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.

The Art of Colossal Failure: Gluten-Free Baking Edition

Looks can be deceiving. This was a big fat failure.
Looks can be deceiving. This was a big fat failure.

Here’s the thing. I don’t want to be an influencer.

It’s the new trend now to sell yourself as an influencer when you are applying for writing jobs; employers want to know how many Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook followers you have before they even want to talk to you (hence the rise in the market for fake followers on all social media).

As an influencer, I make a pretty good dogwalker. Although I often claim to my friend Kerry’s husband Mark that I know 10% of everything, we all know that it’s actually closer to 7.5%.

Just kidding.

(Or am I?)

Anyway.

When I develop a recipe, and share it with you, I’m not trying to influence you.

At least not yet. I have a few things in development that I may run by you eventually, but I won’t put them on my site unless they’re amazing and I think you’ll love them and if you don’t want to buy, make, or use them it’s no skin off my nose because you know what you want better than I do and I am a wretched salesperson in that regard but have no desire to get any better.

No, when I put something on this website, I do it because I made it and it’s delicious and I think you should know all about it and make it for your family so that they can tell you how delicious it is, too.

I put stuff on this site so that you can see that cooking gluten-free doesn’t mean tasteless and horrible. It doesn’t even mean health food. All of these recipes happen to work well with regular flour, too. That’s on purpose so everyone can eat good stuff.

I cook because food is one of the most wonderful things that you can share with another human being.

I cook and I write about it to share a little bit of my life. It’s an instinct and an impulse that I can’t quite explain, but it’s part of the deep down core of the person that I am. I have cooked as a creative outlet since I left home at 17, and I have been writing since I could hold a crayon. This blog brings those two things together in a way that is deeply satisfying to me.

I post. Sometimes you click on the link in your email or on your Facebook wall, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes the fact that you don’t hurts my feelings a little bit, but I continue to post anyway. And here’s why.

I’m not trying to get you to change your life or steer you in a different direction. All I want to do is share what I know. I want to share the things that work for me in my kitchen, and I want to share the things that have gone wrong and wonderful and incredible and amazing in my life. It’s the way that the (predominantly) introverted part of me can reach out and really connect with people.

I write because I love it. I cook because I love it. I continue to learn about cooking because it’s fascinating, and it’s the one thing that everyone can access. Everyone has to eat. It might as well be delicious.

Sometimes, though, it’s really great to see the failures. One thing that really chaps my ass is seeing perfection on every food blog I come across. The food is perfectly cooked and beautifully plated, shot with perfect lighting and accessorized with happy, well-dressed, and obviously prosperous folks gathered with friends or their impeccable family.

Turns out, not every recipe works out. And not everything tastes great. And definitely not everything looks beautiful.

You wouldn’t know that by Instagram with its glossy pictures of perfection. But here’s the thing: perfection isn’t real, or even real desirable. Sometimes the food isn’t even real or is enhanced with non-edible garnish (that enticing steam may be a microwaved tampon. #TrueStory).

I just got this new tart pan that I’ve been wanting for a really long time. The first tart I made was delicious. The second tart (pictured above) leaked and the crust was horribly soggy and fairly tasteless.

If I was 100% living the dream, I would have posted a picture of my soggy bottom, but that might be a whole other type of blog (#CueLovemakinMusic)

Cooking and writing for me are more about the process, and less about the flawless product (although HOT DAMN I like it when it all comes together). Failure is infinitely more valuable as a learning tool than success, but failure is a taboo subject. When I mentioned to a couple of people what I was writing about today, they were minorly horrified at the thought of failure. A standard response, I think, but the instinct is misplaced.

Fear of failure holds us back.

Fear of failure stops us from trying.

Fear of failure makes failure inevitable.

It’s not the failure that’s the issue: it’s the fear.

So today’s blog isn’t about the failure that is the soggy-bottomed tart pictured fuzzily above. It’s about the fact that in spite of this failure, I will try again. And maybe the next time won’t work out either. But I won’t be scared that it will taste bad or you won’t read my recipe.

Because there is a lot of fear in the world, but moving through fear gets to the other side of failure. That’s what we are all about here at Charm City Edibles (in a shaky-kneed way at times, but still).

What do you think about failure? I’d like to know how failure (or fear) has influenced you (or not).

 

On Words, Love, And The (Im)Perfect Crabcake

(Im)perfectly delicious, hon.
(Im)perfectly delicious, hon.

So I have been avoiding words. Words like these ones right here.

And yes, I am aware that I just used the phrase “these ones.” #IBlameTheSouth

I don’t know what it is about words. I find them alternately an abiding comfort and a deep frustration. I have hurled them as invective, used them like a lover’s caress, and felt them/rolled them around in my mouth, through my heart, and on the page.

But sometimes of late words have [quite literally] failed me. I have said the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong way.

I have received hurtful words from someone I love, most recently unintentionally (but intentionally in the past).

Sidebar: They both feel bad.

It’s enough to make me clam up altogether, which I am getting especially good at. Seems easier to say nothing than to say something I don’t mean or that will leave a lasting wound.

And then a few weeks ago I ran across this from Thich Nhat Hanh, the Fourth Mindfulness Training Guide:

“I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations.”

The idea is to monitor yourself and your words so that they are not harmful or rooted in anger or misunderstanding that will make things worse.

In short, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”

Excellent idea.

Except we are all of us only human beings, yes? And as I like to [gratefully] acknowledge, this is a practice, not a perfect. I am still at the grasshopper stage, keeping my mouth shut and walking away.

But this is patently unhelpful in some situations where silence would only serve to deepen the rift or misunderstanding or hurt others, especially those who have had silence wielded like a sword in their past.

Which brings me to my recent connection of wabi-sabi as it pertains to humans. My particular friend lent me a book recently called Wabi-Sabi For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. Wabi-sabi is the Japanese philosophy/practice/way of life focused on accepting and celebrating the beauty of impermanence and imperfection in everything. That’s a thumbnail, but it gets to the root in a nutshell.

Richard Powell sums it up as this:

“Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”

Certainly true for the wabi-sabi qualities in humans, human communication, and human relationships.

The trick here is to determine if you are willing to do the work anyway, to acknowledge the impermanence and imperfection and love (accept) all of that anyway.

According to Wabi-Sabi for Artists,

“The simplicity of wabi-sabi is probably described as the state of grace arrived at by a sober, modest, heartfelt intelligence.”

This is a far cry from the passionate, loud, and impulsive words being hurled around of late, in my house and in the rest of the world. Wabi-sabi requires more contemplation and reflection and acceptance, but the last is hard to come by. It seems that acceptance is the thing that allows the words or the art or the love to flow.

I have lost many words of late. I don’t know if that’s a reflection of my lack of acceptance, but it is certainly highlighting my imperfection. Wabi-sabi is the fine line between something starting and ending, that moment when there is a shift. Maybe that’s what is happening.

So what’s with the crabcakes? How is this wabi-sabi?

Well, to start, crabs don’t give a fuck about decay and imperfection; they are one of the few bottom feeders that I will actually eat, mopping up whatever’s rotten on the bottom of the Bay.

They accept whatever is lowered into the depths at the end of a piece of cotton twine. Throw a ripe chicken neck off a dock and you will invariably hoist a few crabs from the murky depths.

In this pairing, they are also a continuation of experimentation in my kitchen, which is a good thing, and they represent a foundational element in my life. I grew up in Maryland, crabbing off the docks at Assateague as a child and picking crabs in someone’s backyard at least once a summer every year. When I am feeling at loose ends, it is a great comfort to me to come back to these touchstones in my life when I can reliably remember feeling at peace and without struggle.

So along with these words, here is some food for you.

Maryland Crabcakes With Green Papaya, Carrot, and Jicama Slaw

With Pineapple Vinaigrette

Ingredients

Crabcake

2 tsp. Old Bay

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 T Dijon mustard

2 slices bread without crusts, torn into bits

1 T mayonnaise

1 egg

Optional: 1/2 tsp Worchestershire (I am not convinced, but many would say this is essential.)

1 pound jumbo lump crab

 

Green Papaya, Jicama, and Carrot Slaw

1/2 cup green papaya, shredded

1/2 cup  jicama, shredded

1/4 cup carrots, shredded

1 large jalapeno,  finely sliced (keep some seeds for heat)

a handful of fresh pineapple, julienned

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

juice of one lime

1 oz.  pineapple vinegar (recipe below)

2 oz.  vegetable oil (or other light oil)

1/4 tsp. ground cumin

small garlic clove, finely minced

1/2 tsp. celery seed

salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Crabcakes

Combine Old Bay, parsley, mustard, mayonnaise, egg, and Worchestershire (if using) in a large bowl. Stir well to combine.

Add crabmeat and mix with your hands very, very gently. You want the crab to stay in big, fat, delicious chunks, barely held together.

Form into something resembling a cross between a meatball and a patty. For ease, I greased ramekins and packed the meat in there. Place in ‘fridge for 30 minutes while you make the slaw.

Heat a generous amount of butter (couple tablespoons) in a heavy frying pan. Place crabcakes gently in pan and fry until they have a nice crust and are warmed all the way through (about four minutes to a side.

Move to paper towels until serving.

Slaw

Combine the first six ingredients (green papaya, jicama, carrot, jalapeno, pineapple, parsley) in a medium bowl and squeeze the juice of one lime to coat the veg. In a small bowl, whisk together the last five ingredients (vinegar, oil, cumin, garlic, celery). Pour over vegetables and herbs, then season with salt and pepper.

Pineapple vinegar

In a saucepan, combine 8 oz. white vinegar, 8 oz. of fresh pineapple, and 1 tsp. of sugar. Bring to a rolling boil, mashing the pineapple a bit as it boils. Remove from heat and let cool, then strain to remove solids and place in ‘fridge.

Recipe notes

  • I used GF bread, but white bread is traditional, or Saltine crackers. If using Saltines, use about eight crackers.
  • JM Clayton crabmeat is the way to go if you are buying it. If you aren’t going to pick it yourself, don’t fuck around with crappy crabmeat in a can. This is an expensive recipe, to be sure, so save your money if you need to, but do it right. Or, do what I did and eat rice for a week for dinner so you can afford to test the recipe. #LifesFullOfTradeOffs
  • Fresh peaches make delicious vinegar as well. Swap the white vinegar for white balsamic and sub peeled, chopped peaches for the pineapple and proceed as above. Much more delicate flavor.
  • Turns out, I hate cabbage and cabbage hates me, so that’s why none is present. If cabbage loves you and vice versa feel free to add it in.
  • If you cannot find green papaya at your local Asian grocery store, feel free to use cabbage instead. It will change the flavors a bit, but using a lighter-flavored cabbage like Napa cabbage should keep things balanced.

 

 

 

 

Taking The Day Off…With Cake

Cake
#Proper. Cake is the only remedy for busy.

What’s that you say? How could I possibly be taking the day off when I have not published a recipe since April 1st?

Well, friends, there is a reason for that.

I wrote a book. A whole book, with 80+ recipes and essays, in 30 days.

I write a lot in general about motivation and procrastination. This is very real to me, as the keeper of my own schedule and boss of me. So when I need to get something done, I set myself a close deadline and make the task huge.

This is often why I throw a party at least once or twice a year. It makes me clean the house at least once or twice a year. Sort of like going to the dentist every six months. When my dentist asks me how often I floss, I tell him, “At least twice a year.”

But I digress.

This book writing in 30 days is a spin-off on National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, to use the vernacular), which occurs every November, the other 30-day month. As I write execrable fiction, I decided that April would become NaNoFiWriMo: National Non-Fiction Writing Month. This is how I wrote my first book, and since it worked out so well, I thought I’d try it again.

Plus, last year I published a list of writing goals and didn’t meet them. This was a little bit of a punishment for myself.

So I told my kid, my therapist, and another freelancing friend, and off I went.

40,028 words later, I am done. It’s rough as hell, and I don’t know exactly what I am going to do with it.

But the food is fucking incredible, if I do say so myself. Some recipes from this blog, some new stuff, some family recipes or recipes from friends (I’m looking at you, Nancy Allen and Bonnie King!!). I am pleased that it’s done and ready to cook. I took a week off from thinking about it, sending it off to a writing friend to look through it before I make any substantial edits.

But I cannot seem to stay away from it.

I find myself clicking on a recipe here or there, tweaking formats and finding typos.

I have started homemade kimchi for kimchi fries, and as I write this a cake from the book (sort of) is cooling on the counter, waiting for chocolate mousse filling and marshmallow frosting.

If you have nothing to do this rainy, rainy weekend, and the world of bullshit politics is making you want to poke your eye out with a spoon, take a step back and make this cake first. You may be able to face the world again.

Best White Cake With Chocolate Mousse Filling And Marshmallow Frosting

Ingredients

350 grams (about 2 1/2 c.) gluten-free all-purpose flour mix (or cake flour if gluten isn’t an issue)

1 T. baking powder

1/4 t. salt

1/2 c. butter (one stick), softened

1 t. vanilla extract

330 grams (about 1 1/2 c.) sugar

2 eggs

1 c. milk

Chocolate mousse filling (recipe below)

Marshmallow frosting (recipe below)

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare pan: butter bottom of  two 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment circle, butter the entire pan and dust with flour. If you skimp on this step, your cake will stick and all your hard work will be for naught.

In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl with hand mixer), cream butter with sugar and vanilla extract. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until smooth. Add dry ingredients and milk, starting and ending with dry (flour, milk, flour, milk, flour).

Pour approximately 1/2″ of batter into each pan. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean (test on the sides and in the middle until it hits the cheesecake crust), between 30 and 40 minutes. While the cake is baking, make your chocolate mousse filling (recipe below).

Cool in the pan for ten minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely. You can cool on the rack in the ‘fridge. While it’s cooling, start on the marshmallow frosting.

Chocolate Mousse Filling

Ingredients

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted

2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

2 T sugar

Method

Melt chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave (careful not to burn). Cool.

In a large, clean bowl with chilled beaters, whip the cream until it stands in soft peaks. Add sugar and continue to whip until it stands in firm peaks.

Add 1/4 of the whipped cream to the melted chocolate and whisk to combine. Add the chocolate mixture to the remaining whipped cream and fold with a spatula until fully combine. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Marshmallow Frosting

Ingredients

250 grams (approximately 2 c) powdered sugar

1/4 t. cream of tartar

2 t. light corn syrup

2 egg whites

1/4 c. water

1 t. vanilla extract

Method

Combine ingredients in a metal bowl and whisk to combine. Place metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and beat with a hand mixer on medium until the mixture begins to thicken (like marshmallow Fluff). Continue to beat on high until mixture stiffens (stiff peaks). This whole process takes 10-15 minutes.

Remove from heat and continue to beat the frosting until it is completely cool.

Assembly

A cake stand (thanks, Kerry!!!) and an offset spatula make life a lot easier here. Fill cake with a generous amount of mousse, then frosting with marshmallow frosting. Then eat A TON while you take a break from whatever big project has been making you busier than you perhaps ought to be.