When my friend Bird visited last, she was toting a lovely bag with rope handles and when I inquired, she said it was a present for me. She arrived on a late bus and the kids were in bed and Dave was away on business. The house was quiet and dimly light and the pale mint-coloured bag sitting on the dining room table looked ominous and special.
I am usually good at guessing the contents of presents and annoy people to no end when I do. This bag however had me stumped? It looked like it could be hiding a delicate scarf, a bottle of perfume, even lingerie – but these are not the gifts I would expect from a girlfriend and so I was at a loss. Opening the bag and removing the box that was inside didn’t help either!
If I were more of a gastronome I would have recognised the name on the signature pale pink box embossed with a silver border. All I could tell was that the contents must be special to be housed in such a beautiful container and carried in a grandiose bag. This was also my friend Bird, and If I knew only one thing about her, it was her monstrous extravagance.
I opened the box and inside was a card and something folded with great card in two sheet of waxed paper. I opened the wrapping and was delighted at what was finally revealed.
Inside, in two neat rows of three, were the most delectable macarons I had ever seen. They looked like precious jewels too beautiful to be touched, but of course that was never going to happen. I asked about the bakery and found out that Bird had first been introduced to Laduree in Paris (of course!) and went on about how the Parisian bakery looked like an edible jewelry shop. She said there are rolls of real ribbon on spools and customers choose how they would like their pastries to be swaddled for home.
I understood the whole wrapping of pastry ritual after spending 3 months in Italy last year. The most routine thing in the world was to wrap every sweetness in fancy paper and a flourish of ribbon.
My mother and Bird have something in common: my mother always believed that there was no point in being somewhere amazing and not going to the very best place for something to eat or drink. I am not saying that she had the means to go to the most reputed place and indulge in a four coarse meal. She was all about getting to experience the best of the best and that might mean having just one glass of Champagne in the Oak Room at the Plaza in NYC over having two glasses of cheap fizz at the establishment around the corner. This is why I have had tea at the famous Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, appetizers at La Cirque and now macarons from Laduree (and yes, champagne with my mother in the Oak Room).
The Laduree bakery has been around since the mid 19th century and is now on my list of places to visit, if only to buy one precious macaron. I pestered my friend to tell me how much a half-dozen of these whipped flavor-infused egg whites cost, and she eventually told me: $20! It could have made me flinch, but then I though of my dearly missed mother, and choose the darkest richest-looking macaron to have with my tea when the kettle boiled.