Failure is Part of the Recipe of Life

People often ask if I have failures.

Yes. I do. Sometimes more often than I would like to admit.

Today, I will admit to a couple in the kitchen last week. I’ll admit to some personal ones in another blog later this week.

What do I do, then, with stuff that doesn’t turn out?

Depends. If it is a total disaster, it goes into the waste bin. If not, it may be recycled.

Most of the disasters happen when I bake. And usually it is when I am not following the recipe, precisely. I do like to wing it now and again. With more than 40 years of baking experience, I generally know most of the chemistry. So I know what a batter looks like for a cake, what the texture is for a pie crust, etc.

The oven and your pans, however, can play a real role in the success for failure of your baking adventure. If your oven temperature is 25 degrees off, high or low, even a minute or two will make all the difference between overcooked and raw in the middle. The first time I made the recipe, I had the oven temp at 400 degrees, like the recipe stated. But I have a convection bake setting, so after 12 minutes, they were borderline burned. The second time, I set the timer for 10 minutes and the temperate at 375 degrees. When the timer went bing, they middles were sunken. So I walked away … and forgot for 5 minutes. Once again, overdone.

On the third time, I checked after 10 minutes. Middles still sunken. This time I set the timer for 2 minutes – barely enough time to pour a cup of tea and sit down. Bingo. Twelve minutes was perfect.

So what did I do with the less than perfect ones? Burned and chocolate, even slightly burned, isn’t repairable. They went into the waste can. The batch that we baked, but just not runny in the middle, I turned into cake pops. Essentially just crumble them up in a food processor, add frosting, roll into balls, and dip into chocolate. I also could have made a chocolate trifle, with layers of chocolate sauce. crumbled cake, and whipped cream.

It’s a lot of work to rescue a failure.

Earlier in the week, I was working on no-sugar baked goods made with almond and coconut flour. One was sweetened with oranges that simmered for two hours and then were pulverized in the blender. The other was sweetened with applesauce.

Both were dreadful. Just awful. They represented an entire afternoon of time, some very expensive ingredients (almond flour, olive oil, and a dozen eggs aren’t cheap), and wishful thinking.

Failure happens to anyone who tries. To anyone who dreams, “what if?”

If you keep at it, sometimes you get that perfect molten lava cake. And you get to eat it, while wearing PJs, on the couch, with the remote, and with as much ice cream as you like.

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Print Recipe
Chocolate Lava Cakes
These are best served about 15 minutes after coming out of the oven with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Servings
cakes
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Servings
cakes
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees (375 degrees if using convection bake). Coat 6 ramekins with cooking spray. Place on baking sheet.
  2. You will need 4 bowls for this. One will need to be large enough to mix all the ingredients together.
  3. In the first bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and salt.
  4. In a microwave-safe bowl, add chocolate and butter. Cook, uncovered in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir well. If not fully melted, return to microwave for 30 seconds. Stir. Don't cook too long or the butter and chocolate will separate. Let sit for about 5 minutes.
  5. In a third bowl - this one large enough to hold all ingredients - and fourth bowls, separate eggs, discarding one white. The yolks go into the larger bowl with the sugar. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together until light, frothy, and the sugar has dissolved into the eggs. Stir in vanilla. Beat the two egg whites until light and fluffy.
  6. Add melted chocolate/butter mixture to the eggs. Then stir in the flour. Don't beat it. You want to stir until the mixture is glossy looking. Then stir in egg whites.
  7. Pour mixture into the prepared ramekins. You can refrigerate this now if you won't be serving soon. If you refrigerate, take the ramekins out of the refrigerator long enough so the batter comes to room temperature before baking - at least 30 minutes (and depending on the temp in your kitchen, up to 2 hours).
  8. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. The tops will be puffed, but not cracked. The ramekins will have some shimmy left in the batter if you move them, but won't have an indentation in the middle indicating raw batter. I check mine after 10 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack. Set timer for 5 minutes. Then run a knife around the edges of the ramekin. Invert each onto a wide spatula, then flip over onto a plate to serve. These are best eaten while still warm served with ice cream or whipped cream.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's "Baking From My Home to Yours."

Use your favorite chocolate that you like to eat, bittersweet, milk, or semi-sweet. If you are using the milk chocolate, use just 4 tablespoons of the sugar. If using semi-sweet, then 5 tablespoons. Bittersweet gets all the sugar.

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Children, Divorce, and Christmas (cookies, too)

“Christmas really sucks for children of divorce,” my daughter pronounced while we were sitting on the couch together watching a Zak Efron movie (our compromise) after I made yet another batch of cookies, these with chocolate.

That wasn’t what I was expecting to hear. She’s 14. This is her fourth divorced Christmas. I thought we had worked out the kinks.

“Ah, how do you mean?”

My first reaction is to get all defensive. Mom’s in a better place, I say to myself. When Mom is happier, it’s better for those around Mom (except the divorced Dad, I guess). My grown-up brain is flashing back to the Christmas season six years ago when, on this day, Dec. 20, I went into the Cleveland Clinic because I was in liver failure. I didn’t know exactly what was wrong, other than my liver wasn’t recovering even after I stopped drinking a month earlier. The damage was more extensive than the Erie hospital, where I went in right before Thanksgiving, and returned two weeks later, had noted.

I had been self-medicating with alcohol to deal with anxiety/panic attacks that began when my daughter was around 2. I’d be suddenly overcome with nausea, and then the heaving would start. I could be driving. Or in the middle of a meeting. In the six months leading up to the diagnosis, I ate very little in an attempt to keep my stomach empty. I drank at home (like most women) to stay calm (my rationalization).

I tried therapy. But three different therapists said I had nothing to be anxious about. I had a job. A husband. Family. A daughter. A nice home. Friends. A member of a country club. What did I have to be anxious/depressed about?

As I write this now, I wonder if perhaps that was a question. At the time, I heard judgment. I heard, “Suck it up, sister. There are a lot of people with real problems out there.”

“And you aren’t one of them.”

No excuse on my part. I almost left a middle schooler without a mother.

Support of my family, some close friends, and some great women in AA, helped me navigate life post alcohol. And, not surprisingly, a lot of things became clearer. I was a different person than the woman who married 20 years earlier. I didn’t want to dull feelings, I wanted adventure. I wanted to hike in the mountains. I wanted to kayak – and eventually try rapids. Travel to Europe again. Go dancing. I wanted to live – in all CAPS.

I didn’t, and couldn’t, come home from a day of work, supporting our little family because my husband was unemployed, have a glass of wine and make dinner. I also needed to be a Mom. An active Mom. A Mom who shows her daughter what it is like to bounce back from the edge – it is possible – and go on to be happy. And happiness didn’t mean a house, two cars, two dogs, the country club, and dinner with wine. I had to find it on my own terms.

My daughter is right. Christmas sucks for divorced kids. That first Christmas was painful. The lawyer my ex hired wanted monthly support and a housing allowance that amounted to my entire salary. He was unemployed, and had been for quite a few years. He was in the house and deserved to be supported in the life he and my daughter were accustomed to. Arguing that we couldn’t afford the house – I had tried to convince my ex to sell when he first lost his job so we could afford to live on just my salary. He kept saying he would find a job and it would be OK. Four years and a tremendous amount of credit card debt (nearly all in my name) to balance the books, and I was panicked.

So that first Christmas as painful. I was living rent free thanks to my family in a summer cottage that had been winterized and had heat. I had enough for presents and a tree. But she wasn’t going to wake up in a house with Mom and Dad, and Santa. She would wake up in the house she had lived in her whole life, with no Mom and no tree. I woke up with a tree and no Nicole. The gym had become my anti-anxiety medication, but it was closed. That was when I started running.

I picked her up mid-morning and we had our own Christmas.  I convinced her Santa would find her new second home, even if it was temporary. But it was different. And kids don’t like different, especially where Santa is involved. This wasn’t the first different. Two years earlier, when I was at the Cleveland Clinic, she spent Christmas in Mexico with my parents, my sister, and her family. I wouldn’t be released in time to make it. A winter storm shut down the East Coast, preventing my brothers and their families from getting to Cancun.

So I was messing with her Christmas for the second time.

I think of how far we’ve come. I have my own place now. It’s a small condo – not a three-bedroom house on 2 acres overlooking Lake Erie like she grew up in. My credit is still destroyed, but that just means Christmas is paid for. I own a car, used and purchased with cash, of course. And we have a dog, not a pure-breed, but a loving shelter dog.

But she knows about the struggle to get here. She still watches me at the holiday table when alcohol is served. She worries about money. She thinks I am extravagant when it comes to Christmas – but she still has a list that includes 365 T-shirts (so she doesn’t have to worry about running out) and an equal number of phone cases.

I know this is OK. She has the optimism to still ask for the moon, but understand that she may not get there. She can see that you can go to a holiday event and not have a drink. I also think it is OK not to go to some holiday events because the main feature is alcohol, which is incredibly dull when you are the only person not imbibing. It’s OK to find other things to do, like go for a walk in the woods. Read a book. Or find a terrible Zak Efron movie on TV to watch with your daughter.

But, yes, Nicole, Christmas does suck when you are the child of divorce. Mainly because you learn a lot of lessons about Christmas at an earlier age than the other kids. You learn that it’s not a holiday about presents that magically appear, and people who get along. You learn that Christmas is about love. It’s about the love of a mother for her child. And sometimes the journey they take is a difficult one, sometimes celebrated with strangers in a house that isn’t our own.

I’m not all about the lessons – thank heavens. I do know my daughter adores chocolate. So after her pronunciation about divorce, I handed her a cookie. It doesn’t make everything better, but chocolate does help.

Merry, Merry

Marnie

Marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

 

Print Recipe
Children, Divorce, and Christmas (cookies, too)
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Passive Time 1 hour
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Cream butter, cream cheese and sugar using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. Beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes or more. Add egg, and flavorings.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add slowly to butter mixture. Mix until a soft dough forms. Divide in half.
  3. Lay a sheet of parchment on a cookie sheet and place 1 ball of dough on it. Cover with plastic wrap and roll out to 1/4 to 1/8-inch thick. Repeat with second ball. Refrigerate 1 hour.
  4. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut out cookies. Remove scraps (to reroll in the same method). Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, or until edges just start to brown. This will depend on how thick the cookies are. Check after 8.
  5. Remove from oven. Allow to cool about 5 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
  6. To dip in chocolate, heat chocolate chips and butter in a microwave-safe bowl for 30 seconds. Stir. If not melted, return to microwave for another 30 seconds. Stir until melted.
  7. Dip cookies in chocolate. Or, dip part in chocolate and use a silicone brush (like for basting meat) to spread chocolate where you want it. Return to the wire rack to harden. If using sprinkles, add before chocolate hardens.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from TheKitchn.com

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Is There a Santa in the House?

I miss Santa. He wielded so much power in December. All you had to do was utter his name and behavior would suddenly improve. A simple, “Santa’s watching” reduced complaints, hustled out the door, fed the dog, and generally meant peace on Earth.

Not that my daughter is a hellion. She is a smart, funny, well-behaved … teenager. And, for now, she talks to me. And sometimes she listens. She’s got this tell, though, when she stops. You know, when she’s there physically, but mentally all she hears is “blah, blah, blah.” So then I say something outrageous, like condom, and suddenly she is present again. “Marn,” she will moan.

I’m not fond of the “Marn” thing to my face. I still don’t call my mother by her name to her face. I do sometimes call her “Didi,” which is the approved name for the grandkids to call her. But I remember when I was her age and we started calling all the moms by their names among ourselves. I’m a child of the 60s, so we generally didn’t call them by their first names to their faces.

Teens push boundaries. There are kids in her class who are having sex, smoking weed, harming themselves, bullying others, and generally acting like teens act. There’s a reason why – anthropologically speaking. At this age they push away because, throughout history, this is the age when they struck out on their own. Some sources insist they push away because they know they will be pushed out. There are days when I think they were shoved because of their behavior.

In any case, we know a lot more about teen brains now. And, in this country at least, we don’t marry our 14-year-olds off anymore. We understand their brains – and behavior – aren’t fully developed until their 20s. Mark Twain may not have known the science behind it, but I’ve always loved this quote:

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

All of this brings me back to Santa and why I miss him. He is a gift to parents for about 1 month. Some parents may haul Santa out in July, but I always reserved him for the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. You could abdicate all discipline to Santa. I didn’t have to threaten. I just has to say, “Santa.” Immediately, whatever behavior was aggravating at the time disappeared. It really was a gift.

Sure, there was some work around it. Hiding presents. Making sure there was different wrapping paper for Santa presents. Altering handwriting. Dodging the “Is Santa real” question as she got a little older. “I don’t know, honey, what do you think?” worked for a while.

Now I have to parent 365 days out of the year. Like I said, she’s a really good kid. She knows where the presents are hidden and she doesn’t look. She wants the joy of opening on Christmas morning. Indeed, the real reason she held on to Santa for as long as she did was a fear that the present pile would be diminished if Santa wasn’t carrying the financial burden anymore. (I love the logic of kids.)

But this morning, when it was 11 degrees outside, and she had no hat, no mittens, no boots, and just a fleece jacket … despite nagging all week about it … I really just wanted to say “Santa” and have her magically put on a hat, mittens, and her down coat.

Santa can’t do that anymore. And I can’t stuff her into a snowsuit (although I wasn’t particularly adept at that past age 3 anyway). So Santa must be content with filling her stocking with more hats and gloves, and hope that brain of hers – so smart in so many ways – will register that Santa really is watching out.

Enjoy the holiday season

XOXOXO

marnie

Marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Print Recipe
Rollout Sugar Cookies
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 9 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours or overnight
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 9 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours or overnight
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. To make the dough: Beat the butter and sugar until light, fluffy, and pale yellow. Add the eggs and yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  2. With the mixer on low, slowly add the vanilla and almond extracts, and mix until combined.
  3. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Slowly add dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
  4. Divide dough in half. Place each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. Pull wrap around each half and gently shape into a flat disc. Chill overnight.
  5. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
  6. To shape and bake: Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll approximately 1/4" to 1/2" thick on a flour and sugar dusted surface. Cut out cookies. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You can reroll scraps once or twice to use up the cookie dough.
  7. Bake the cookies for approximately 8 to 10 minutes, until they just barely start to turn golden on the edges. Remove from the oven and cool completely before decorating.
  8. To make the icing: In a large bowl, add powdered sugar, egg whites, salt, and lemon juice. Beat with an electric mixer or stand mixer with paddle attachment on medium until it is white and thick. This is what you will use to pipe around the edges of the cookies using a pastry bag and plain tip. Once you have finished piping around the edges of the cookies, let it dry for about an hour. In the meantime, you can tint and thin out the icing using either another egg white or water to flood between the piped edges. You want the consistency to be that of maple syrup. I use a paste color to tint the icing, if you are using liquid tint, don't finish thinning out the icing until you have achieved the color you want. Once you finish flooding the cookies with icing, allow to dry for 24 hours before adding any other tint - like for eyes or mouths (or else it bleeds into the white icing).
Recipe Notes
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Feeling a lot like Christmas

gingerbread-houses2
The Florida gingerbread villiage.

The Christmas spirit visited me early this year. Sometimes it is more elusive; I have to go searching to find the spirit. One year, I found the spirit in August, which is just a tad to early since we still had plenty of summer and fall to appreciate.

My daughter and I head to Florida for Thanksgiving to visit my parents. With 70-degree days, and a beach in the front yard, you might think the Christmas spirit would be hard to find. But that was not the case. For several years now, we decorate gingerbread houses over the Thanksgiving break. It’s a great project with kids because it takes care of those witching hours: before you can get to the beach, or after the beach and before bed.

The houses stay in Florida. We give them away. This year, I bought several kits at TJ Maxx to make once we returned to Erie. It seemed a shame not to enjoy a project once we are home. By we, though, I mainly mean me. My daughter loses interest. She says it’s because I’m too intense when it comes to decorating. Whatever the reason, she finished her roof and went off to the high school play last night. This left me elbow deep in frosting and candies. I had a couple of hours to kill, so I finished hers.

She was a huge help earlier in the day putting the tree up. I measured our ceiling this year. No more shrimpy tree. I had at least 11 feet to work with (although the highest point is more like 14). The helpful folks at Mason Farms  sent us to the back lot where the church trees were. With help, we picked one, and had them tie it to the top of the car.

Once home, I realized 11 feet is 5 feet more of tree than we usually have. So I needed her help to get it up. We managed, without any significant swear words, to right the tree in the living room. It needs about 24 hours to settle down, so the gingerbread project kept me from obsessing about decorating the tree.

After that, she got a pass on Mom’s Christmas projects for the day. Today, we decorate the tree.

Hope this post find you in the Christmas spirit.

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

 

Print Recipe
Feeling a lot like Christmas
This is a very easy and very impressive dessert to serve. It can be made a day ahead of time and decorated at the last minute. Take it out of the fridge about 20 minutes before serving, so the chill comes off the chocolate.
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours or overnight
Servings
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours or overnight
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. To make small tarts, unroll the pie crusts and run a rolling pin over them until they are smoothed out. Take your tart pan and place on top of the crust. Use a small knife to cut around the outside.. Repeat. I got about 3 tarts per pie crust.
  2. You can also make a shortbread cookie recipe. Roll into a log and chill. Cut out 1 1/5 inch to 2-inch rounds and press into the bottom of the tart pans. Or use the prepared sugar cookie tubes from the refrigerated section.
  3. Press crust into the bottom and slightly up the side of the tart pan. You don't want it to go all the way to the top like a pie crust.
  4. Use a fork to piece the bottoms of the pie crust. Bake in a 350-degree oven until light brown. Bake for 15 minutes, check to see if brown. If not, bake another 10 minutes. You don't want soft and gooey here.
  5. Remove from oven.
  6. In the meantime, pour heavy cream into a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave until it starts to boil (about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes in my microwave). Remove from microwave and stir in sugar, butter, and chocolate pieces. Stir until melted. If all the chocolate doesn't melt, return to microwave for about 30 seconds. Remove and stir.
  7. Stir in milk. The chocolate should be shiny.
  8. I used a soup ladle to evenly distribute the chocolate onto the crust in the tart pans. This works best if the tart pans are on a baking sheet. Because now you need to refrigerate for at least 2 hours to allow the chocolate to set.
  9. Before serving, sprinkle with sea salt (trust me on this). It shouldn't cover the whole top. Just a little bit of flaky sea salt so you get a taste with each bite of chocolate. Either serve that way or add sprinkles, crushed peppermint, or crushed nuts (hazelnuts or pistachios would be nice here).
Recipe Notes

This is adapted from Jamie Oliver.

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