Most of my favorite recipes are ones passed down from family and friends, tried-and-true dishes that someone loved enough to capture and share. Whether I actually know them or not is inconsequential, it’s just comforting to see a name before the recipe title. It sits there claiming ownership, assuring success, and welcoming us into their kitchen over and over again. Forever immortalized alongside their dish, forever together.
I have a lot of those recipes in my arsenal…Gee Gee’s Chicks-N-Dunks, Paula’s Cinnamon Rolls, Ron’s Salsa, Pam’s Cranberry Orange Cookies, Bobbie’s Guinness Cake, Mimi’s Snack Mix, MeMaw’s Fudge, Dick’s Peanut Brittle, Beatty’s Chocolate Cake…the list goes on and on.
To me, those names add a lot more than original possession of a recipe. It’s a background context, it’s memories from as far back as I can remember, or it’s one exact point/party/meal in time, it’s knowing they did it and I can too, it’s a kitchen cheerleader. It’s comfort.
And that’s important to me.
When I pass on recipes my friends might not necessarily know who Paula, Ron, Pam, Mimi, MeMaw, Dick or Bobbie are…but they know it’s going to taste incredible. But the stories always help.
So, I could just share Tuesday’s potluck dessert recipe with you and you could be left wondering who Julisa is and where this recipe came from, or I could tell you about one of the funniest people to ever grace my life and let you think of her each time you make it yourself.
I first met Julisa in 2008. We worked at the New World Symphony together and quickly bonded over our shared love of sarcasm, food and pop culture.
She’s the yin to my yang and with us it was all sarcasm, all the time. I don’t remember when our nicknames exactly started, but at some point I made up a jingle…”J to the U to the L, JULISA!” that over time got shortened to “J to the U.”
We even had an “Office Face” that we shared no less than 10 times a day over any workplace frustrations or disbelief. She made me a GIF of it before I left for Virginia. I still watch it to lift my spirits or laugh at my desk.
I have so many favorite memories of her, it’s hard to know where to begin…
One slow, summer day, Julisa offered to clean out a storage closet that happened to be located right across from my office. I watched her make a couple of trips with a dolly full of boxes when I told her she should wheel me down the hall past everyone’s office windows like Hannibal Lecter in his straitjacket. We were an unstoppable riot on our floor. Well, at least to ourselves.
She let me in on a fun game she’d play with her mom called “Guess Who Died?!” To play, you call someone up as soon as you hear someone in the pop culture realm has died and make them play Twenty Questions until they guess the right person. Morbid, yet hilarious. That pretty much describes us.
We were two peas in a Frank Gehry-designed pod. Bitching like mad during our 90-100+ hour work weeks when it was being built and crying like babies when it opened.
We still (goth) Skype for hours, but it will never be an adequate solution to the distance gap. There’s no one like J to the U and I miss her like crazy.
In the baking realm, no one at NWS did it better. I think they may have revised her job description to include it in her duties. Together, we founded NWS’ Cupcake Fridays (RIP) during the summer months, after Julisa introduced me to Ming’s cupcakes.
We had pierogi parties with our friend Michelle to prepare for Oktoberfest.
Julisa brings in several huge tupperware filled to the brim with homemade peppermint bark every December for the entire organization as a ‘thanks for all you do.’ I fell in love with that recipe too and now make it every December for Joe’s band (and me). And when his students ask me for the recipe, they get “Julisa’s Peppermint Bark” delivered to their inbox.
She once made me a vegan chocolate cake with avocado frosting for my birthday. And it was awesome.
She went vegetarian while I was living in Miami and we bonded over her black bean hummus.
She would bring in samples of whatever homemade ice cream she made the night before. My favorite? Bangkok Peanut.
And she was so generous with her baking genius, always offering to help, share or teach until we got it right. She’s the epitome of “awesomesauce”–one of our favorite words.
I’ve learned a lot of things from Julisa, but her Lemon Mousse may be one of the best. She first made it for a summer birthday office celebration–a delicious detour from our regular cupcake parties–and after one bite I was a total goner, begging her like an idiot for the recipe. It was so refreshing and light, yet somehow also rich and decadent. In that bite I was slung up on the lemon bandwagon so fast I almost lost sight of the peanut butter wagon I’ve been nestled on my entire life. Lemon desserts don’t have to be cloyingly sweet? They don’t have to be drenched in powdered sugar? They don’t have to make my mumps hurt?…as my mom would say. Game On. (Or, depending on how you look at it, Game Over.)
In choosing the “new” recipe to try for this week’s potluck, this one immediately came to mind. I thought of all of us NWS friends gathered around the table, swooning over it and her. Despite the many times as we had enjoyed it together and Julisa giving me the recipe after she first made it, I had never tried it on my own. It seemed daunting and the perfection of Julisa’s efforts may have been a bit intimidating. But, that couldn’t hold me back forever.
Even when it called for a candy thermometer, which hasn’t exactly been my friend in the past.
Julisa would serve it in dainty individual glasses, each piled high with fruit and mousse with a dab of whipped cream and a sprig of mint. It was seriously gorgeous every time. For ease of transport, I made mine in a trifle dish so everyone could serve themselves, which was still a pretty option for a party. You could even throw pieces of pound cake in there and make it a real trifle.
You can choose whatever fruit you prefer, but I went with ripe summer berries.
The mousse is like a down comforter, draping over the berries with a definite weight that’s in no way overbearing. It’s as delicious as it is gorgeous. Even more so, actually.
So, here’s to Julisa. Thanks for everything, but especially for this recipe. Love you, girl.
Julisa’s Lemon Mousse with Berries
adapted from Bon Appétit, 1999
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
6 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
11/2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
1 12-ounce basket strawberries, hulled, halved (or quartered if large)
1 6-ounce basket fresh blueberries
1 6-ounce basket fresh raspberries
1 6-ounce basket fresh blackberries
2 cups chilled whipping cream
8 whole strawberries (for garnish)
Fresh mint sprigs
Combine 1 cup sugar, lemon juice, 6 egg yolks, 2 whole eggs and grated lemon peel in large metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bowl to touch water). Whisk until mixture thickens and thermometer inserted into mixture registers 160°F. Transfer lemon curd to another large bowl by passing through a fine-mesh sieve. Chill for a few hours, or overnight.
Toss halved strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in another large bowl.
Using electric mixer, beat 11/2 cups cream in medium bowl until medium-firm peaks form. Remove chilled lemon curd and stir a bit to reincorporate it. Fold 1/3 of whipped cream into lemon curd to lighten, then fold in remaining whipped cream. (For a more lemony mousse, use less whipped cream.)
Divide berry mixture among 8 dessert bowls or wineglasses. Spoon lemon mousse over berries. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Using electric mixer, beat remaining 1/2 cup cream in medium bowl until stiff peaks form. Spoon whipped cream atop desserts. Garnish with whole strawberries and mint sprigs.