Had We But World Enough And Time: Profiteroles

The wild profiterole, captured in its natural habitat.

First, for you, a poem about love. Sort of. If you are not a lover of poetry, feel free to skip to the erudite synopsis – the TL:DR, if you will – below:

To His Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

~Andrew Marvell~

Essentially, Andrew Marvell is trying to convince his mistress to get freaky, and quick, before worms begin to eat them in the grave.

What this is really about is time (well, and if we are being honest, which we should always try to be, also sex), and how little we have in comparison to how much we tell ourselves we have (time and sex, both).

This winter break I wanted lots and lots of time. I wanted to have weeks of time to do as much or as little as I wanted, with no stress of deadlines. It may seem that as a freelance writer I have all of the time in the world, but in truth my days fly by in a haze of writing and basic life management. Most days I raise myself from a shitty night’s sleep and deliver The Child to school, and then, even with the day stretching out long before me, writing, house maintenance, family maintenance, yoga teaching/class planning, and yoga studio assistant managing fill up those minutes I thought I had plenty of when I first woke.

It astonishes me how I used to do all of the things I do these days with the added pressure of running a school and managing livestock. I cannot remember how it is that I got things done.

And that’s the haze aspect. I didn’t really spend too much time thinking about or noticing things that were happening. It’s the same as if your head is on fire – you don’t note the color of the flames, you just put the fire out. So many parts of my life have rushed by in a blur that I never fully experienced.

But the only way to really dive deep is to make time to do so. There are multiple studies on how we can’t actually “multi-task,” and that entering deeply into something is the only way to truly know that thing. If you quickly Google “how to learn something” you get 622 million results. The first few pages talk about learning something new every day and then quickly devolve into ways to learn new things in five minutes, or ten. It’s all about learning/doing the thing and less about experiencing the thing.

It’s hard to jump off the Must Get Things Done Treadmill.

But jump off I must. Not for any reason other than I want to continue to try to be present for everything. Possibly not things like cleaning the cat box or doing my taxes, but maybe even those things, too.

For months now I have wanted to give real pastry a try. I have been craving cream puffs and eclairs and cheese danish with an immeasurable ferocity for months now. The only reason I am not 1,000 pounds is because I am unwilling to pay eight bucks a pastry for substandard gluten-free bullshit. I may splurge for a $4 gluten-free cupcake on occasion, but I always regret it (I make them waaaaay tastier).

But real delicate pastry takes time and attention, both of which have been hard to come by in these past months.

Not anymore.

Here are profiteroles. Pâte à choux pastry, light and puffy, filled with sweet vanilla cream and striped with chocolate.

Authentic and delicious. Gluten-free (although you can make them with regular AP flour).

They take some time. I have modified the process a bit for less hands-on time, but still. You can’t just pop these in the oven and walk away.

Profiteroles

This recipe bows in gratitude to Michael Ruhlman and Ratio, but changes are made to accommodate the peculiar properties of gluten-free flour. 

Ingredients 

Pastry Creme (Creme Patisserie, or Creme Pat as they say on The Great British Baking Show)

1/4 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour (or just cornstarch)

4 room-temperature egg yolks

2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 vanilla bean, scraped (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

Pâte à Choux

1 cup water

1 stick butter (really, about 7 tablespoons, but 1 stick is fine)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour

3 room-temperature eggs, beaten

Optional drizzle

1/2 cup chocolate, chopped (I used bittersweet chips because it’s what I had)

1/4 cup heavy cream

Method

Make the pastry creme first. In a large bowl, mix together flour and egg yolks until thoroughly incorporated and smooth. Set aside.

Heat milk, sugar, and salt to a simmer in a heavy saucepan over medium heat (look for small bubbles to appear around the edges of the pan). Remove from heat and grab a whisk.

Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture. WHISK CONSTANTLY. Don’t skimp, and don’t add the hot milk too fast. If you do, you will end up with sweet scrambled egg which is gross and nobody wants that.

Once the milk is completely added, pour the mixture back into the milk pan and cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken (about five to ten minutes).

Pro-tip: use a whisk. I tried a spatula and that did not end well.

Remove from heat and add scraped vanilla bean (or extract). Place a fine mesh strainer over the bowl you will cool the pastry creme in. Pour pastry cream into the strainer to remove errant lumps (of egg or flour). Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream and place in the ‘fridge to cool thoroughly while you make the pâte à choux.

To make your pastry, preheat oven to 425 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment pastry. Set aside. Set up a stand mixer with a paddle attachment (or see Recipe Notes).

Heat water, butter, and salt in a high-sided saucepan over medium heat until butter is completely melted.

Add flour to water/butter mixture and stir with a wooden spoon, still over heat, until mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a ball. You will also notice a thin skim of pastry on the bottom of the pot.

Move pastry to the bowl of the stand mixer and let cool slightly. You want to be able to touch it, but you don’t want it cold.

Turn on stand mixer and begin to add beaten egg a little at a time. Smart people beat each egg separately and add them one at a time. You may not actually use all of the egg, which can be scary.

Don’t be scared.

Add a bit of beaten egg at a time and beat until it is incorporated. Ultimately you are looking for a dough that is somewhat stiff but still able to be piped. This is somewhere between cookie dough and a thick batter. It should not ooze at all or be sloshy. I know this to be true because that’s what my first attempts were like, and I ended up with egg-tasting pancakes. #Barf

The reason you may not use all of the eggs is because of the level of humidity in the air, the temperature of the flour/water/butter mix, alignment of the planets, the difficulty of the French: any number of reasons. It’s best to concentrate on the texture you are aiming for rather than the amount of each ingredient.

This is why people have dogs: to eat their extra eggs.

So beat your eggs as needed into the flour. When done, you can refrigerate your pastry dough for a day, or you can proceed.

Place dough into a pastry bag (see Recipe Notes) fitted with a round nozzle; I used a size 11, but you can eyeball it and go for 3/4 to 1″. Pipe 1″ rounds of dough onto parchment one inch away from each other. Each dough ball should have a little peak on top (if not, your dough is too runny. Sorry.).

Use a wet fingertip to smooth the top of each dough ball.

Place in over at 425 for ten minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and cook for another 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and pierce sides with a toothpick to allow excess moisture to escape. Place back in turned-off oven and let them dry out for another 10 minutes.

Let cool completely.

Filling options:

  1. Pipe cooled pastry cream with a skinny nozzle through the hole you made with the toothpick
  2. Slice in half and use a spoon to dollop cream between both halves

For the optional drizzle, melt chocolate and cream over low heat, stirring constantly. If you are fancy as fuck, place that into a squeeze bottle and with a practiced air move it back and forth over your filled profiteroles until you achieve the chocolate coverage you desire.

If you have leftover drizzle, add some heavy cream, shake well, and pour over ice cream. Or add to milk and heat for hot chocolate.

Recipe Notes

  • You don’t need a stand mixer to make these, just lots of muscle. You can add your eggs and beat with a wooden spoon until you achieve the desired consistency. You can also use a food processor.
  • You also don’t need a pastry bag. Use a sealed freezer bag with the end snipped off and the pastry tip nestled into the snipped-off corner for the exact same result.

If you have read all the way through, finish this sentence in the comments: Had I but world enough and time, I would…”

Just FYI, The Road Is Lined With Peach Cake With Pecan Crumble

I have made Peach Cake With Pecan Crumble this morning for breakfast and am now listening to the rain and waiting for it to cool. It is the kind of rain that is the harbinger of a change in the weather, and I am ready for fall.

August always seems to be this way: a headlong rush and flurry of busy-ness that only begins to calm down as the mercury drops and the sun dips below the horizon a few minutes earlier every night. I don’t subscribe to the status-seeking cult of busy-ness (also known as the “busy trap”) that surrounds people in the U.S., and yet I have a distinctly difficult time actually relaxing. It is hard for me to sit and just be.

Even as I put a period at the end of that last sentence I was rising to get a slice of still-warm cake because I just couldn’t wait anymore.

I have also, in the time that it has taken to write this little bit, texted with a friend and checked my calendar to see if there is anything pressing this week.

What happened to me?

Growing up, bored and lonely on the side of a mountain in western Maryland, I used to while the days away reading, making art, walking in the woods, and writing. My brother and I were not especially close, and when we were it was often because I was receiving a punch for some unknown transgression (or perhaps because he was, himself, bored and lonely and without any particular outlet, and I happened to be handy). I learned early not to approach him unless I was so bored that it was worth the gamble of a blow or a game.

We didn’t have a TV until I was older, and even then it was a black-and-white set with rabbit ears wrapped in tinfoil perched on top, so reception (and even just plain old power) was sketchy at best. We had animals and chores and two parents who worked, so I was left to my own devices more often than not. There was nothing much to do and an endless amount of time to get it done.

After many years of busy doing, I find myself now in a position where I can take my time to do what it is that I am doing. I have mercenary writing that people pay me to do, and then I have my own (which pays nothing but is one of those things like breathing that is necessary and reflexive and vital, even when words don’t make it onto the page. But I digress.). I have yoga teaching and a new job as the assistant manager at my lovely studio, both of which do not take much time either.

So I find myself at loose ends, again, as the calendar and the weather indicate that it is, indeed, decorative gourd season, motherfuckers.

What to do? How to fill the days?

Technically, I have completed all of the duties of a productive member of society: I have (nearly) raised a child to adulthood (a good one, I think); I have started a school and taught over a thousand children; I have been married to a man I loved and lost; I have been lucky enough to love another man in a way that is breath-taking to me – we are building a life together that I could not imagine in the years following the death of my husband.

I have volunteered my time, donated my money, rescued animals, helped others. I have paid taxes.

But what is it about my need to feel like I am doing something? Who cares what I am doing? Who cares how fast it gets done?

Lots of folks, turns out. I have been the recipient of some judgy looks and comments, for sure, about my lack of “busy” on a daily basis. On many days my presence is not required anywhere. I can sit with two dogs at my feet and a cat lazily twining in and around my ankles until I am damn good and ready to do whatever it is that I feel like doing (or whatever it is I have put on my calendar; I am an inveterate procrastinator, but I have not missed a single deadline, and my written calendar is the reason why). This seems to be offensive to some. If I am not worn out by work I don’t enjoy and shopping with the madding crowd every Saturday morning, my life is something of a millennial’s, and perhaps I should grow up.

We are conditioned from birth to do, go, and be. We are to be productive members of society. We are to graduate from schooling (and childhood) and earn money to buy All Of The Things, and we are to have a career or something that we do for 40 hours a week. We are selfish if we choose to art or write or travel or bake or otherwise defy the American Dream (which has itself become a nightmare).

In my graduating class at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, there were two philosophy majors who matriculated with the whole class of several thousand. I still remember wondering what, exactly, that degree would translate into as far as employment goes. Even when I got my English degree, the first question was always if I was planning on teaching. What would I DO with my degree?

Side note before I continue my white-privileged exploration: I am well aware that the color of my skin has allowed me to even think about not doing, going, and being. It is a source of much trouble in my mind and in my writing that I get to write from a place that many people (women) of color will not be able to experience. It is also true that I am exploring ways to support people of color in my work and in theirs. 

Side note, part two: I would not be able to indulge in this type of under-employment were it not for a few life-changing events, specifically the death of my husband in 2013, which put the process of living into perspective, and the closure of my school, HoneyFern, shortly thereafter. 

But here I am now, scoffing at my own self a bit, just as if I was one of the philosophy majors who has no real prospects for gainful employment.

I am trying to make peace with the fact that I there is no earthly requirement (or heavenly one for that matter) that I be constantly and consistently on a path of someone else’s design.

Trouble is getting myself to relax into a path of my own design. Or to even find a path. Or know how to start thinking about design.

We are most of us morons when it comes to listening to our own selves and shutting out all of the noise. It is challenging to find out if what we are doing is actually something we want to be doing or if we have been so corrupted by the influence of the world around us that we are just utterly convinced it was our own idea in the first place.

I am trying to shut up and listen to that little voice, not the Anti-Cheerleader, that raging bitch who insists I am unworthy and ask how dare I, but the voice that is still capable of awe and pure joy. The one that is unconnected to anything but itself. When I can shut up everything – The Facebook, Instagram, the people who would still treat me as if I were a child, the expectations of the world, my own doubt and anxiety and worry – I find moments and glimpses of the road ahead of me. And it’s a peaceful, gravel-lined walk that is meandering and has lots of benches with cushions lining it (I like a soft place to land).

For now, though, seems like I am still in the place of learning to unclench. The anxiety and worry that has gripped me this summer still squeezes me like a fist. It’s rainy days, with peach cake, that maybe help that ease up just a bit.

Peach Cake With Pecan Crumble

This is a breakfast cake, like coffee cake, only with fresh fruit, so technically a serving of fruit. 

Ingredients

Dry:

2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar

1/4 cup almond meal

Wet:

2 large eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups fresh peach, peeled, pitted, and chopped small

Crumb topping:

1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons melted butter

Optional: 1/2 cup pecans (or type of nuts like almonds or macadamia), chopped small

Method

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a square glass baking dish (butter, oil, or cooking spray). You can also use mini bundt pans (see Recipe Notes).

In a large-ish bowl whisk together dry ingredients.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together wet ingredients (I used a 2-cup measuring cup, adding the eggs last and beating them in).

In an even smaller bowl, whisk together crumb topping ingredients while you melt the butter.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add peaches and stir to combine.

Pour into glass baking dish.

Use a fork to add crumble ingredients to melted butter and mix to combine. It should be somewhat clumpy, which is what you want. Add pecans, if using. Spoon/pour/use your hands to distribute crumble on top of your cake.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick comes out fairly clean or with maybe a crumb or two clinging to it.

Best cooled completely and then maybe warmed slightly. If using gluten-free flour especially, cool completely for the best texture.

Recipe Notes

If using mini bundt pans, press crumb topping gently into the top of the batter and reduce baking time to 20-25 minutes. This can also be baked in a large bundt pan, with the same guidelines and a longer baking time (watch carefully). Cool for ten minutes in bundt pan, and then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

 

Strangeways, Here We Come

It has been since July 5th that I have posted anything, so I’m going to go ahead and call this a hiatus.

Regular posts will return September 1st, when the shitstorm of this summer will have hopefully calmed down enough so that my stomach isn’t constantly in knots, my heart isn’t racing, and my inability to focus on something for more than 60 seconds improves, however incrementally.

It’s only life, after all. Nothing serious. And nothing that will mean anything in 100 years anyway. Just the normal marching of time, sped up a little with the return of The Prodigal Daughter and the combination of two households.

Stay tuned; more to come in a couple of weeks.

Anxiety, The Beast That Roars

Anxiety is a stealthy, creeping beast.

I have lived with its low hum in the back of my skull for my whole life but only in the past decade have I actually named it and looked it in the eye. When it starts to affect your ability to leave the house, it’s time to square up.

My anxiety is not always like everyone else’s, although it does share some very similar characteristics.

I have trouble with large crowds, and although I do some of my best work under pressure, tight deadlines and too much to do can trigger an anxiety attack (sometimes days later). Loud noises and lots of activity (e.g. sporting events and live music) can also cause anxiety.

Anniversaries like the death of my husband (February 16, 2013) tend to have long anxiety attack lead times, but they are like a train that is right on schedule, every year.

I am also unfortunately very sensitive to the suffering of others, whether they are right next to me or across the globe, and too much pain and sadness can bring on anxiety for me. Since the election cycle began my brain has been on high alert, and shootings and bombings and racist violence all around the world has not helped.

The drill is always the same: it starts with not feeling quite right.  Off, a little, sometimes mentally, sometimes physically. Sometimes the world looks a little sharper, but sometimes it is blurry. I start to worry in my head about whatever it is I have to get done that day.

Then I will notice tinnitus in time with my heartbeat. It’s that ringing in the ears, only in time with my heartbeat, so it’s allinmyface about how fast my heart is beating. My breath gets short, sharp, and shallow, high up in my chest, right below my collarbones.

At this point, or very shortly after, if I can identify what is causing the anxiety and move away from it to a quiet place, or some big patch of nature like a forest, I can usually breathe my way out of it. This is after years of practice (and lots of failure).

If I cannot identify why I am anxious, I can’t move away from it, or if it is something that has been building for awhile, then the shit is about to hit the proverbial fan.

From here, I will get sweaty clammy hot cold. This is my body trying desperately to regulate itself as the pressure in my brain builds.

I get nauseous. I urgently need a bathroom. In short, evacuations are occurring at both ends of the airplane (TMI). For a long time, multiple times, until nothing is left.

Add to this party the fact that I faint before I puke. I recently found out that this occurs when the vagus nerve in your stomach gets overly excited and cuts blood flow off to the brain. Excessive emotions, nausea, or sudden upset can overstimulate this nerve, causing fainting. It is usually only a brief loss of consciousness, and it has been happening to me ever since I can remember. Since I am aware of it I am usually able to get on the floor so that all 5’10” of me doesn’t come crashing down  from standing (this has happened. In a public restroom. No good.). Sometimes I don’t make it and end up with my face on the floor and a bruise on my cheek.

At this point I have no choice but to chew up an anti-anxiety med (no swallowing in case I throw up) and wait. Generally in the dark, under covers, with lots of clothes on. I alternate shivering under the covers with running to the bathroom and trying desperately to get enough long, slow breaths in my body so I don’t hyperventilate. Every sense is hyper-aware so that I can smell whatever was cooking in the kitchen from hours before, and I can hear the wind blowing the metal flap of the fan from the kitchen, outside of the house and two floors down. The sheet feels like sandpaper on my exposed skin, and I can feel the layer of air between my skin and my clothes.

Each attack lasts about four hours if I manage to medicate myself (sometimes it takes two pills), and the next day I am exhausted and wrung out. I suffer from anxiety most at night, after I have held myself together all day long. I guess that’s good in that I can do what I need to do before I fall apart in the safety of my own home.

In spite of anxiety, I have done things. Not everything I have wanted to, but I have tried like hell to do what’s most important. I have started a school, built a house, raised a kid, survived the death of a spouse, moved us a thousand miles, and gone on multiple road trips when we needed. Most times I need to talk myself into things I know I will enjoy having done.

This Saturday, January 21st is the Women’s March on Washington, an historic event that is going to bring hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country to raise their voices together in support of everything that is right and good in this country. It is a direct response to the evil that is the president-elect and his suppression and ignorance.

My cousin and her friend are coming up from Miami to march with me. Khristian and his friend, two men who know where it’s at, are also coming. I have purchased Metro passes for the whole day, and we have a transportation plan of attack.

I am worried I won’t make it.

I am worried that I will not be able to control my anxiety, even with meds and supportive people who understand, enough to be crammed into a crowded Metro and then among groups of thousands of people.

I am worried that I am too vulnerable in my fear to block out the negatives that will surely arise from the day – the vitriol of Cheeto Jesus’s supporters is deadly and personal.

This worry, as you might imagine, isn’t helping.

As a food blog, this is a terrible post. But it’s real, which I always try to be.

If you can, on the 21st, show up and march. March for everyone who can’t, for whatever reason.

If I can, I will.

Si, se puede.

 

Happy New Year!

I only post resolutions and any of those types of things on my other blog, but I will say here that I wish you all a very Happy New Year.

Here’s to 365 days of doing the very best you can with whatever you’ve got.

To giving more than you take.

To seeking first to understand, and only then to be understood.

To being kind.

To practicing patience.

To truly caring for yourself.

To speaking up (and standing up) for those who cannot do so for themselves.

It’s only 365 days, but there are tons of possibilities. Do something amazing.