And six degrees of Schrödinger’s cat.
In a nod to the gastronomic excesses of the season, I decided this year to rummage through my collected recipes and find something divinely decadent for Yule dessert. On a worn piece of paper slipped into the folds of Joy of Cooking, I found the perfect thing: Lucie’s Chocolate Mousse. (see below)
Which brings this story teller to a story.
When I was a kid – all of 8 ½ – we spent my father’s first sabbatical in England. Now, as some of you might know, my father is a potter, and one of his good friends in was Lucie Rie.Though we were living in Devon for the year, whenever we went up to London we would visit Lucie at her home/studio in Paddington for tea, treats, and conversation. Despite her diminutive stature, I remember being rather intimidated by Lucie.
She had a no-nonsense demeanor, not suffering fools – or perhaps just children – gladly. But her eyes had a rare spark and she was always gracious with her time and fare. One of the most delicious offerings on such sojourns, especially for a kid with a budding sweet tooth, was her chocolate mousse. Creamy, rich, but not cloying. With a cup of strong Viennese coffee, it was perfect.
What does all this have to do with Schrödinger’s cat, you ask?
Well, it all has to do with Lucie’s history and the remarkable woman she was.
Lucie came to London in 1938. The Anschluss had enveloped Austria and it was no longer safe to be a Jew in Vienna. She emigrated to London where, like refugees then and now, she had to start over. Though an artist of renown on the continent, for a time she made ends meet making ceramic buttons and jewelry. In 1939 she moved into 18 Albion Mews, a remodeled stable in the London borough of Westminster, which she called home for the rest of her life. She also opened her doors to others fleeing the violence Hitler was igniting across Europe. One of those people was fellow Austrian, Erwin Schrödinger, on his way from Vienna to Oxford and, eventually, Dublin.
Of course, this was several years after Schrödinger came up with his paradoxical thought experiment known as Schrödinger’s cat. Still, in the weird interconnected way of the world, all these years later it is interesting to wonder about conversations round Lucie’s table through the years. About Nobel laureates to wide-eyed American kids; about quantum physics and pots and buttons; about the need across the world for open hearts and sanctuary from human madness.
May each of us know a place of refuge, of love and memory, cats and mousses.
Lucie’s Chocolate Mousse:
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate.
4 eggs – as this recipe uses raw eggs, be sure of their quality.
½ chocolate cake – or sponge if you prefer.
Break the cake into bits in a deep bowl.
Separate eggs. Beat whites until stiff.
Melt the chocolate in a couple of Tbs. of strong coffee. Set aside and let cool slightly. When you’re sure it’s ool enough not to cook the eggs, add the yolks.
Fold in the egg whites and layer over the cake. Chill.