At the last night, of the end of the world, Maggie Ruggiero came over to make custard.
But it wasn't any old custard. No, because this was Maggie. Maggie could boil, soiled bath water, that had previously housed Ukrainian weightlifters, and it would still taste sublime.
The week before, my dentist, not one to mince words, had advised me that I needed surgery, or I would lose my right front tooth. (A good look, maybe, in some parts of the country, but not so good, here in New York) He noted I will be swollen and bruised for a couple of days, then casually issued the clanger: I was not allowed to bite into anything for 6 weeks. Not BITE INTO ANYTHING for 6! Weeks!
The last day at the end of the world, was also made unsettling by someone trying to jump, right in front of me, off the Williamsburg Bridge. My apartment looks somewhat towards the bridge so it was impossible to avoid what was unfolding. A sad story. A father, it turned out, upset over childcare. As the Police men closed in either side of him, he leaned back, and let go.
I first caught sight of the man, on the J train, on my way home. The 'J' travels from Manhattan over the Williamsburg bridge to Marcy Avenue. The train stopped, right in front of where he was clinging to the wire and we locked eyes. I don't know what I was expecting, but I startled by how bug-eyed, yet frankly how nice looking he was. New York, after all, has a tendency to coddle, embrace or forgive it's very good-looking. (Elevate them, even) What was this very nice looking man, in his late 30's doing clinging to chicken wire, on the wrong side of the Williamsburg bridge? I guess I assumed that to be in this position he would need to look withered, worn or defeated, even, with visual signs of decay, maybe like a week old peach that has begun to show outer blemishes, or even the odd bruise. But there was nothing I could see.
If you stir the cream slowly, over low heat, the gelatin will dissolve. But if you put the flame too high, unless you add sugar, you'll upset it, making it scald. Then you'll need to throw it out, and start again.
As the Police moved in, closer, towards the man, he inched himself further away, warning them not to come near. The Police had an inflatable stunt cushion on the ground, 80 feet below him. When he saw them position the cushion underneath him, he'd moved further along the small thin ledge, so he still had, frighteningly, a clear path straight down to the concrete below.
I, meanwhile, was pondering my 'not-bite-into-anything' situation, and counting down the hours, desperately, till Maggie would arrive and make her cooling custard. My dentist actually had recommended I only eat cottage cheese, junior baby foods and certain kinds of Bulgarian slow-swimming fish, and if one more person told me smugly, again, how satisfying a flax seed smoothie could be, I'd slap them.
"What's that man doing on the bridge?" Asked my son.
"Fishing" I said. Without even thinking.
I pretended to trace the petals of an imaginary flower around a mole that has been on my arm for as long as I can remember and mindlessly tipped a whole Peking Duck, into the blender.
Finally, after about 3 or more hours, the guy on the bridge screamed "Tell my mother, I love her!" and let go. The Police men perched either side deftly grabbed him and pulled him back through a hole to the other side. It happened very quickly and before we knew it, the man was briskly carted off. The traffic flowed again, swiftly, quickly, like a Dick Tracy video.
Photo's that appeared later in the press revealed that contrary to what I saw, he wasn't particular, or ridicuously good looking, at all. He was well... just... fine. He looked beaten and deflated and all those things one would expect, sadly, when you decide to take your own life. I wondered what I had seen up there, when the train had stopped.
I inspected my mouth. My tooth was saved. My dentist had done a sterling job. I waited for Maggie, who would make the perfect version of soft-food tonight, on the day the world was meant to end. Her Panna Cotta with Lemon-Thyme Peaches. And her peaches? No blemishes that I could detect. Well at least not at first glance.
PANNA COTTA with LEMON-THYME PEACHES by Maggie Ruggiero
Soft and cooling. The cream and almond essence and honey, offset the tart tanginess of natural yogurt. A perfect post-surgery medicine.
Put 2 tablespoons of water into a heavy base saucepan. Stir in 1 1/4 teaspoons of unflavored powdered gelatin. It's not much water, so this almost looks like a small paste. Add to this 1 1/4 cups of heavy cream, and a heavy pinch of salt. Put the heat on to low-medium and stir until the gelatin dissolves. In a separate bowl, whisk together 1 cup of plain natural yogurt (not Greek), 1/4 cup of honey, 1/8 teaspoon of pure almond extract, then whisk in the warm cream mixture. Pour into glass jam jars, or small dessert bowls and leave to set in the fridge overnight, or for at least 8 hours. For the Peaches, finely chop 1 1/2 tablespoons of Lemon Thyme and mix with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Toss this through 3 sliced Peaches. Let it macerate, stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes. To serve, bring the Panna Cotta out of the fridge, and sit until it gets to room temperature. Place macerated peaches on top and add additional honey, if desired. Serves 4.
This recipe was adapted from the now defunct Gourmet Magazine. (RIP) Check out Maggie Ruggiero's fabulous work by checking here
Panna Cotta with Lemon-Thyme Peaches photographed by Ben Baker