I have a love affair with heavy cream. So does my friend Ladybug. Our love for heavy cream led to a most serious conversation about chocolate éclairs and cream puffs.
“I did a search for the best cream puffs and this place in White Plains came up in a small Japanese market!” Ladybug told me.
“What are we waiting for? Let’s go!” I exclaimed.
The storefront was painted bright electric blue. It was a tiny hole in the wall market on Mamaroneck Avenue right next to a pristine sushi restaurant. There were maybe only six aisles in that tiny Japanese market, but the produce and the seafood were the freshest I had ever seen. Hidden all the way in the very corner of the market was an elderly woman with a pile of puffs and a huge dispenser of fresh cream that was pumped out and then inserted into the puffs. Cream puffs did not get any better than this! Plus, it was only a $1.50—probably even cheaper than Dunkin’ Donuts! Score! The elderly woman did not know that much English. Ladybug and I did not know any Japanese. Somehow, we communicated through my two fingers pointed up like a peace sign to indicate two cream puffs. She grinned, prepared the cream puffs artfully, and slid them piping and crispy warm in waxed paper sleeves.
Ladybug and I could not even wait to eat the cream puffs that we removed the wax paper to try them right then and there in that small parking lot. Ladybug and I eyed our cream puffs in awe and thrill. I looked up at her. She looked down at me. We looked again at our cream puffs. Without saying anything, we knew it was time to see if these cream puffs were really what they were made of! The topped crisp, the pillowy puff, and the slightly sweet heavy cream was at its absolute finest. We were in heaven. Sheer heavy creamed puff heaven.
Ladybug said with gusto and determination, “Well, now, we have to make our own. I bet we could make it even better!”
Ladybug was like that. She loved seeing if she could replicate or make it even better in the comfort of home. She loved recipes and would stick papered copies all over her green magnetic cabinets of her retro kitchen. She loved cozying up on the couch to eat what she made in her 1910 home that came from her aunt. She always had a stepstool for me to stand on to help her to chop—except for the onions. She had to take care of the onions because I always cried when cutting onions. She always had a stool for me to sit on when my hips and feet began aching too much. Ladybug and I met when she was at the tail end of a difficult time and I was at the beginning point of seriously and heavily considering my hip replacement that would actually happen about a year and a half in change after we met. Ladybug and I met at the gym because, of course, we had to exercise off our ultimate commonality of food and of heavy cream. After exercising, we would chat endlessly in the locker rooms about Trader Joe’s, spices from Penzeys (her introduction), Susan Branch (her introduction), recipes, Chinese food and dim sum (my introduction), restaurants, and planning our next meals. We would go food exploring and shopping together. She always reached the items from the top shelves for me. I picked items from the floor for her. Ladybug towered over everyone at almost 6 feet. I was pint sized next to her. She was clearly Caucasian. Me Asian. She was in her late 50’s and I was in my early 30’s at the time of us meeting. She always joked I could be her daughter, but she said that I was one of her sisters. We looked like and were an odd couple, but we were the closest of friends. And, yes, we had an extreme love for food. We were Foodies and Foodie Friends and the closest of friends through and through.
On a sultry and hot summer day, Ladybug and I decided to fulfill our love for heavy cream by following a Susan Branch recipe to make a chocolate éclair wreath called ‘Zee Wreath.’ Do not ask me why we decided to try to make a wreath on the hottest day of summer. We followed every step, every ingredient, and every single word to the last page. We did not understand how come the cream was not thickening. We kept dumping in more flour and stirring and stirring until our arms felt like they were going to fall off. The end result was cream that was so thick that it oozed out of the wreath that had puffed up so big that it was a monster of its own. We laughed and laughed so hard that we cried and nicknamed it our very own masterpiece “Zee Blob” rather than “Zee Wreath.” Ladybug was quite upset that it did not turn out perfectly, but as I told her: “It does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.”
‘Zee Blog’ and ‘Cream puffs in the parking lot’ are two of my favorite memories with Ladybug. I could tell you a ton more, but it would be a whole other book. That would also result in me crying all over again. Because, you see, just yesterday, I found out that my dear Ladybug died.
This is the first time I am experiencing an extremely close friend (someone who I called and considered a sister) who has died so suddenly that I am left in deep state of shock and remorse. A friend who I laughed so hard with that both of us would clutch our aching stomachs with tears running down our faces. A friend who had been there for me in my absolute worst of times to pick me up and remind me always, always of the goodness in people that surpasses the bad. A friend I went to my very first ballet that was, of course, titled “Whipped Cream.” A friend who understood and matched my love of handwritten cards decorated with stickers and hand drawn smiley faces and stick figures. She taught me how to make fresh homemade yogurt and homemade bread. She taught me how to do the ‘chicken dance’ when faced with ‘turkeys’ in life. She told me that life was a no-guarantee policy. She exemplified a strong, fierce, meticulous, and independent woman/person. Ladybug, dear sweet Ladybug, who brought me to her happy place on a farm up in Rhinebeck where I met kitty cat Ricky and another friend of hers that she spoke and thought the world of. Ladybug pulled out all stops to make sure kitty cat Ricky and I would have a home together. She always rolled up her sleeves and was the first to step up to do the dirty work when no one else would or could. She believed in miracles and magic, flourless chocolate cake with heavy homemade whipped cream that could solve the world’s problems, kindness and goodness, and that everything working out the long run without any shortcuts in life.
She loved ladybugs and saw love and luck in them. Before she left for the west coast to be with family, she sent me a picture of a ladybug that was crawling methodically on her laptop top and typed, “While I was typing an email to my sister, a ladybug landed on my computer. That’s my family nickname! There have been many signs that it is time for me to leave to the west coast. You’ll get this. You, of all people, get signs.”
I wanted to tell her how sad I was she was leaving to the west coast because I felt like I was losing my friend and my sister, but I never said anything. It was not my place to say my sadness that would only make her feel bad. It was my place to share her happiness to make her feel good.
Ladybug, spread your innate warmth, love, good spirits, and positivity. Do your chicken dance just for fun. Ladybug, give them your recipes, show them how to cook step by step, and warm their bellies with the food that is filled with all your love and care. Bring out the stool for them to sit on as you always did for me because you knew that me standing too long would hurt my aching hips. Sit with and eat well with them as you always did with me and all the other people you love. They will love you up there in ways that we here on earth only for now love you immeasurably.
Ladybug was a friend, a person, a sister, an aunt, a woman who I dearly admire and respect in ways that words cannot fully capture. I wonder about the first death of a dear friend that has deeply impacted you? Do you believe in signs? What are your signs of luck and love that everything will be okay? What is family? Is it only by blood or does it run deeper than that? Who do you consider your ‘family’? Ladybug was not my sister by blood, but a sister in every word, action, magical moment, difficult times, and deep conversations that we shared and beyond.
Bee well and Bee Safe, Ladybug. I will miss you. And, of course, I promise I will always continue to eat cream puffs in the parking lot just for you.
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,