A New Driver Deserves A Drink: The Angry Mule

Back of the tooth: “Flossing isn’t just for gangstas.”

This morning my favorite (youngest/only) daughter got her driver’s license.

I remember getting mine as if I was the one behind the wheel a few hours ago. I took my test in a red Ford Escort with a manual transmission, back in the day when you still had to parallel park to earn that plastic. I had plans that weekend, plans that relied on me passing that test.

I remember the front wheel kissing the curb as I straightened up after parking, and my heart sank. If I was directed right after I pulled out of the parking space, that meant I had passed. A left meant disappointed friends and another boring weekend, trapped at the whim of parents who were sick of driving me around. I pulled the car out of the space and brought the front bumper parallel to the stop sign, expectantly looking at the test administrator. With a bit of a sigh, he pointed right.

I couldn’t watch The Kid as she began her test today. Mr. Tyrone walked the perimeter of the car, asking her to turn on various lights, and I couldn’t remember if she actually knew where the hazard lights were (or how to turn them on). She was spacey as we drove to her appointment, and I was just worried in general.

It’s no small thing, this putting your kid in the world and hoping for the best. It’s not just the lack of control over what they do; it’s the lack of control over what everybody else does. No one can be forced to treat your kid well.

No one gives a rat’s ass if you think they are amazing or if you did your best.

Mostly, from birth until you stop posting family selfies and ridiculous updates all over your social media, most people in the world are simply humoring you and your obsession with your child.

#TrueStory

It’s okay. We are built to be the center of our own universe. We can’t expect everyone to feel the same way about the things we care most about.

The one person who would have cared at least as much as me, beyond just a regular, garden-variety well-wishing, is sitting on the top shelf of my closet in a little wooden box.

When Dane died, Luke Bryan released “Drink A Beer,” a song that nearly killed me at that point in my grief. It was a country song, but we were in Georgia, and if I am being honest, Dane was more than a little bit country. Nevermind the “good lord” references; that’s beside the point.

Listen.

This song has been reverberating in my head since I handed Sicily her own key on a tooth-shaped key chain. As I type this and listen to various versions of it, I miss him. I miss Sicily’s father. I miss him because of her, and I miss him because of me. He would have been so proud today, and he would have cried as she drove away to spread these new wings of hers.

Neither of us are/were the praying kind, but I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit to sending something into the universe about protecting my heart as she drives to her next adventure/heartbreak/triumph/devastation.

After we spent a little more time in the company of the delightful folks at the MVA, Sicily drove us down to Jimmy’s in Fell’s Point for breakfast. I spent many drunk and hungover mornings with my friend Luke at the old Formica counter in Jimmy’s, drinking draft Budweiser so cold that it had thin sheets of ice floating at the top.

It doesn’t even shock me that I didn’t realize the Luke Bair (my friend)/Luke Bryan (that singer) connection until that last sentence came out of my fingers, or that I just randomly suggested breakfast at Jimmy’s to celebrate.

I didn’t get a beer because a beer at 9:30 might send the wrong message to my newly-licensed driver, but if any day warrants a drink, today is it.

Perhaps it should be a little forlorn, today’s drink, but grief takes it out of me so that I can’t even muster the strength to be forlorn. I made up this little cocktail over the summer but didn’t set it down until yesterday. #Foreshadowing

I know there is a drink with the same name, but this is not that, and I am certainly open to alternative suggestions.

Raising a glass tonight to myself, my sweet new driver, and my beloved husband who would have been so proud and is still very missed.

The Angry Mule

Make your own. The store-bought crap is no good.

Jalapeño-Infused Vodka

4 cups vodka

5 or 6 jalapeños

The Rest

Ginger beer (I like Gosling’s. Anything but ginger ale. #Heresy)

Pineapple juice

Method

PLAN AHEAD. Make your vodka by chopping up the jalapeños and placing them in a clean quart jar. Cover with vodka. Include the seeds. Let sit in a cool, dark place until you can’t wait anymore. A couple days, a week. Or just give it a taste. You may find it’s too spicy and want to add more vodka (see below).

Strain into a clean jar.

Fill a pint glass with ice. Add two ounces of vodka, then ginger beer almost to the top. Splash of pineapple juice, a little stir, and you’re in business.

Recipe Notes

  • The batch of jalapeño vodka I currently have working is actually bright green. This is a very, very good thing. This means that I can cut this batch with even more vodka and have even more jalapeño-infused vodka. #HellYes

My sweet baby. Jazz hands and potato chips at two years old. Not much has changed.

Sheer Delight: Better Than They Oughta Be Fried Green Tomato Arepas

Fried green tomato arepa with pimento cheese. #FreshParsleyOptional

The Child and I visited my grandmother last week, the one who steals fruit from her assisted living facility. Busy summers and basic malaise have kept us away since the second week in June, but putting off a visit to a 98-year-old person is no good idea. Plus, The Child and I need to feel like we are on the road from time to time; our best conversations happen while the tires eat the miles, even if it’s just a short two-hour jaunt to rural Pennsylvania.

When we pulled up, she was sitting in the sun outside the entrance to the main building. Three young men were spreading mulch in the flower beds, and the day was that kind of almost-fall day where the sky is such a crystalline shade of blue that the trees are outlined in black.

She didn’t recognize my (new to me) car when we pulled in, so when Sicily and I walked up to her and said hello, she looked up with a blank face before she recognized who we were and a look of what can only be described as sheer delight spread across her features.  She said, “I was waiting for someone, and here you are!”

We should all be greeted with such an unabashed and open display of pleasure.

I have an unexpectedly close relationship with my grandmother, as does The Child. Through letters I have learned what her life has been, and in person I get to know this person in whom I see so much of myself. She takes joy in seeing her great-grandchildren and has vowed to live until they are all safely ensconced in college; because of this, we do not share The Child’s plans for a gap year, and we are selective about the information we share in general. She likes to know we are happy and recovered from “Dane’s incident,” “that unfortunate time” when he died in a car accident. We talk about the weather, and food, and she worries about the stock market.

Our visit was short, as it usually is. My grandmother is spry and quick still, but tired in the way that people approaching 100 can be, I suppose, after a long walk outside and a rest in the sun. On the way back to her room, we stopped in the residents’ garden plot to look at the produce, and I ended up with a bellyful of sun-sweet cherry tomatoes and a bag full of green tomatoes for later.

I haven’t had fried green tomatoes in a dog’s age. The last time was in a diner in the south, someplace below the fall line in southern Georgia. I have few fond memories of our 13 years living in that place, but southern food is one of them. It’s a foodway that uses scraps and makes do, and it seems to mesh perfectly with my grandmother’s Depression era philosophy:

Make do;

Do without;

Use it up;

Wear it out.

These recipes are a mash of that sensibility plus new-to-me flavors and foods. I have been mildly obsessed with arepas since White Envelope came to town, and enjoying smoky foods is also new to me. I advise adding any or all of these condiments and toppings liberally to each arepa. You can certainly mix and match. The recipe for Mushroom Bacon is not my own, so I am linking it here.

Fried green tomato arepa with mushroom bacon and chipotle mayonnaise.

For the record, I don’t believe in calling non-meat things a meat name, but this is how the original person wrote the recipe, so I am going with that. It is delicious but does not in any way resemble bacon. I chopped it up after it was all done, and that was the easiest to eat.

There is also the basic recipe for arepas themselves, plus Chipotle Mayonnaise and Fried Green Tomatoes.

I have gone back and forth as to whether or not to include my Pimento Cheese recipe and have decided, at the very last minute, to hold that back. You can use a store-bought variety, or use your own recipe. That shizz deserves its own post, and it’s worth the wait. #Trust

Bacon, lettuce, and fried green tomato arepa with chipotle mayonnaise.

I am pretty sure that when you present your people with any of these combinations they will gaze up at you with sheer delight as well.

Arepas With Assorted Delicious FIllings, Not The Least Of Which Is Fried Green Tomatoes and Chipotle Mayo with Bacon 

If you want to try all of these recipes, make them in the following order: Chipotle Mayonnaise (the night before, even), Pimento Cheese (if making your own), Mushroom Bacon, Arepas, and Fried Green Tomatoes.

Chipotle Mayonnaise

As with everything, adjust amounts to taste, but here’s the basic formula. Make this the night before.

Ingredients

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup whole milk yogurt (or sour cream – whatever is in the ‘fridge)

3 teaspoons lime juice

3/4 teaspoon chipotle chile

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon stone ground prepared mustard

Method

Mix all ingredients together (I use a Mason jar – no clean up). Store in ‘fridge and use on damn near everything.

Arepas (makes 8 arepas)

Ingredients

2 cups masarepa (see Recipe Notes)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/4 cup warm water

Method

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a cooling rack on a baking sheet and set aside.

Mix masarepa, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add warm water and mix until smooth. Use 1/3 cup measure to divide dough into eight balls and shape into disks that are 1/2″ thick and about 3″ wide.

Heat a small amount of oil in a non-stick or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Working four at a time, fry the arepas on each side until golden brown, about four minutes each side. Transfer to cooling rack and fry the other four arepas.

Place in oven and bake for 10 minutes or until arepas sound hollow. Turn off the oven and leave arepas to cool and crisp.

Recipe Notes

  • You cannot use regular masa for this recipe, and the addition of baking powder makes it not quite traditional. But of the eleventy million times it seems like I have made these, this formula produced a creamy interior with a crispy shell. So there it is. You can find masarepa in most Latino grocery stores, occasional in a mainstream grocery store, and always online.

Fried Green Tomatoes

There really is no better way to use up those stubborn, lingering tomatoes clinging to the vine than Fried Green Tomatoes. If you aren’t a fan, take your green tomatoes, stick them in a cardboard box, and set them someplace cool. Check on them every now and then; they will gradually ripen and be just as sweet and delicious as the ones from the vine. Remove mushy ones fast; they really will spoil the whole bunch.

Ingredients

Green tomatoes (for eight sandwiches, I used four medium ones), sliced into 1/4″ rounds

1 cup soured milk (see Recipe Notes)

1 cup flour (I use gluten-free all-purpose flour)

1 cup cornmeal

Salt and pepper

Method

Slice tomatoes and place on paper towels. Some people salt them at this point to draw out the moisture, but not me. I let them sit on the towels and blot them dry.

Place a cooling rack on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and set aside.

In a cast iron skillet, heat about 1/2″ of oil over medium heat.

Set up your breading station, left to right (or right to left if you are left handed): one dish of flour, one dish of milk, one dish of cornmeal.

Controversial direction #1: I do not season my flour. I season the tomatoes directly. Many will take issue with this. I don’t care. Do it however you choose. 

When your oil is hot, salt and pepper your tomatoes. Dip into flour, shaking off the excess, then soured milk, and finally cornmeal. Fry until golden brown on both sides (approximately four minutes total, but the temperature of your oil will dictate this a bit).

Controversial direction #2: Do not drain your fried tomatoes on paper towels. This will make them soggy. Remove them from the oil to your cooling rack over a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. If your oil was the correct temperature, the breading will not absorb too much, and this keeps them crispy. My grandmother drains hers on paper towels, but as Oprah says: When you know better, you do better.

Recipe Notes

  • Many recipes call for buttermilk, but if you don’t regularly drink it, you will end up with extra that just sits in the ‘fridge. To make your own, add one tablespoon of white vinegar to each cup of milk, stir, and let sit for ten minutes. Voila.

Assembly

Slice arepas down as you would a pita pocket; it’s up to you if you slice all the way through or treat them like a pocket.

Slip in a fried green tomato or two and then go from there. Favorite combos pictured above are: Bacon, Lettuce, and Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Mayo; Fried Green Tomatoes With Pimento Cheese; Fried Green Tomato With Mushroom Bits, Pimento Cheese, Lettuce, and Chipotle. Any or all of these are delicious. Fresh herbs like maybe a little parsley or cilantro are also delicious.

If you want something simple and don’t have time for any fuss, just use pimento cheese and let it get all melty. So. Freaking. Delicious.

It’s Time For Fall: Frank’s Holy Bundt

It may not look like much, but it’s basically religion in a bundt pan. #Trust

It’s fall, people.

The calendar may argue the point, but the weather surely doesn’t.

And not a moment too soon. My schtick is not depression lit, but I have made no secret of the fact that in my personal life it can be hard to find a lot of things to get it up for on a daily basis (yes, I said “get it up for” not “get up for.”). Often life seems like a silly march towards the end, just looking around for things to fill the days until you don’t really have to look around anymore and can sit in a chair, watch the news, complain about the weather, and worry about your 401K.

This summer in particular has been one of the more difficult ones. Maybe it is the return of the prodigal daughter from France. Or the conflict and stress of a freelance project that is exciting and challenging but an ongoing battle. Maybe it’s the completely fucked state of the U.S. Whatever it is, things feel pretty meh, enough so that even a drop in temperature is enough to get excited about.

On this the first day of September, I had been planning to kick off a 30-day month with three things: 30 days of cooking, 30 days of writing, and 30 days of yoga.

I am a huge fan of the 30-day challenge, but only the ones I make up for myself because YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME. In an effort to cast about for something to focus on, I thought piling on the 30-day deadlines would be a good idea.

And then September 1st hit. Today. And I am still finishing up a recipe that I have been working on for two weeks and have a website with half-written blogs and a cell phone with jotted notes.

Turns out, sometimes you have to plan a little bit when you are gearing up for something.

Ah, well. In the wake of flooding in Texas, missile tests in North Korea, and navigating the complexity of emotions and people in combining two households with two teenagers (yes, I compared those three things. What of it?), planning has been…difficult.

So here we are, September 1st, and I am presenting to you a recipe from someone else.

The original recipe is not actually called Frank’s Holy Bundt.

Khristian (my particular friend, for those of you new to the blog) has a friend Peter with whom he performs. Peter lives with a roommate, Liz, whose boyfriend is Frank.

I met Frank briefly once before and only in passing, but a couple weeks ago I spent more time with him on Peter’s back porch. Cocktails at The Bluebird Room in Hampden had me feeling social, so I stopped by Peter’s house on the way home and found Peter, Khristian, Liz, and Frank.

Frank is a musician, constantly on tour. He has unruly hair, a beard, and an easy, warm way about him. As with many people, he also comes with verbal tics, one of which is “holy.” Everything that night was holy, from the cupcakes I made Liz for her birthday to a broken down car in western Maryland. Even the mashed potatoes they heated up later that night were holy.

In honor of Frank, and that warm summer evening, and the reminder that sometimes it’s nice to not worry about the big picture and just hang out on the back porch and enjoy what is, I present this, Frank’s Holy Bundt, a strange but incredibly delicious marriage of zucchini and chocolate. I only made slight adjustments to the original recipe mostly because I like to use what I have. If you have an abundance of zucchini, shred it and freeze it in two-cup measures so you can make this mid-winter.

Frank’s Holy Bundt

This cake has very little sugar for a cake, plus vegetables, so it’s practically health food. I used chocolate chips because it’s what I had on hand, but if you are fancy and have fancy chocolate, use that instead.

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons strong cooled coffee
3 large eggs
2 cups unpeeled grated zucchini (I used frozen and squeezed all of the water out)
3/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, chopped
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Method

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a stand mixer, beat the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the vanilla, coffee, and eggs, mixing well between each addition (see note below for why this sort of doesn’t actually matter).

In a separate bowl, combine the zucchini, chocolate chips, and a cup or so of the flour/cocoa mixture. Stir well to coat and separate as much of the zucchini as possible.

Add the rest of the flour mixture into the egg batter. Mix until just combined; the batter will be thick.

Fold the zucchini mixture into the batter, and blend with a spatula without overmixing (see Recipe Notes).

Pour into the prepared cake pan, and use your spatula to make sure the top is level.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool for 10 minutes, and then place the rack on top of the bundt pan. Flip the bundt over and allow to cool completely.

Use a fine-mesh sieve to sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar. Try not to eat it all but remind yourself that there is zucchini in there if you do and count that as a couple servings of vegetables.

Recipe Notes

  • I beat the shit out of the butter and forgot the sugar. When I added it after the next step, the batter was lumpy and gross looking, with clumps of butter. DID NOT MATTER AT ALL. This cake is very forgiving.
  • When working with cakes, muffins, pancakes, etc, you will often see the direction “mix until just combined,” or “do not overmix.” This is so the traditional flour doesn’t begin to develop the gluten and result in leaden cakes. With gluten-free flour, you can mix as much as you want. I don’t worry about it at all, but if you are using regular AP flour, tread lightly.

The Court’s Indulgence: White Bean, Sweet Pepper, And Arugula With Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

Court’s indulgence. This picture is blurry. It was a long day.

It’s not often that things on TV are pretty much exactly the same in real life.

Last week I sat on a jury for a five-day trial. The defendant was accused of 24 counts of crime, including first-degree rape and possessing a weapon when he wasn’t allowed to possess a weapon.

(Fun fact: the defendant’s last crime was prosecuted by Ruth Bader Ginsberg in 1993. Federal drug charge.)

I have never sat on an actual jury; I have been called for jury duty three times in my life, and mostly it’s just lots of sitting around and watching movies like How To Lose a Guy In 10 Days and Avatar. This time was different, and I was quickly seated as Juror #4 by noon on my first day of reporting, then sent home until Monday when the trial would begin.

Everything about the trial was pretty much what it looks like on TV: the dramatic opening and closing statements, the cross examination, the witnesses getting testy with the defense attorney, and, finally, conflict (and resolution) in the deliberation room.

Time seemed strangely fluid as well; hours would pass in the courtroom in what seemed like minutes, but in the deliberation room, every minute was an agony of waiting. At the end of the day we would emerge from our windowless room, cram ourselves into the elevator, and then emerge at the corner of St. Paul and Lexington, blinking against the too-bright sunshine of the late afternoon, at the height of rush hour to crawl our way home.

Of all the things that stuck in my mind that week, one in particular stands out. Whenever the lawyers had to gather something or find something that meant the action had to pause briefly, they would say, “Court’s indulgence,” and the judge would nod, indicating that she was cool with the wait.

“Court’s indulgence.”

I don’t know why, but I love this saying. It’s a respectful request for permission to pause while you gather your thoughts, something we could all use every now and then.

One day when I came home it was stuck in my head like a mantra, playing over and over as I fed the dogs and made dinner. On that night, it was hot outside and the back door was open, letting in a feeble breeze (and lots of flies, which drives The Black Dog crazy, an admittedly short trip). It had been an especially long day, nine to five listening to a case about rape and gun violations, and I wasn’t particularly interested in making something complicated for dinner or turning on the stove.

Court’s indulgence: I remembered my preserved lemons, which were ready and waiting.

Court’s indulgence: There were some small, sweet yellow, red, and orange peppers in the crisper, along with half a red onion and some arugula that I wouldn’t even need to wash.

Court’s indulgence: A bomb shelter’s worth of canned beans in the coolness of the basement.

Et voila. Dinner, eaten with the court’s indulgence, on the balcony in the back of the house as the evening wore on and the sun sank low.

White Bean, Sweet Pepper, And Arugula Salad With Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

Ingredients

2 tablespoons minced preserved lemon (rinse to remove salt and also strip away the squishy flesh)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup best-quality olive oil (it matters)

1 heaping teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 to 1 teaspoon black pepper (I like a lot of pepper)

1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

One large red pepper, chopped, or five small multi-color pepper, chopped

1/2 large red onion, sliced

Handful of arugula per salad

Method

Make things easy on yourself and mix this all in the same bowl. I used a medium-sized round white Corningware bowl.

Place first five ingredients in bowl and mix together. Add beans, peppers, and onions and stir to combine.

To serve, place a large handful of arugula in a bowl, then top with beans. If you feel the need, you can drizzle with more olive oil and a squeeze of lemon, but mix it all around and taste before you do that.

Beans are even better the next day, chilled and then brought to room temp before serving.

 

 

Fail Forward: Pistachio Macarons With Rosewater Filling

These were an abject failure.

I was born to write.

I certainly have the temperament for it – I am an introvert, and I over think everything. At a minimum I think writers need to be comfortable alone, stuck in their head for substantial periods of time.

#Check

But for as long as I can remember I have been jotting words down on scraps of paper and hoarding them. Sometimes these words come together with periods and commas and semicolons (my favorite form of punctuation. #TotalDork), sometimes they are occasionally formed together on the wings of a poem, and sometimes they remain just fluttering scraps of thought that I save, maybe waiting for their chance.

I have always loved journals and pens and the accoutrement of writers, but bar napkins, receipts, and matchbooks (from back when there were such things readily available) are all a part of the flotsam of my writerly (if not always writer’s) life.

I even remember my first typewriter: an IBM Selectric. I didn’t write much on that beige beast except for papers and other undergraduate work, but I lugged it around with me for years before finally donating it to Goodwill where I am sure it languished on a dusty shelf until someone decided to recycle it.

My behaviors are those of a writer – seclusion, procrastination, and moment- and memory-hoarding.

That writing is tragically hard for me is an unfortunate irony of my chosen profession. Writers complaining of the pain of writing is not unusual and indeed seems to be part of the job description. Every word you put on the page is a reflection of yourself shining glaringly back at yourself, like a mirror that doesn’t really allow for whitewashing of flaws or highlighting of assets. Writing is radical honesty, only self-inflicted.

If I am honest with myself, which I always try to be, writing is the most painful and precious and cutting place I have ever visited because, as a writer, even if I don’t write it down it stays humming around in my brain, and even if I do write it down and never read it, I know it’s there. There are blogs from the early days of Dane’s death that I simply cannot read now. They are raw streams of emotion poured on the page, the very essence of grief distilled in  a paragraph or two when keeping it inside was not a viable option.

So there’s that physical pain of writing the truth as I see it.

And then there’s the intellectual pain. Not the mental struggle to choose the right word or really be honest with what I mean to say and not give in to the urge to have some sort of flourish that is not me. Although this can be excruciating, in many cases time, work, and careful attention to words and the craft of assembling them can help with this, as can copious amounts of reading and patience and careful editing.

I am talking about that odious bitch, the Anti-Cheerleader. The constant mental struggle against feelings of inadequacy and doubt.

The clear knowledge that millions of people are writing AT THIS VERY MOMENT, and most of them are doing it better than me. That someone has already said what I am saying, and way better. That somehow, everyone’s thoughts are better than mine, and I am foolish to believe that anyone gives a rat’s ass about what I have to say.

Do you see the trend? The Anti-Cheerleader assures me that I am unworthy, that my work is not worth the price of the ink used to print it out, and that I will never be able to find any value – monetary or otherwise – as a writer. And, finally, that I should not even be calling myself “writer.”

It seems masochistic to willfully  undertake something that continually reminds you how bad you are at that thing. And then to tangle your identity (“I am a writer”) all up in that thing? Well, that is certainly madness.

As it is a well-known fact that many artists are batshit crazy, I suppose a tinge of madness comes with the territory. But still.

Every time I sit down to write or I avoid sitting down to write or I read about someone who has sat down to write I am forced to confront all of these feelings over and over again.

But I was born to write.

I was born to the struggle of shaving words onto the page. I was born to turn the things I experience into sentences that mean something, even if they only ever really mean something to me.

I love words. I love the way they look on the page. I love the way they sound when they are spoken. I love the way they connect to each other and disconnect from each other and connect the people who read them with an invisible thread.

I love trying to figure out which word is exactly the right one, even if the word is simple and small and not flowery and worth 50 cents on the SAT.

Language matters, and it happens to be the currency in which I traffic.

For me, food is like this, too.

Food connects people in ways that even language cannot. I have been fascinated by food since I was young, especially the ways in which it brings people together. Aside from having to eat to sustain life, special moments are marked with food, and that food becomes the shared experience upon which lives are built.

But, as with writing, there are millions of people cooking better than I am. And developing better recipes. And just in general knowing more that I do, latecomer as I am to the whole business of cooking and eating, and with no formal training or work in the back of the house.

Writing + Food = Food Writing, which also = Nearly Paralyzing Feelings Of Inadequacy

And then there is this:

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Hell, YEAH, it is.

Because there is ALWAYS someone who is better. Who knows more. Is funnier. Has tighter abs. Better hair. Whatever. Name it. Someone is better.

Which can be, I suppose, a bit of relief. There is no such thing as “the best.” Maybe it might be “the best right at this moment..whoops…not anymore,” or “the best for you with what you had at the time.”

I say this “can be” a bit of relief because most days, if I am being honest (which I always try to be), that doesn’t really help. I still feel like a huckster and a fraud selling skills which, if I actually possess them, are ephemeral and difficult to regulate and duplicate.

Then some days, quite accidentally, there is a shining bit of joy, when the Sunshiney Rays Of Competence dart through the Clouds of Self-Doubt And Despair with a crepuscular golden light.

Today is not that day.

My particular friend Khristian works with a lovely woman, Linar, who you all just WISH would teach your kids someday. Seriously. Her classroom (and her manner with the children and pretty much every person who crosses her path) is so lovely and loving and supportive that every time I see her, even my introverted self leans a little closer. Linar gave Khristian a bottle of rosewater, and he turned it over to me. I promised her a recipe using that, so here it is. Pistachios and rosewater is a classic combination, and macarons have been my archnemesis.

Turns out, they remain my archnemesis.

While the macaron flavor was delicious, they did not rise on glorious feet. The filling tasted like a mouthful of flowers, even though I was very sparing. Some might like it; for me, it was overly perfumed and not pleasant.

This is not the end that I expected to have, but there it is. It is important, I think, to discuss the hard parts, the failure, in cooking. It’s easy enough to make something look delicious; that’s only so much smoke, mirrors, and microwaved tampons.

Failure isn’t pretty, but it’s necessary. If you must fail – and rest assured, you must – fail forward.

For the curious, here’s the recipe. I would advise you make these at your own risk, and if you do, let me know how it goes.

Pistachio Macarons With Rosewater Filling

Ingredients

Macarons

1/2 cup finely ground pistachios

1/2 cup finely ground almond meal

1 cup powdered sugar

3 egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

Filling

2 egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

5 tablespoons butter, softened

1-2 teaspoons rosewater (less or more, to taste)

Method

Line two baking sheets with silpat mat or parchment paper. Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift ground pistachios, almond flour, and powdered sugar. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment, whip egg whites until they begin to gain volume and become bubbly. When this happens, slowly add sugar until fully incorporated and egg whites are thick and holding soft peaks.

Add egg white mixture to nuts mixture and fold in vigorously with a spatula until thoroughly incorporated.

Place macaron batter in a piping bag fitted with a round tip (or use a large freezer bag with the end snipped off) and pipe into circles onto silpat (which may have guides on them already). Bang cookie sheet on the counter to settle the batter (just a couple good whacks) then let macarons sit for 30 minutes to an hour. The macarons need to dry and form a skin, of sorts, in order to get a good lift while baking and have visible “feet” (the frilly part on the bottom of the cookie).

When the top of the macarons are dry to the touch, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bake for nine to 12 minutes or until they are crisp outside. Cool completely before removing from silpat and filling.

To make the filling, combine egg whites and sugar in a metal bowl and set over a pan of simmering water, beating with a hand mixer until it thickens and is hot to the touch. Remove bowl from water and, still mixing, add butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing until incorporated.

Continue to beat this mixture until it thickens and has the texture of light frosting. Add rosewater to taste and stir to combine.

Pipe a circle of frosting on the flat part of one macaron, and top with another.

Recipe Notes

I do not use food coloring, but if you do, the macarons can be colored with two drops of green, and the filling can be colored with one or two drops of red.

Macarons should be stored at room temperature and eaten within a day or two. They also freeze well.