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.

Galentine’s Day: Coffeecake And Connection

Apples

February is a challenging month in the Kolbeck household. It is bittersweet, being the month in which I had my first date with my husband in 1999 and also the month that he died in a car crash, 14 years to the exact day later on February 16th, 2013.

The universe is fucking crazy like that. Either it has a twisted sense of humor, or it is just ironic and strange with no real logic.

But the other part of the universe that is beautiful and brilliant and decidedly untwisted or ironic is that these strange and horrible coincidences give others a chance to show up for you.

I have had to become a fairly crusty soul; although I have been the beneficiary of the occasional helping hand, for the most part I have relied on myself and my own bootstraps – emotionally, psychically, physically, and financially.

I am not great at asking for help, and I am extra double-plus ungreat at showing anyone my gooey center.

Gross.

But when Dane died my eyes opened. And I had no idea they were closed. So there’s that.

Then all of these lovely people showed up for The Teenager and I.

They showed up with tools and expertise to literally help us raise the roof of the tiny house.

They showed up with loving support online as I posted raw and gut-wrenching blogs about grief, blogs that I myself cannot read today.

They showed up with cash at times, which, I’m not gonna lie, was helpful because I have no idea where all of the money went in that first year because everything was blurred and numb and decidedly not budget-oriented.

They showed up when they prayed for us but did not tell us Dane was in a better place or that god has a plan. #StowThatShit

As we approach the third anniversary of Dane’s death and truly settle in to a new life, it has become clearly apparent to me what is happy-making and good and valuable.

Connection.

This guy, a fancy researcher who is the 4th lead of a 75-year study on what makes people happy, totally agrees with me. #ScienceCatchesUpWithSuzannah

In this TEDTalk on what really makes people happy, Robert Waldinger uncovers what the secret to happiness is:

So what have we learned? What are the lessons that come from the tens of thousands of pages of information that we’ve generated on these lives? Well, the lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

Well.

While these findings make the introvert in me a little nervous and long for a quiet space to read and maybe have a drink, the deepest part of me recognizes that it’s true. It’s the quality of the connection that I have with the people in my life, the ones I choose as well as the ones I was born to/with.

As I move through this life, it seems like the connections I choose to have, as opposed to the ones I was born with, have become even more important to me. Part of working in the shadows is realizing which connections we are supposed to nurture and which should be let go. Which connections are toxic and harmful.

It’s about leaving behind the person I never wanted to be in the first place and learning to embrace the person I actually am.

Side note: As celebratory as this post should be, I had to go back through it and change everything I have written thus far into an “I” statement. I get philosophical when I get too close to the bone, which for me means I avoid actually talking about The Thing That Should Be Talked About. And in this case, that Thing is about choosing to stay connected with the people who fill me up. And that is hard to talk about because it also means truth-telling to those who are draining and should be left behind.

But on to the important things.

February 13th is Galentine’s Day, a made-up holiday if there ever was one. Amy Poehler’s character (Leslie Knope) from Parks & Rec made it up to celebrate female friendships.

Bresties before testes.

Uteruses before duderuses.

“It’s like Lilith Fair without the angst, plus frittatas.”

#HellYeahItIs

Crab and asparagus frittata, to be precise, plus this cream cheese apple coffee cake (among other things; I want the menu to be a surprise). The Teenager and I are inviting local female friends for brunch on February 13th, the first annual Galentine’s Day celebration at the Kolbeck house. We will be boozing it up with some of the best women we know, and raising a glass to the other best women we know who live far away or cannot attend. #NextYear

Even if you’re not a gal, there is no reason whatsoever why you cannot have this cake. Luscious and cinnamon-y and filled with apples and everything else good in the world (except chocolate, but that base will be covered elsewhere in brunch #NeverFear).

I won’t lie: this recipe a bit of a pain in the ass with lots of steps and dirty dishes, which is why it’s perfect for brunch when you have had some coffee to start with. Drink mimosas while you make it and you won’t care anyway.

Cream Cheese Apple Coffee Cake

This recipe is not mine; it’s from a site called Yammie’s Noshery that is chockablock full of ridiculous ads that make the site slow and unresponsive. I don’t want to send you there, so I have recreated it here. Some of the directions are different, and I, of course, made it gluten-free. Feel free to use regular AP flour in this one. 

Cake Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup white sugar

1 egg

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 tablespoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 1/2 cups chopped apples (I didn’t peel mine. #TooLazy)

 

Cream Cheese Layer Ingredients

8 oz. softened cream cheese

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons white sugar

 

Streusel Ingredients

3/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons cold butter

 

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF and grease an 9″ x 13″ pan.

2. Combine the butter and sugars for the cake and mix until fluffy. Add the egg, oil, and vanilla and mix until combined.

3. Stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon and add to the butter mixture, mixing just until combined. Stir in the chopped apples. Spread into the prepared pan.

4. Mix together the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla for the cream cheese layer and spread over the cake batter in the pan.

5. Combine all the streusel ingredients using your hands or a pastry blender until well combined. Sprinkle over the cream cheese mixture.

6. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the topping is browned.

Let cool until you cannot take it anymore, then eat with a fork because it is gooey and still warm and so delicious you can hardly stand it. Definitely cut a piece and move away from the pan because if you stand over it with a fork you will eat it all and have none left for your loved ones. #GetYourOwnDamnCoffeeCake