And digs up snails to feed them, tweezers pushing bits of gastropod into those open yellow beaks. At about five in the afternoon, the remaining chick finally took the leap and landed in front of room #18, weak and disheveled. Soon to join the others. Another search for snails, another meal, and we’ll see who survives. Chatter and laughter, oblivious to the plight of the feathery young ‘uns, rises from the sundrenched terrace and wafts lazily into the apartment where I type.
And I reinforce myself with coffee.
- 1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
- 1 tablespoon (8 grams) unflavored powdered gelatin
- 3 cups (750 ml) whipping cream (whole fat heavy cream)
- ⅓ cup (80 ml) honey
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder or more to taste
- 2 ounces (60 grams) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, or more to taste
- ¾ cup (200 ml) heavy whipping cream
- 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
- 1 tablespoons to ¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar to taste
- Prepare 6 to 8 ramekins or individual bowls or demitasse cups. If you want to be able to turn the Panna Cotta out of the bowl or ramekin, run the bowl under cold running water, pour and shake the water out but do not dry.
- Pour the milk into a medium-sized saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over the milk. Whisk quickly and lightly just so all of the gelatin is wet and then allow to sit for 5 minutes. This softens the gelatin.
- Place the saucepan over medium heat and, whisking gently, allow the milk to heat until it is hot but not boiling, about 5 minutes. The yellow shiny splotches of gelatin floating on the surface will disappear when the gelatin is completely melted/dissolved.
- Add the cream, honey, sugar, pinch of salt, and 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder to the hot milk and continue to heat, stirring, until the honey, sugar and espresso have dissolved. Taste and add more espresso powder if you desire a stronger coffee flavor.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to cool for several minutes.
- Whisk to combine well before evenly dividing between the glasses, bowls, cups or ramekins. I always find it much easier to pour the liquid into a glass or Pyrex measuring cup with a spout or pouring lip and pour from that instead of directly from the saucepan.
- Cover each bowl or ramekin with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or, ideally, overnight.
- A half hour or so before serving, prepare the Bittersweet Mocha Sauce. Once the Sauce has been made and chilled, serve the Panna Cotta, each drizzled with the Sauce.
- Coarsely chop the chocolate and place it in a small saucepan with the heavy cream, the espresso powder and 1 tablespoon sugar.
- Heat very gently over medium-low heat, whisking or stirring, until the chocolate, sugar and espresso have all melted and dissolved. Taste, adding sugar until desired sweetness.
- Remove from the heat, allow to cool for a few minutes, stir again and pour into a glass measuring cup, bowl or jar and refrigerate until just cool enough to serve over the chilled Panna Cotta.