I’m not always all about pondering life’s realizations or philosophical musings, or even admitting to my own shortcomings, and chastising myself for arriving at some conclusion that I should have already been at years ago.
I do attempt to find balance, and joy at things that are often overlooked. Sometimes I become so obsessed with being self-taught that my dear family has to tolerate the current obsession for weeks on end.
This balance is what I consider my life through pink glasses. Ok, maybe only a section of my life. And, this section in life would be what many would consider mundane or chore-like.
But, I tend to always find inspiration in everything.
I find joy in my inspirational obsessions and where I feel Ma Vie en Rose is a good place to start: to share what inspires me when I’m not working in academia or working on essays and writing projects, or being a political and historical junkie glued to the news. Or worse, stuck on the couch watching Netflix or Korean Dramas (my god, I sound like an Auntie).
Let me begin with a back story (there is always a story to tell, right?): when I was a child, I wanted to learn how to play the piano. In the 80s, my family was living with my Aunt Lucy in Kailua and she had a piano in the living room that no one ever played. The piano was an accessory to the overall aesthetic of the living room itself–it might as well have been the coffee table. The lacquer seat in front of the piano contained music sheets, and instructions. The music sheets were hidden in the compartment of the seat. I found a music sheet with numbers for the notes, and I took it upon myself to study the numbers and the notes on the piano.
1-3-4-5 1-3-4-5 1-3-4-5 3-1-3-2 3-3-2-1 3-5-5-4 3-4-5 3-2-3-1
I couldn’t read the notes, but the numbers allowed me to practice and my fingers memorized it. Those numbers are the notes to When The Saints Go Marching In. I always thought that if the piano could have spoken out loud–it would have spoken to me with great sadness. Sadness because the little girl touching its keys couldn’t think of another song to learn–or sadness because no one ever paid it any attention. My parents wouldn’t think of enrolling me into piano lessons. There were five of us kids, and the idea of spending money on such lessons would be too much for them. So, in between doing my homework–I took it upon myself everyday to play on the piano. My fingers would tap the 1-3-4-5 on an imaginary keys without me even realizing it. In school, when my right hand wasn’t writing assignments, my fingers found itself tapping the notes on my desk. It was the only song that I could recall playing on the piano. When my family left Kailua, the piano was the only item in the house I said goodbye to. I never thought my Aunt was aware that I played with her piano, but I remember that one of the conversations we had before she passed away from cancer was her telling me that she watched me one time play the piano, and it actually made her happy.
To this day, my fingers still remember those key notes, and I’d get a tinged of happiness at the thought of it.
Fast forward today. Nothing much has changed. I consider these little obsessions as projects that I will work at to perfect–or at least come close to some kind of perfection. But, holy shit, the hundreds of fails to get there was something to laugh at.
Take the French macaron. I figured my first post for this section of my blog should run with the Francais theme. But before I proceed, I felt compelled to at least try to state that I’m a tiny bit qualified to take on this stubborn and bitchy french cookie. I took French in high school, and onto college. I got a glimpse of Paris as a child when my family was stationed in Germany. My daughter was born wanting to become a French woman –one day she will leave me and the family nest for Paris. Although she’s invited me to stay with her, she was upfront about me not overextending my stay (my goodness, what have I raised?). Ok, the qualifications are quite limited–but, it’s enough.
In 2014, I became obsessed with wanting to learn more about the macaron. These little colorful confections looked amazing. My daughter Chloe and I decided that every where we traveled, we’d research that city and if it had a bakery that sold macarons–we made sure to stop by and peruse the displays. We’ve eaten macarons at Pike’s Market in Seattle, in Denver, Colorado–in Honolulu’s Whole Foods market even! But, I wanted to learn how to make it, and I wanted to master that shit.
So, I bought the Les Petits Macaron recipe book. And, I went to work.
What the fuck man was the first reaction I had–because I am a person that has limited patience for anything, and I soon realized that one must have an abundance amount of patience and a talent for coaxing these damn cookies into perfection.
Here’s proof of utter failure:
Please take note of the cracks in the middle, and the lack of feet. The feet of this confection is the most important part of the beauty of a macaron. I quickly turned to the troubleshooting chapters of the book, and it explained to me that “you’re a jackass for not following the instructions.”
Ok, so the book didn’t actually state that, but it did provide me with the 100 reasons why I screwed it up. There were many more attempts at getting la feet. My kids (the middle one was still at home at the time getting ready to leave the nest for CSU-Pueblo) couldn’t deal with the non-stop pounding of the cookie sheet on the granite countertops. Because you had to slam the cookie sheet down to get all the air pockets out.
After a gazillion attempts–finally, one afternoon–eureka! I can still recall how my kids’ faces looked when I was jumping up and down in the kitchen. I knew what they were thinking: the woman just gon’ lost her damn mind.
They failed to understand though the triumphant feeling of getting something finally right.
And, I did not stop there. The sacred secret to those damn macaron feet was allowing them to sit on the cookie sheet for a few minutes to dry out before baking them. Once I was able to pin down that process—I took off from there:
How does accomplishing the perfecting of the macaron applies to my writing? Well, it brings a sense of joy to understand that perseverance leads to getting something done. Writing brings me joy–but, I will admit that it also brings me all the emotions that goes with the flow of writing. There are moments when I am writing a character’s perspective that I feel the very emotions that the character is experiencing.
However, when it comes to baking or cooking in general, it’s very structural, mathematical and formulaic. And, the joy that I feel at the end is merely that: joy. Ok, some bliss as well.
And, well–that’s c’est magnifique.
If you’re interested in tackling on this ornery confection, David Lebowitz’s has a pretty good recipe you can find at https://www.davidlebovitz.com/french-chocolat/
Full disclosure though–this recipe contains prunes. So, your grandparents will most definitely love it. However, if prunes offend you or if you feel that you are far too young to eat prunes–walk away.
For the sake of ease, recipe is below:
1 cup (100g) powdered sugar
1/2 cup powdered almonds (about 2 ounces, 50g, sliced almonds, pulverized)
3 tablespoons (25g) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
5 tablespoons (65g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (125ml) heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
4 ounces (120g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon (15g) butter, cut into small pieces
15 medium prunes (pitted), about 5 ounces (150g) prunes
2 1/2 ounces (70g) best-quality milk chocolate, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Armagnac
Preheat oven to 350º F (180º C).
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and have a pastry bag with a plain tip (about 1/2-inch, 2 cm) ready.
Grind together the powdered sugar with the almond powder and cocoa so there are no lumps; use a blender or food processor since almond meal that you buy isn’t quite fine enough.
In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they begin to rise and hold their shape. While whipping, beat in the granulated sugar until very stiff and firm, about 2 minutes.
Carefully fold the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the beaten egg whites with a flexible rubber spatula. When the mixture is just smooth and there are no streaks of egg white, stop folding and scrape the batter into the pastry bag (standing the bag in a tall glass helps if you’re alone).
Pipe the batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets in 1-inch (3 cm) circles (about 1 tablespoon each of batter), evenly spaced one-inch (3 cm) apart.
Rap the baking sheet a few times firmly on the counter top to flatten the macarons, then bake them for 15-18 minutes. Let cool completely then remove from baking sheet.
To make the prune filling:
Cut the prunes into quarters and pour boiling water over them. Cover and let stand until the prunes are soft. Drain.
Squeeze most of the excess water from prunes and pass through a food mill or food processor.
Melt the milk chocolate and the Armagnac in a double boiler or microwave, stirring until smooth. Stir into the prune puree. Cool completely to room temperature (it will thicken when cool.)
To make the chocolate filling:
Heat the cream in a small saucepan with the corn syrup. When the cream just begins to boil at the edges, remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let sit one minute, then stir until smooth. Stir in the pieces of butter. Let cool completely before using.
Spread a bit of batter on the inside of the macarons then sandwich them together. (You can pipe the filling it, but I prefer to spread it by hand; it’s more fun, I think.) I also tend to overfill them so you may or may not use all the filling.
Let them stand at least one day before serving, to meld the flavors. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or freeze. If you freeze them, defrost them in the unopened container, to avoid condensation which will make the macarons soggy.