WFAEats
11:32 am
Thu October 18, 2012

Across The Miles

The world may be getting smaller but 10,000 miles between friends is still an impossible distance. So when my friends Stephanie and Marc announced last fall they were moving from Charlotte to Australia, I was crushed. They bequeathed to me the entire contents of their pantry and liquor cabinet, but that did little to help.

Before I met Stephanie, I’d never heard of the indulgent almond-and-apricot confections enrobed in dark chocolate she called “Florentines.” She’d brought them to a holiday gathering at my house, and when I asked for the recipe she happily shared it. “These take about ten minutes to prepare and mix, very easy,” she said. Most things looked easy when Stephanie did them, so I volunteered to make Florentines for a friend’s birthday party.

Have you ever tried to buy “150 grams of sultanas” at your local grocery store? What about “165 grams of flaked almonds”? I found them slivered, sliced, halved and whole, but nothing labeled flaked. I bought the sliced ones.

Then the conversion. I ignored the voice in my head reminding me that units of weight are different from units of measure. I preheated the oven to 165 – I mean, 325 degrees – and started mixing. What was the worst that could happen?

The Florentines turned out beautifully, and I could almost hear Stephanie saying, “Of course they did, silly.”

It’s been nearly a year since Stephanie and Marc moved away. On happy occasions and a few somber ones, friends and family have partaken of the second-hand spirits my friends left behind.

But here is what I haven’t told anyone until now: One ingredient or another I inherited from that pantry has made its way into almost every meal I’ve prepared in the months since my friends left.

Ginger and onion, lemon and cumin. Turmeric, sesame, saffron and sage. Plenty of cinnamon, Spanish paprika, something that’s labeled in just Japanese… in pasta, omelettes, pancakes and pies, every day is flavored by memories of that friendship.

Tonight it’s a damp autumn evening in Charlotte. Down under in Brisbane, where my friends have settled, it’s late the next morning, in springtime. Sometimes we Skype or chat online, but nothing can change the fact that we’re literally half a world apart.

I don’t know when we’ll see each other again. It’s probably foolish to believe we can stay connected through the contents of a couple of dozen little glass jars. Spices have an expiration date. But the other day I discovered another jar of cinnamon, practically new and pungently fresh. Guaranteed fresh, in fact – until 2014.

I think I can hold out till then, if I need to.

Stephanie’s Florentines

7 tablespoons butter
1 scant cup sugar
3/4 cup flaked or slivered almonds
2/3 cup sultanas or golden raisins
2/3 cup dark raisins
1/3 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped
1/2 cup flour
10 tablespoons of milk (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons)
1 large bar of high-quality chocolate for melting (I used a 9.7 oz. Scharffen Berger baking bar)

Preheat oven to 325. Grease a square baking pan and set aside.

In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt together the butter and sugar. Remove from heat and add the rest of the ingredients except the chocolate. Mix lightly. Fill the pan and bake until golden brown, about 25 – 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or microwave. Spread the melted chocolate thickly and evenly over the pan and allow to cool. Slice on the diagonal in lines 1” to 1-1/2” apart to create diamond-shaped pieces.

About 20