Guest Star Alison Fenton of Fabrison’s Doesn’t Mousse Around!
On Tuesday, after making a ton of seitan and not eating any of it for dinner (see last post), I met up with Alison Fenton, co-owner of Fabrison’s Sweet Cafe and Boutique, located on 1425 India Street in Little Italy.
Soon after Andy and I arrived in San Diego in February, we wandered the area near an apartment we’d looked at, just trying to get a feel for the neighborhood. We turned a corner and there was a friendly-looking cafe, with brightly-painted windows and tables along the sidewalk.
“See, it’s French!” Andy exclaimed as we went inside, trying to cheer me up by appealing to my Francophilia. I was not exactly thrilled to be in San Diego and had my lower lip poked out.
We just had coffee. Because I’m not a coffee-lover, all coffee tastes the same to me–unless it’s downright awful–so I can’t say whether or not Fabrison’s soy latte was magnifique. (Sorry, my inner-Frenchie-wannabe is just waiting to burst forth.) They also offer crepes, sandwiches and salads.
What I do remember is the colorful, whimsical French country decor, the warm atmosphere, and the graciousness of Marseilles native Fabrice Borel, Alison’s husband and co-owner of the year-old cafe. (Fabrice + Alison = Fabrison’s… get it?) He listened politely as we gushed about our monthlong stay in Paris–which I’m sure he hears a lot from his guests–and told us about the free French lessons they regularly host at the cafe. His enthusiastic invitation for us to return for lunch seemed genuine.
I was still feeling grouchy when we left Fabrison’s, but a little less so.
A week or two later, after we found a different apartment, my guy and I walked past Fabrison’s again. On the sidewalk sandwich board, written in chalk, was: TOFU MOUSSE.
We blinked and looked again. WHAT?? NUH-UH!! The French are not known for tofu-anything. In fact I suspect they hate the stuff with a burning passion. But hey, that’s San Diego for ya.
Falling into Fabrison’s doorway, we asked a somewhat startled Fabrice: “Tofu mousse? Is it vegan? Can we try it?”
Yes, it’s vegan, he said. But it’s all gone, sold out.
We returned again some time later, and were told the same thing. That stuff must sell fast! Turns out Alison, a Chicago native who used to work for a health-food store, only makes the stuff every once in a while for her lactose-intolerant hubby, and whatever’s left is up for grabs.
Finally, nearly a month and a half later–just a few days after National Chocolate Mousse Day, I might add–Andy and I were in the right place at the right time.
We grabbed a table outside, and something about eating the mousse with the breeze in my face really did it for me–a perfect San Diego moment. The dessert was light and silky with a cool cocoa creaminess. Andy destroyed his small dish of mousse in five seconds, but I savored mine, gently skimming the top with my plastic spoon. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but when I find something that’s really good, I try to make it last.
After we were done, we told Fabrice to give Alison our praise. He called her on his cell phone and handed it to me. Feeling shy, I mumbled my appreciation to her and handed the phone back to its owner as quickly as I could.
“You should have asked her to show you how to make it!” Andy said as I sat back down, shaking his head with exasperation.
Luckily, Fabrice gave me a business card and I emailed Alison a couple days later.
Almost a month later, she and I finally decided on a date for me to stop by the cafe. The day before, I emailed her to ask what I should bring. What she wrote back made me grit my teeth a little:
“I have one container of tofu, but you will need to bring the chocolate and another container of soft or silken tofu. Honestly, I use a milk chocolate, but you can go with a dark chocolate or a carob if you like, since you want to be dairy free. I find that milk chocolate has the best consistency. Dark chocolate makes it very fudgy. If you got sick the last time, then by all means switch to the dark or go with a vegan chocolate. I find that there is minimal dairy in the milk chocolate chips and most lactose intolerant people still can enjoy the mousse.”
So, in other words, the mousse I had already eaten wasn’t vegan, and after weeks of emailing back and forth I was just now finding out. Gah!!
For those of you who aren’t seeing why this might upset me, imagine if someone said to you: “Hey, remember that sandwich I made you a month ago, that you enjoyed so much? Well, I sneezed in it. I find that if you don’t sneeze in it, it just doesn’t taste right. If my germs made you sick last time, then let’s skip the sneezing this time when I show you how to make the sandwich. But most people can enjoy a tiny bit of snot with no adverse effects.”
Okay, maybe that’s being a bit dramatic, but you get the gist.
As I was writing Alison back, she popped up on the Google-chat-thingy. I expressed my disappointment that the mousse had milk in it after I’d been told that it was vegan, though admittedly I downplayed my frustration because I didn’t want things to be weird when I met her. She apologized, saying that the mousse has been vegan in the past but Fabrice didn’t know that she’d switched to milk chocolate chips to achieve a lighter texture.
Okay, fair enough. Honest mistake, happens to the best of us. And I didn’t get sick, so let’s move on.
Still chatting, I told her I’d bring some vegan chocolate chips. She suggested making two batches of mousse: one with her milk chocolate chips and one with my vegan chips, so that we could compare.
I told her–again–that I don’t consume dairy products (on purpose, that is) and haven’t in almost 3 1/2 years.
She still insisted that we compare both kinds of chocolate. I replied–with a smiley–that I’d let her be the judge between the two. Whatever I decide is fine, she finally said.
It was as if we were speaking two different languages.
After dinner the next day, I walked over to Fabrison’s with my vegan chocolate chippies, silken tofu, and soy milk. At 6:30, the place was sans customers, which meant that I could have Alison’s undivided attention.
After we introduced ourselves, she welcomed me with the same friendliness that her husband offered, immediately inviting me behind the counter so we could get crackin’.
I clumsily displayed all the supplies I bought, rooting through my bag to find my camera before Alison started mousse-ing.
After we had all the ingredients in front of us, she showed me her bag of milk chocolate chips, and asked–again–if I wanted to make a batch of milk-chocolate mousse for comparison. Mon dieu!
Huh. Maybe she thought that because it’s only a trace of milk and because I avoid dairy out of choice rather than necessity, that it would be okay for me to just take a little taste…
Wide-eyed, I simply told her I wouldn’t eat milk chocolate. She quickly put the dairy-chips away and that was that. YES! Cow-milk-free mousse would be mine soon enough! Mwhahahahaaaaaaa!!
First, Alison poured the chocolate into a Dutch oven that was sitting on an induction cooktop, which I’d never seen before. And probably never will again–those fuckers are expensive. It’s so nice to look at professional kitchen gadgets though…sigh…We home cooks will simply have to do with a double boiler.
Sorry I don’t have many pictures, the whole thing happened so fast! This is definitely a quick and easy recipe, and my visit only lasted about half an hour, if that. Taking “samples” of the melted chocolate was unavoidable, and when you have chocolate on your fingers (and your face, and your shirt), you kinda don’t want to touch your camera.
After the chocolate was melted, Alison poured it into a blender and added a cup of soy milk, a block of silken tofu, about a tablespoon of agave nectar and approximately a teaspoon of vanilla extract, to mask the taste of the tofu. She blended the whole shebang until it was smooth.
And, uh, that was it. You’d be so proud of me: it was tough, but I resisted the urge to shout, “Mousse au Chocolat!!” the way John Cassavetes does in Rosemary’s Baby. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, rent that movie tout de suite. That way, if you ever detect a “chalky undertaste” in your mousse, you’ll know what’s up. I’m just sayin’.
Anyway. She told me that the freshly-blended mousse would have to be refrigerated for a few hours to firm up. I’m so grateful that she reminded me to bring Tupperware so I could take my dessert home with me!
I helped clean up a little bit, said goodbye, and grabbed my container of mousse and crept home like a chocolate-scented thief in the night. Except it was early evening and the sun was still out.
The next morning, I took the mousse out of the ‘fridge. Immediately I could see what my mousse-guru was trying to tell me: because it had more cocoa than the milk-chocolate variety (I’m guessing), the vegan chocolate chips did make a difference in the dessert’s texture. This version was darker, more dense and sturdy–not as delicate and dainty as the Fabrison’s version. But it was still damn good.
After I snapped off a few photos, and ignoring the fact that it was morning and I hadn’t even had breakfast yet and was still wearing my robe, I ate the mousse. Outside, on the balcony. Something about eating the mousse with the breeze in my face really did it for me–a perfect San Diego moment…