Sometimes, in the old black and white movies I like to watch, a character, usually a dashing man in formal attire with an alluring British accent, will announce that he’s off to Macau. Or, perhaps he’ll say that he just returned from there. “Adventurous, mysterious,” I’ll think. “Macau… I may visit one day.” And just recently, I did. The trip cost something like 15 US dollars plus tax, and I took it sitting in the comfort of my reading chair. You can’t beat that. I wasn’t wearing any formal attire either. Seldom do. As always, shoes off while sitting in my reading chair. Barefoot. A barefoot reader, that’s me. So by now you’ve guessed it. The way to visit exotic Macau for $15 US is through reading. So pick up Hannah Tunnicliffe’s novel “The Color of Tea,” and you too will be transported to that adventurous part peninsula part island in the Orient called Macau. The author, a self- confessed nomad, is a New Zealander, who has lived in Australia, England, Macau, currently resides in Canada I believe, and has probably spent time in France, because she is an expert raconteur in the art of macaron making. Her novel is set in Macau and we get a detailed description of the island and its everyday life, life as experienced by Westerners who are there to do business, life as spent by the native Chinese population, and life as toiled by foreign laborers whose lot sometimes is reminiscent of that lived by indentured servants of old.
|"The Color of Tea" is the selection for this round of COOK THE BOOKS CLUB. Come read the book and then cook something inspired by your reading.|
After reading "The Color of Tea," I thought about making a PAVLOVA! Now a pavlova is not mentioned anywhere in the book. "Lilian's" cafe, owned by the heroine of the novel, serves a lot of French macarons, though. What is a pavlova I thought, but a deconstructed macaron? Egg whites, sugar, creamy filling, almonds, fruit. Take the macaron ingredients apart, rearrange them (which is where the cooking term "deconstructing" comes in handy), and you have a whole new dessert, one in the shape of a pavlova! Plus, the pavlova is one of the most popular desserts in Australia and New Zealand. Hannah Tunnicliffe is a transplanted New Zealander, and Grace, her heroine, finds ultimate fulfillment in Australia. So a slice of pavlova fits in perfectly. That and a cup of tea. Steaming hot tea, fragrant, amber colored tea, soul warming tea. Just as soul warming as the act of looking into a child's eyes, into Faith's eyes, the child whose amber colored glances restored Grace back to health.
Making Pavlova... Here's the before:
Below is a picture of the after, assembled and eaten the day after the shell was baked. Pavlovas should have a crunchy crust and a soft marshmallow-like center. This requires a lot of whisking. That's why, right now, I would like to thank my Kitchen-Aid mixer: "Thank you very much, you hard working thing. Without you, this dessert would not have been possible!"
The pavlova came out perfect. It literally melted in our mouths! Plus it was topped with a luscious Chantilly cream which I flavored with vanilla and Grand Marnier. On top of all that goodness I arranged strawberries, kiwis, and butter toasted almonds. This was a very good and very decadent dessert. I felt guilty for hours after eating my slice. I enjoyed it so much though. I'll be doing a lot of repenting in the next few days... (I've posted the recipe separately. Click here for the post "Pavlova with Chantilly Cream and Butter Toasted Almonds").
Meanwhile, back in Macau.....Macau, a bustling Chinese province surrounded by the South China Sea, was a former Portuguese colony. Its sovereignty was transferred back to China in the late 20th century. Today it is a busy place, whose economy is supported mainly by tourism. Gambling is the predominant industry, and the building of casinos is a big business there.
In “The Color of Tea” Grace and her husband Pete move to Macau where Pete has been assigned to oversee the building of a new casino. Their once solid marriage has began to show strain, and Grace is depressed and withdrawn. The depression is caused by her inability to bear children and her several failures at fertility treatments. Both she and her husband are bewildered by the prospect of having to face a childless future. However, Grace is a fantastic baker, a gift she has inherited from her mother, Lillian. Pulling herself up by her bootstraps, she decides to open a café (named after her mother), which turns out to be a successful venture. Scores of French macarons, enticing in their variety, plus tea, coffee and sandwiches turn “Lillian’s” into a hot spot. Grace becomes a confident entrepreneur and before long she develops warm, caring friendships with customers and staff. The atmosphere in the café helps to bring her back to life. Her marriage is reinvigorated and surprises await both Grace and Pete which will serve to make their lives more perfect than they could have ever imagined.
“The Color of Tea” provides us with an interesting, fast moving plot. I was impressed by the author's resolve to portray a couple that stays together despite adversity. Grace and Pete show us the lasting power of love by rekindling their relationship. Particularly touching was the description of Grace’s relationship with her eccentric mother, told in epistolary form and through flashbacks. Tunnicliffe's descriptions of baking make you want to run into your kitchen and create something spectacular, just as Grace always manages to do: How about a huge, finger licking tomato tart? How about a macaron of bergamot and cardamom with white chocolate ganache? Or perhaps rather than baking, you’d like to visit Lillian’s for a plum and hibiscus macaron. Or maybe you’d like to come chez moi for a slice of pavlova and a cup or two of amber colored oolong tea. Lots of options here. One of the better options is to pick up a copy of “The Color of Tea,” find a comfortable chair, take off your shoes, and settle down for a quick and fun read!