(context here, if you have never seen the original movie)

Yesterday, a friend emailed me about a New Year Party thrown by some friends of hers. I hastily misread the description of said friends from 狂言 (きょうげん: stage actors) to 狂信 (きょうしん: religious fanatics) and was, understandably, slightly less excited by the prospect than I should have been.

I could of course play that silly anecdote as yet another illustration of my terminally inept Japanese skills. But in the end, even though I had to quickly look up 狂信, the fact I instinctively knew its reading and felt confident enough to make that mistake makes me feel surprisingly happy about the shape of my Japanese.

About 8 years ago, I decided to learn Japanese. Or more exactly: I hurriedly learnt a dozen Japanese words, fragments of grammar and notions of kana reading, landed in Japan, promptly got drowned in an ocean of linguistic helplessness, then decided that, one day, a visit to my local bank would not turn into low-grade stand-up comedy (at my expense).

When you think about it, 8 years is a pathetically long time for someone who still can’t read a newspaper without a dictionary (and lots of spare time)… Slightly less shameful, I guess, if you account for my constantly travelling back and forth over that period. Also: while I have come to appreciate countless aspects of Japanese culture and developed a perverted obsession with matters of kanji writing, I did not grow up obsessed with Japan. I never had a strong personal interest in learning this particular language (or living here, for that matter) and might just as happily have taken on Russian (maybe will, who knows). It slowly grew from a mix of absolute happenstance, necessity, frustration and stubbornness when confronted with near-impossible challenges (yes: I am the kind of asshole who will devote a sizable share of a decade to learning a language, just because: fuck-it-I-can-do-it).

It is no secret that I like to cook and bake. I have even posted a few recipes here in the past, ranging from Agedashi Tofu to Mango Chutney Pork Chops and Squirrel Melba.

As any sane person would, I blatantly ignore measurement recommendations in recipes. Except when cakes or pastries are involved. Baking is a much different job from regular entree cooking. If entree cooking was engineering: intuitive, reliable and practicable by a trained monkey1, baking would be much more like chemistry: finicky, unpredictable and liable to poison you if something goes wrong.

Baking is tough, and in a continuous effort to make me more marketable on the 40-to-50-year-old Japanese dating scene, I have been striving to improve my skills. Sometimes with helpful professional tips from friends, but most often through trial and error. Which is where the present entry comes in:

Being a scientist with early-onset Alzheimer and lingering ADD, I need to record the results of my culinary experiments lest I endlessly repeat the same mistakes and end up losing my entire roster of lab-test guinea pigs friends, to food poisoning. After toying with a few different solutions for the 21st-century housewife (from short-lived handwritten notes to mind-boggingly annoying “recipe sharing” websites), I settled, as I usually do, for the easy way: piling it on that shapeless clutter of random notes and pointless observations that we call a blog.

All that to say: the notes below are hardly proper recipes, more like experimental reports and notes for future experiments. No details and how-to’s: only list of ingredients, measurement corrections and fatal mistakes to be avoided. You might find them somewhat useful, but they are mostly addressed to future me and his elusive quest for the perfect chocolate mousse. Feel free to peruse, but don’t say you weren’t warned.

Chocolate Mousse

Ingredients:

  • 200g extra-dark chocolate2.
  • 100g butter (no more).
  • Shot-glass worth of strong brewed coffee.
  • 5 egg whites, 3 to 4 egg yolks (can use all 5 egg yolks but will result in runnier, stickier mousse).
  • 60g sugar (not 200g, for chrissake).
  • Rum
  • Few drops of vanilla extract

Notes:

  • Essentially based on Julia Child’s already quite awesome recipe, with a few crucial changes: her recommended sugar dosage will kill all diabetics in a 100km radius, if they haven’t keeled over from the massive butter-induced heart attack.
  • Whisk the crap out of egg yolks+sugar+rum (electric egg-beater for the win): makes the result less runny.
  • Dash of lemon juice (/cream of tartar) to whisk egg whites, pinch of salt at the end to retain consistency. Yay for high school chemistry.
  • Get chocolate as cold as possible (but still liquid and smooth) before mixing to egg whites: ice-cube bain-marie.
  • Special extra-sex food-porn edition: tiny ultra-dark-bitter-chocolate specks or candied orange zest.

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest cake)

  1. Just kidding Engineering M.Sc. friends, we still need you. []
  2. In chocolate as in crack-cocaine, never go with less than 70% pure. []