Friday, September 15, 2006

Information Management

When I first became part of La Familia, I was flying blind as far as "house rules" were concerned. However, I quickly learnt that no information which an individual pass on to another would stay private between the two for very long. La Familia doesn't "do" privacy or discretion.

Further, whatever goes on in our little sub-unit, Guillermo's mother feels she should be the first to know and the designated one to dispense such information to the other sub-units (Guillermo's siblings) and of course, the headquarters (los abuelos/ the grandparents).

After the initial months of us settling in, Guillermo had to ask his parents not to call us as often as five times a day. That was extremely up-setting for them because they felt we were cutting off the information chain.

My mother-in-law was in tears after La Familia's first visit to our apartment simply because our tia (aunt), her own sister-in-law, had known about the new curtains we were putting up before she did. Our tia's cousin, a talented seamstress, made our curtains. Just like in our family, this cousin felt at liberty to tell her cousin that she felt our choices of curtain fabric reflected our good taste, etc.

Our tia then felt obliged to tell her mother-in-law, our abuela, about her cousin's favourable opinion and approval of the newbie, me...now you see how this information had gone over my mother-in-law's head straight to the headquarters – che brutta figura (Italian for bad form) for her! The tears were well justified.

Guillermo and I discussed at lengths whether to share our recent loss with his parents. I felt Guillermo should share it with whoever he wanted because he was grieving as much as I was. However, both of us were worried about his parents telling everyone within the extended family and most worryingly, beyond.

We are open with our friends and family, but we really wouldn't like our private lives served on a platter by others. We could envisage the emergency call tree being triggered once the information is in the hands of my in-laws.

Anyway, we decided to try our trust on them. Guillermo was emphatic that they should not tell anyone themselves; we would share this information with others if and when we feel it is appropriate. Upon hearing the news, my mother-in-law's immediate reaction was that we won't be going to the kids' birthday party tomorrow; what is she going to tell Guillermo's sister and the rest of the family?

Her reaction really doesn't bode well for our concern. I asked Guillermo, a tinge rhetorically, why does she feel she has to be the one who comes up with all the answers? If we do deicide we won't go tomorrow, which we haven't, we shall tell Guillermo's sister ourselves.

To answer my question, Guillermo's dark humour then made its rare but precious appearance...He said the Spanish/ Argentine information model is centred around the mother or the grandmother, horizontal communication is not promoted nor encouraged. In particular, his mother's generation which grew up during the dictatorship years, horizontal communication was viewed as dangerous even.

Since my gynaecologist has suggested a natural miscarriage (instead of a controlled and scheduled medical procedure, the D&C), I am to anticipate, quite soon, a lot of pain and discomfort over a period of time when the miscarriage chooses to take place. For this reason, I had thought about not going all the way out to this club in Villa Martelli for the birthday party. However, my mother-in-law's words have literally scared me into sheer determination to internalise any physical pain coming my way, I'll be there for sure!

I thought you might be interested in the recipe for the cake I am so not making for this birthday party (hooray!!). It is my adaptation from Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Cloud cake. I prefer the cake to be lighter in texture so I changed Ms. Lawson's method slightly. I have also cut down on the amount of cream on top, it is still ample so don't worry. This cake serves 6-8; you can increase the ingredients by 50% and bake it in a 26-27cm cake tin.

Chocolate Cake:
250g dark chocolate, 70% coca solids
125g unsalted butter, softened
6 large eggs, separated
175g organic caster sugar
2 tbsp liqueur of your choice

The Cloud:
1 tub of cream (mine comes in 360ml)
1 tbsp of liqueur
1/2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 180C, Mark 4. Line the base of a 23cm springform cake tin with baking parchment.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large heavy based saucepan or in the microwave. When the chocolate mixture has melted, let it cool a little.

In a bowl, beat yolks with 75g/ 6 tbsp of the sugar. Then gently add the chocolate mixture, and then liqueur. In a clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites until foamy, then gradually add the remaining sugar while continue whisking. You are basically making meringue.

The cleanliness and dryness of the bowl is of vital importance, otherwise the egg whites would not fluff up into a meringue. Whisk until glossy and the mixture holds its shape but not too stiff.

Now, the most important and slightly tricky step is folding the chocolate into the meringue without disturbing the air trapped. It is important because the airy white mass is what gives the cake its lightness. If you stir too vigorously, the air bubbles will burst and you end up with a flat cake. So the trick is to add one big spoonful of the meringue into the chocolate and stir really well, this will loosen the chocolate mixture and makes it easier to be folded into the meringue.

Pour the combined mixture into the cake tin and bake for 35-40min, or until the cake has risen. You can also check that the centre is no longer too wobbly.

Leave it to cool completely in the tin; the cake will sink in the middle upon cooling. Don't be alarmed, this is the effect you are after because this gives you a cavity to pile on the whipped cream.

Just before serving, whip the cream until it is soft, now add the liqueur. Only add sugar if you prefer it. Now pile the cream loosely in the cavity of the cake. Sprinkle cocoa powder on top using a tea strainer.

I prefer serving the cake the same day it is made so no refrigeration is needed and the cake keeps its light texture. You can, by all means, put it in the fridge. The cake will still taste gorgeous, just a bit fudgier.

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