The Strawberry Mousse

A Culinary Catastrophe #2

Beate Boeker

“It’s a matter of life and death.” My boyfriend of two weeks pushed his hand through his brown hair and managed to look exasperated and sexy at the same time.

“It’s a matter of strawberry mousse,” I corrected him.

“You don’t know my aunt Henrietta.” He put his arm around my shoulders, and we continued to walk around the Aussenalster. The water glittered blue in the sunshine of the early June evening, and the old willows and oaks along the walk shielded us from the heavy Friday evening traffic in the center of Hamburg. “You see, Aunt Hetty raised me when my parents died, and though she’s a bit . . . “, he hesitated, “unusual, I’m eternally grateful to her. She has a soft heart.”

I loved to look at his profile when the summer wind pushed his hair back and the sun glinted on his black glasses. “I still don’t get it.” I shook my head. “Just because you’re grateful to her, you have to make a difficult strawberry mousse when she comes to visit you?”

“She comes to visit us.” Zen grinned at me as he stressed the last word. “Don’t forget.”

My stomach did a nervous skip. When he’d told me that he would like me to meet his family, I’d felt honored – and scared. Meeting the family is a risky business in any relationship, and ours was not that old yet. What if Aunt Hetty decided I was all wrong for him and would work against me? I swallowed. “I sure won’t forget that we’ll meet for the first time. But what’s so special about this strawberry mousse?”

Zen took a deep breath. “It’s an old family recipe. She was the only one who knew how to do it, and when I moved out, she officially handed over the secret. It was . . . “ he looked a bit embarrassed. “. . . touching, somehow. Very solemn.” Again, he pushed his hands through his hair, “She would be hurt if she learned that I’ve never even bothered to make it.” He made a grimace. “You see, I’m not that keen on marzipan, and I had to eat it so often in the past. It felt like a sort of liberation.”

My heart softened. “I understand.” I followed a white sailing boat with my eyes, fighting down my uneasy feeling about this whole relationship-mousse-thing. “But you know that I’m not much of an expert with desserts, don’t you?”
“It doesn’t matter.” Zen took my hands. “You’re the culinary expert, and if you promise to help me, I know we can make it.”

I scoffed at the compliment, but inside, I was flattered. “All right.” I smiled at him. “Count me in.”

He pulled me close and kissed me until I felt like strawberry mousse myself – fluffy and without substance. “I’ll show you the recipe tonight,” he said. “We can buy everything we need tomorrow morning.”

“She’ll come at three, won’t she?”

He shrugged. “That’s what she said, but with aunt Hetty, you never know. She might show up at twelve or finally arrive at six in the evening. It’s only two hours from Hannover, so in theory, she should be able to plan. Her usual excuse is the traffic on the M7, but I’ve stopped believing that.”

“Vague planning is ideal if you’re planning dinner.” I made sure my voice was dripping with irony. I do not approve of people spoiling dinner by being unpunctual.

“But we’re not planning dinner.” The love of my life gave my long ponytail a tender tug. “We’re just planning to make strawberry mousse.”

I decided to make a fresh loaf of bread and to stock up on butter and savory bread spreads, just in case. I love making bread, so it wasn’t an effort. “You said she comes to see you several times a year. How did you manage to avoid making the mousse in the past?”

He grinned. “I was lucky. She never came during strawberry season.”

“But you can buy deep-frozen strawberries all year round.”

He threw up his hands. “A sacrilege! Don’t even mention it.”

I understood from his exaggerated way of speaking that he was imitating Aunt Hetty and smiled in appreciation. “I see. I saw some nice strawberries yesterday at the Turkish veggie store. We could get them there.”

“No way.” Zen shook his head with vehemence.

I was surprised. His mother had given my boyfriend the odd name Zen because she was a firm believer that she would never have made it through pregnancy without the calming influence of the Buddhist religion. Somehow, it seemed to have rubbed off, and Zen was hard to shake out of his equilibrium. This was one of the things I loved about him, and for an instant, his strong reaction made me speechless. “Ah, Zen?” I searched his face for any clue of what was going on inside him. “Is anything the matter?”

He took a deep breath. “Sorry. I forgot to mention that Aunt Hetty is very . . . green.”

“She’s what?” The image of a greenish monster rose in front of my inner eye.

“She places an enormous importance on the origin of things.”

“The origin of things?” I was still at a loss to follow him.

Zen shrugged. “She wants to know what she eats. In every detail. It has to be fresh, and it has come from an organic farm. No pesticides, you know.”

The image of a quiet Saturday morning was receding with overwhelming speed. “And have you already found out where you can find strawberries from an organic farm?”