Tag Archives: Cooking

Fear Challenge 1/5: Souffle

In the post that is called ‘The Things I’ve Never Done: Part 2,’ I set five goals for myself.
Well, I completed one.

I made a vanilla souffle.

…And it did not go well.

Do me a favor: Visit Google, type in ‘Vanilla Souffle,’ and click on the image search function. Then, look at the pictures.
Do you get how the souffle is supposed to look, all puffy and bursting out of the ramekin?

This is mine:

photo 2

It ACTUALLY did the COMPLETE OPPOSITE of what it was supposed to do!
And NO, I didn’t slam anything or bump anything!

I was PISSED.
…Then, I found it kind of funny. And I ate them.
I actually have never eaten a souffle before this and, if I’m honest, it was quite disappointing. Sure, it did not rise, but that wouldn’t have mattered. It tasted like…baked eggs with sugar. If you want that kind of taste, why not make a smooth, yummy custard instead of this?

So, all of this time, I’d been scared to make a souffle.

Did it hurt my ego a bit that it didn’t rise?
Sure.

There are those people who are good at almost everything…you know who I mean? The people who are kind of scary because everything that they do just turns out great and wonderful, or they take to a game or a sport or whatever, and they’re perfect at it.

Oh, this woman who I know is a doctor, but on the side, she knits opera gloves for orphans! Oh, you need to have her show them to you, but that’s nothing compared to what she did for her daughter: She sewed her wedding dress! Didn’t even use a pattern; it was her first time, too. …Yes, her first time sewing! Oh, and you know those amazing cookies in the break room? Guess who baked them!

Well, I am not one of those people.
I default to ‘inept,’ and that really bugs me sometimes. Yes, this involves practice time, as well. It’s downright tiring.
It makes me feel like I’m always outside looking in, which is how I’ve felt my entire life; like a puzzle piece that doesn’t fit anywhere.

Don’t get me wrong: I like being the odd puzzle piece.

But being inept at so many things makes it so difficult to interact with other human beings when you know, no matter how hard you try, that you will lose that cutesy board game, or that new project you wanted to try that is outside of your comfort-zone will turn out a mess EVERY TIME.
A lot of people enjoy ‘a bit of competition;’ it motivates them to be better and strive for greatness, but all it’s ever done for me was make me feel like shit. There are many times in my life where I’d asked myself, in earnest:

Am I good at anything? Anything at all?

The silence following that question is awful.

So, I came to the conclusion that instead of feeling horrible about myself for my ineptness, I would strive for MY best. When I did not bother to compare how I was doing next to others, it made me happier and more willing to continue with all of the things I’m inept with that I love to do. I no longer thought things like:

Why bother? I’ll never be any good at this, so what’s the point?

…and started thinking:

So what if this person is so good that it makes my skills look juvenile? I did my best, and I’m proud of myself!

It was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.
So good, in fact, that I had a revelation: I reject competition, in and of itself.
It’s certainly not a popular thing to say, but it works for me.

Even though I’ve made this personal progress with myself, I do become fearful of failing at something I feel I’m good at; it’s something I need to work on. Baking is cooking’s sister, so I honestly become scared to do it sometimes because I hate it when I make mistakes.

I would salivate whenever people made souffles on TV; they look SO good…but I was sure mine wouldn’t come out right. And I was jealous of the people who could make them so perfectly. But the funny thing is…it wasn’t as delicious as I thought it’d be. It looks amazing (when it’s done correctly), but I’d be almost embarrassed to serve something that tastes like that to my friends and family. Cut up some strawberries, sprinkle some baker’s sugar on them, and serve it with some angel food cake…call it a day. It is way less work, more filling, and a better dessert, anyway.

Maybe people make souffles simply because they’re difficult and they want to impress people…

Anyway…I did what I said I’d do: I made the souffle.
Did what I was afraid of happening happen?
Yes.
How did I handle it?
Just fine.

Italian Easter Bread

I’m not sure if all of you are aware of it or not, but Thursday was the Spring Equinox. I usually celebrate by making a small feast: A roast, roots, egg custard, salad with edible flowers…you know, that type of thing.

It should come as absolutely no surprise that the Spring Equinox reminds me of Easter, and I have a very private and sacred tradition on Easter: Watching ‘The Last Unicorn,’ and eating Pane di Pasqua (Italian Easter Bread) while I cry myself silly (in a good way).

Pane di Pasqua/Italian Easter Bread: A sweet, braided bread baked with dyed Easter eggs. It may also contain dried fruit and/or topped with icing and sprinkles.

I live in an Italian-American neighborhood, and there’s an Italian grocery store down the street from me. It’s wonderful! It’s one of two places I can actually find scungelli, and their bakery? Absolutely un-fucking-believable. They have stuff you can only typically find back home in New York or New Jersey…stuff like sfogliatelle (lobster tail pastries). For the last maybe…two or three years, I’ve gotten my Easter bread from them, but I’ve been itching to take a crack at making my own for a while.

So, since Thursday was kind of a not-so-great day for everybody else to celebrate Spring, I had my mini feast on Friday, and used it as an excuse to try baking myself some Easter bread for the first time. I figured I could stay up late on Thursday to make the bread so I had time to complete the food preparation Friday afternoon, and that’s what I did.

Here’s the thing: I’m a cook, not a baker. I love cooking. As a matter of fact, cooking is how I bonded with my mother. We both love to cook and love food. Most of my childhood memories take place next to my mother’s legs while she was cooking one thing or another, and when I was a teenager, my favorite thing to do on a Friday night was go to the grocery store with her.
While my friends ate frozen and canned food in university, I cooked my meals. I even fed my roommates. Hell, I sometimes flagged down my neighbors and fed them, too.
What can I say? I’m a little stereotype. I LOVE cooking so much.
But baking? Hahaha…

The only thing that I’m confident about baking is a simple French bread. It’s just water and flour and yeast with a bit of salt. Sure, it’s time consuming, but it’s difficult to fuck up. Anything else, and it’s a total gamble. I’ve burned bread…using a BREAD MAKER.

It’s quite difficult to imagine what a neighbor would’ve thought had they been able to hear what was happening in the kitchen last night:

Whir, whir, whir…
‘No, no, no, no, NO! What are you DOING?’
Thump…thump…thump…
‘You dirty son of a BITCH!’
Thud…slap!
‘You’re SUPPOSED to be satiny! WHY AREN’T YOU SATINY?’

I must’ve done something very wrong because my dough did NOT rise. Maybe the water was too hot for the yeast? Who knows. All I know is that somehow, I ended up with this:

IMG_1734

And yes, I’m boring because I didn’t color the egg.

It wasn’t a replica of the Easter bread from the bakery, as each braid kind of…rose up and separated from the others, but I was pleased to have it look half-way decent.

The next morning, I got up and worked on it a bit:

IMG_1737

The recipe I used for the icing said to mix powdered sugar and orange liquor. Not only does synthetic orange flavor make me gag, I thought lemon liquor would taste better with the bread, so I used Cavarella.

While the icing was perfect (so perfect, in fact, that I kept sampling what was left over and began to feel mysteriously lazy), the bread was dense. My guests did not seem to mind, as they went back for seconds, but I was a bit disappointed. But hey, this is why I tested it out before the day I really want it to go right.

I did learn something, though: Icing is a REALLY fun way to get drunk.