I will never tire of looking at Susan Branch's artwork. Her paintings always refresh and inspire me. Some of the prettiest work I've ever seen was painted by Susan for her lovely books, cookbooks, cards, calendars, etc.
The other day I went to her website to see what was new with her and take a look at her blog. Much to my disappointment, her blog is no longer there. So that meant one of my favorite stories of all time was no longer online. How I wish I had copied that story several years ago when I first read it. It told of a lady who contacted her several years ago. As a child, this young woman had visited in Susan's home, as a guest of Susan's older sister. She spoke of the pleasant atmosphere, the love, the homemade food, the joy she experienced visiting in her home years before. Her own home was a sad and broken place where ugly and hurtful words were all that were spoken. But Susan's home was a happy and joyful respite, and Susan's mother made her feel loved and welcomed. An impression was made she would never forget. The young woman had resolved to make her home like the home of her childhood friend and not like the home she grew up in. More than any other story I've read, that story inspired me to make my home a place of warmth and comfort and beauty, for my own family especially, but also for all who enter. We may never know the impact our simple acts of kindness might have on another for a lifetime.
While on Susan's website I found this recipe for a French Éclair Wreath. I love chocolate éclairs. No ifs, ands, or buts. Love them. Every once in a while I splurge and treat us to a couple boxes of Riches Éclairs. I say a couple, because at four to a box, that is what it takes for everyone to get his or her own and not have to share with a husband or sibling. I've also made éclairs occasionally. They aren't difficult, but there are three separate steps: the pastry, the filling, and the chocolate glaze. Not exactly a hurry-up-and-make-it sort of dessert.
Valentine's Day seemed like the ideal day to try out this éclair recipe. I thought a heart-shaped wreath would be perfect. Normally I prepare recipes as they are written, but for this one, I omitted the bananas under the filling and the almonds on top. I was going for pure, simple, French custard in an airy pastry, glazed with pure chocolate. Additionally, I halved this recipe. The original feeds twelve or more! I can assure you that the one I made is plenty big for my family.
Rather than copy her recipe, I'm going to link it instead. At the least, you'll be delighted by her hand lettering and watercolor painting, even if you don't decide to make the éclair. Be sure to take a look. And let me know if you try it!
Sadly, the recipe has been removed.
Happy Valentine's Day!