It’s not you, it’s me

Apricot Almond Tart

Apricot Almond Tart

With clammy hands tightly gripping the steering wheel, I gulp pranayama breaths of air, desperately trying to calm down. A cake box filled with my future slides around on the passenger side floor. I am running late.

I’m taking my tarts to the Steakhouse for final judgment. My worst critic, me, appraises the product harshly. A week before, I was a proud cock, crowing about my tarts – the best key lime ever! Today, as I test and decorate them, my confidence crumbles. The key lime is too sweet and its crust is gummy. I re-bake it. The coconut cream is dry, flat and lacking coconut flavor. I re-bake it. The lemon tart is cloudy on the surface and a little undercooked. If I had more filling, I would re-bake it as well. I attempt to cover up its flaws with powdered sugar and whipped cream. The apricot-almond seems overcooked and lacking flavor, I also re-bake it. The hours tick by; my kitchen is a war zone with sheet-pans and counters scattered with the bodies of discarded tarts.

Can’t I call him and cancel, start over and wait until I produce something remarkable?

I can’t endure criticism and my fear of it has only grown with each new plan, scheme and pursuit. Negative comments sear my skin and positive ones bounce off the scars, unable to sink in. It’s a throwback from my youth, I am sure. In our house, crushing another’s confidence was how you buoyed your own worth and superiority. Now, it’s paralyzes me.

I drive the tarts to him and gather courage in the parking lot. He gives me bottles of wine as payment for my work and we chat. He doesn’t fear failure and I admire him for that. We talk about how difficult it is to tell a vendor their product isn’t any good, like breaking up with someone – “It’s not you, it’s me!”

I can’t do it. I can’t watch as my work is judged. I ask him to taste them after I leave, share them with the staff, and call me with his feedback. I cannot bear a breakup, not from him, not now. I wait. My phone is silent and I am deflated.

W.W.W.D?

What would Walter Do?

 This weekend, I gorged myself on Breaking Bad, the final season. I can’t help but want to kick some ass and take some names after eight hours of that show. No, I don’t want to kill 10 people in 2 minutes, but…my niceness and desire to be liked does no one any good, lest of all, me. Fuck you, I want my share!

 For example, for the last six months, I’ve been dealing with the smell of human urine coming from my neighbor’s backyard. Yes, human urine. My neighbor’s drug-addict, highly volatile son and wife have been sleeping in the garage for the past few years. If his son needs to relieve himself, he uses his backyard as his urinal. I’ve actually heard him when my bedroom window is open. It’s disgusting, but I’ve been afraid of his son, who has robbed various neighbors’ homes and has taken a swing at more than person, so I’ve kept my mouth shut. This weekend, I called my neighbor out – asking him why his backyard smells like human urine. If it doesn’t get cleaned up in the next few weeks, I’m filing a complaint.

 And, speaking of neighbors, I also wrote a letter to Animal control regarding another neighbor who’s incessantly barking dogs have ruined gardening in my backyard, my quiet evenings reading and my attempts to fall asleep. I’m sick of it.

 And, I’m pissed off at my cleaning company, who do a half-ass job AND took about five pounds of nectarines from my tree without even asking – I wanted to make jam. I’m firing their asses.

 While not even close to Walter White status, It’s a start, anyway. It’s a start.

Culinary Xanax

I’m not going to blame it on Friday the 13th, but I’ve had one hellacious day. The bathroom is getting a full remodel while I’m simultaneously having much-needed A/C installed before summer really gets its groove on.

Without giving you the hairy details, suffice it to say that customer service doesn’t appear to be a contractor’s forte – any contractor, I’m convinced. I’ve been waiting since 8 a.m. for the plumber and glass installers to arrive – only to find out neither are coming today – AND, icing on the cake, the newly-installed A/C is faulty. Grrr… My stress and anxiety are peaking – and my customary course of action, taking a nice long walk, isn’t available to me, least one of the workers arrive late.

I sit on the couch, watching Sherlock re-runs and planning my retribution. I’ll write the Licensing Board, send an email to the Better Business Bureau, call their mothers! Someone needs to feel my wrath! Even Benedict Cumberbatch’s cheekbones haven’t improved my disposition.

Breathe, missy, just breathe. Setbacks like these shouldn’t ignite an overreaction of this magnitude. House-bound with anxiety bubbling over, I have to find an outlet.   If not a walk, then into the kitchen I go. I am, by the way, not even hungry, but some sort of sweet treat will put me in a better frame of mind – my culinary Xanax.

I’ve secreted a recipe away just for a day like today. Ladies Home Journal entitled it “Try Some Insta-Cake and feel Insta-Better”, reprinted from the blog, A Farmgirl’s Dabbles. I thought it would make its debut after a breakup, but this seems to be a more apt occasion.  A recipe that can be mixed and cooked in under 10 minutes and result in two personal-sized goooey chocolate cakes. I’m beginning to feel restored already.

Gooey Chocolate Cake Cups for Two
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup cocoa powder
Pinch salt
¼ cup milk
¼ cup butter, melted
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup semisweet chocolate chips

  • Stir together flour, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Add milk, butter, eggs and vanilla (I mixed these ingredients together first before adding them to the dry). Stir well to incorporate. Fold in chocolate chips.
  • Divide batter between two microwave-safe mugs and sprinkle extra chocolate chips on top.
  • Microwave both cups together on high for 2 minutes. The cakes should be very moist and gooey in the middle. Allow cakes to cool for 15 minutes before serving.
  • Curl up on the couch, breathe deeply, and enjoy guilt free – this is medicine; you need it.

One cake for today and the other for tomorrow – did I mention I have painters arriving at 7 a.m.?
Cake

Culinary Sand Mandala

“…and then they released it into the ocean.”

 A man I once aspired to date – I often seem to be trying unsuccessfully to date someone unavailable– was describing the Buddhist sand mandala painters he had watched the previous two afternoons. These monks painstakingly labor over their sand painting for days, only to destroy their art in the end – a symbol of life’s impermanence.

 “I’d be heartbroken to devote all that time creating artwork only to see it demolished,” I declared.

 “Isn’t that what happens with your cooking?” he wryly replied.

 We never did go out. I can’t even recall his name. Our exchange, though, has remained with me. Cooking IS my art and it took a nameless man to show me that. My kitchen is my studio where I practice and play. At its denouement, my art is devoured, demolished. My passion lies in the crafting, my delight in the sharing.

The incidents and experiences at my stove echo my life of savored successes and grieved failures. My kitchen is bomb shelter and Band-Aid, my respite when I’m overwhelmed and my surefire reason for procrastination. My artwork bribes my coworkers and seduces my lovers. It’s my voice, my meditation, my pleasure and often my vexation.

 A graduate of culinary school and (most recently) gelato school, I call myself neither Chef nor expert, but a mere dabbler in all things gastronomic.

Le Gibassier Part 2

Gibassier_compressed

I couldn’t resist.  I had to make them for myself.  The “active” time on the recipe is minimal, but the time needed for rising, resting and proofing made this an all-day affair. Most recipes I found on the internet are some version of the gibassier by Ciril Hitz, with each cook adding her own alternations.  For this initial attempt, I decided on Anne’s recipe at Dinner Plate.  Her goal was to duplicate the gibassier from Pearl Bakery, which was the location of my revelation, so I thought it was a good place to begin.  Rather than reprint it here, you can find her recipe by visiting her site.  This recipe is similar to the others with a few modifications including adding an egg to the pre-ferment, replacing some olive oil with more butter, decreasing the anise seed but adding more candied orange peel and increasing the yeast.

I’m no better than the rest of the chefs out there as I couldn’t leave her version alone either.  I used the candied orange recipe at Chocolate and Zucchini rather than the version at Dinner Plate.  I prefer Clotilde’s version which includes some of the pulp on the final product.  For flour, I substituted higher-gluten bread flour for APF, as was recommended in many of the other recipes.  Also, I wanted pronounced anise flavor, so I increased the anise seed back to the original amount (1.5 t.), toasted the seeds and slightly crushed them.

I must admit that this initial batch turned out pretty damn good.   On the next go, there are two definite changes I’m making.  First, at 100 grams, the finished pastries are just too damn big.  Next time, I’m trying something in the 70-80 gram range.  Second, using the superfine sugar as a coating meant they finished gibassier didn’t have the same sugary, finger-licking crust as Pearl Bakery.  I adore the sandy sugar texture on my teeth as I bite into the bread – and I miss it.   Next time, it’s standard granulated sugar.

Other things I will try on subsequent rounds:

  • Activating the yeast before adding it to the pre-ferment and dough. No one recommends doing this, but this was standard operating procedure in culinary school.
  • Using the olive oil to butter ratio found on other sites. While butter is always best (mmm…butter!), it seems olive oil is the more traditional route.
  • Trying APF flour rather than Bread flour to compare the final texture, although I was very happy with my version. 

The majority of the batch went in the freezer  and out of my immediate reach – my jeans couldn’t take a 100 gram gibassier a day for the next 12 days.  I’m parsing them out – enjoying one half every morning with my coffee.  At this rate, the batch will almost last a month…if my willpower holds steady.