Monday, June 21, 2010

when life hands you lemons make dark chocolate pudding with caramel cream and pistachio praline.

recently two people who are very near and dear to my heart, my person, my life announced that they were separating. what is it about a couple announcing their separation that makes one feel like a little kid again. sitting on the front step, chin on knees, wondering what happened, but knowing it won't ever be the same again.

and it's funny because if you're not in the relationship it's always so "sudden." this is so "sudden" we say...when for the people *in* the relationship it's not sudden at all. and often a long time coming.

so what do you do with information that hits you out of the blue and changes a LOT? well for me, this time at least, i made pudding. because the thing about dessert is that while i don't care for sweets, i love to make them. because making dessert so often means following the recipe to a T or it doesn't work. so there is often little room for interpretation, for your own input, which when you are feeling adrift is a wonderful sense of peace and calm, an anchor.

dark chocolate pudding with caramel cream and pistachio praline is actually three recipes put together at the end. so it seemed a good, long, methodical project.

first i made the pistachio praline. which is as easy as pie AS LONG as you are patient enough to wait for the sugar and water to bubble WITHOUT stirring it and WITHOUT being impatient and stirring in the pistachios before it reaches that perfect shade of dark amber. sometimes easier said than done. OFTEN easier said than done. oh, and be careful of that burning sugar. when the pistachios are coated with the boiled sugar quickly spread the mix before it hardens.

leave it alone and let cool.

next i made the pudding, chopping chocolate and whisking cream and waiting for all of it to come to a bubble. then you mix cornstarch and water together to be set aside and added later. and then you stand by the stove and stir, and stir, gently, waiting, and it seems nothing is happening. the chocolate melts so slowly, you don't think it will ever melt wholly into the milk. the minutes tick by. you want to stop it's so boring, but you don't. you don't because the milk will burn or the chocolate will stick. so you stand and gently stir. and stir.

and just when you thought you've been so pulled in by the repetition that it will never be different, everything happens at once! the chocolate and cream starts to bubble furiously! you have to RE-mix the cornstarch and water because the corn starch has hardened at the bottom of the bowl and separated from the water. how did that happen you ask? it happened because you forgot how corn starch and water can get when you leave the mix sitting for too long.

meanwhile the chocolate is bubbling away, you are RE-mixing the cornstarch and water, you get it liquid again, you add it to the chocolate in the pot and then you've got to whisk this constantly to ensure it doesn't burn or stick or clump and your arm gets tired and you thought you had it all ready to go but it happened so fast even though it seemed to take forever.

then, then when it's ready you pour the pudding into separate dishes, dividing it evenly, trying to make it smooth so it sets that way. but there's always a little that has set before you get to it. and that dish of pudding is clumpy when the others are smooth. a casualty of the process. because you had the choice to put it all in one bowl to chill but you decided to separate it. you wonder if it would have been easier just to keep it together. but you like it this way. even the non perfect bits.

leave it alone and let chill.

making the caramel cream is much like making the praline, only instead of adding pistachios you need to add cream to the bubbling, just-turned-the-perfect-shade-of-dark-amber sugar. and when you do, adding the cold cream to the hot sugar, it's unexpected, jarring, so it boils up something fierce and it's best to give it some space, to back your hand away while using your very longest spoon to stir. but do keep the spoon in there, you need to keep stirring. even if it's hot, even if a bit got on your hand. you have to keep stirring it until the hardened caramel bits have dissolved. and they will dissolve. just give it time.

leave it alone and let cool.

then fold it into freshly whipped cream. and, well, you know, let chill. always make space and time for the cooling and chilling. and, well, you know, don't be impatient with this step. especially not this step.

when it's all done, and it will all get chilled and done, it always does, top the chocolate pudding in the dishes with a dollop of the caramel cream and top that with bits of the pistachio praline.

in retrospect i would have done things differently. the pistachio praline could really use a pinch of salt, i knew that at the time, but i followed the recipe just to see. i should have added the salt.

and i let the hot pudding sit too long in the pot while i futzed with the dessert dishes. i should have had those ready. because as i futzed, a bit of the pudding cooled too much and congealed. and the last dish of pudding wasn't very pretty.

i could have whipped the cream more. i knew it was too soft, but again, the recipe. it didn't say stiff peaks, so i didn't do stiff peaks. and sure enough, when i folded in the caramel it loosened the cream considerably. chilling it in the fridge helped, but it wasn't the same. i should have followed my intuition.

but when i put it all together and gave the pudding to my husband, to my kids, they all had nothing but wonderful things to say. they couldn't get enough. they loved every bite of it. and only i was the wiser of what i could have done differently. deviating from the recipe and making it better, at least in my opinion. because sometimes we're lucky enough that it works out that way. not always, but sometimes.

i know that when people separate it's a decision that they don't take lightly. and i respect the choice. the people. and i am more often than not proud of people being able to take that tough step. most of us have been there. we know it's hard, but so much harder to ignore it.

and it's not the end of the world. not for them and not for *us.* because as much as we feel like making it about us, because we hurt too, it's not. we deal with it but it's not about us. unless you are in the relationship you have no idea. none. even if you've known them forever. it doesn't matter. unless you are one of the two you can never know.

i have learned that the 'bad' things that happen in life aren't personal. that life is just a continuous strip of, well, living. and everyone goes through it. everyone. and we have our role in it, in our own life, and in others. we take our places and we live. and life just goes on like that.

what's personal is that sometimes, sometimes what we are doing needs to change. it just does. and it's just a decision we make in a life of full of decisions. meaning, it doesn't have to make or break us. like deciding whether to divide that pudding into separate dishes or to keep it all together in one bowl. we get to decide.

and we hope it works out.

and we hope others will respect our decision.

and we hope. we hope. we hope.


Tuesday, June 01, 2010

your moment(s) of zen.

this is a totally indulgent post. please indulge me.

as the duke gets older i find that he is beginning to enjoy the things that i enjoyed at his age, the books the movies the music. not all of them, but some. and this is an odd little deal. because on the one hand i am happy to enjoy these things again, some of them never forgotten, some of them i'm enjoying again after decades. but on the other hand it feels a little strange. like whoa, where did all the time go? who is this young man with the deepening voice beside me and why does he keep calling me mama?

we watched 'stand by me' together the other night. and every kid (all of those 'kids' now my age) who came on the screen the duke wanted to know who he was. what was he doing now? did he stay acting?

oddly, he was particularly taken with corey feldman. he was also taken with, not so oddly, river phoenix. what were they doing now? did they stay acting?

i know every generation produces their own troubled child actors. the ones that burn bright and then out. the ones that just burn out. but why does it seem my own generation has produced so many? does every generation feel that way? is it the excess of the 80s? which is a silly notion that it would be any 'worse' than any other decade because you needed the late 60s and all of the 70s to produce the 80s.

and i remember loving these stars, too. but having to scrape up money to buy the magazines for information or wait for mtv news breaks. because it was their first time around there wasn't anyone who 'knew.' and there certainly wasn't google.

i wonder if the fascination with my youth and its entertainment will stick with the duke? i don't know much about the books and movies and music of his generation because we are just starting the journey. but if it's anything like the youth driven and generated for youth entertainment of the past 10 years i'd just as soon tell him to take a pass and wait for something better. god i sound old but that's the truth.

i'm nostalgic more than usual lately. it's a gift and an affliction. but there was a lot to love about my generation. they don't make music like that anymore. the movies had a sweeter edge to them. the bullies were more buffoonish than actually dangerous, and the girls still wore clothes.

oh don't get me wrong, there are a couple of recent 'teen' movies that come to mind when i think about good ones. 'superbad' for instance was superawesome. but why do i still think of that movie as being made for people my age? says the girl with a mclovin' id in her wallet. i know, don't be jealous.

but i suppose this happens to all parents. this nostalgia mixed with the ever happening moving forward present. this isn't anything new or even particularly interesting. it's just one more step on the path. but a step nonetheless.

all that being said, the duke looked up corey feldman and learned he's not really acting much these days. briefly touched on his pal, corey haim and his recent death. while i know the top stories of the two coreys, i took up the research and was surprised to learn that corey feldman had 15 #1 movies in a row. weird. he's also some long time recording artist. and here i just thought he was one half of the two coreys. i think when he was enjoying his movie star fame i was just too old to care by then because the movies were still for teenagers. though we are only 4 days apart in age.

the duke learned that river phoenix died. which is such a simple gathering of words for what that really meant at the time. all the subtext of his death is lost on him at this point, though. it's a bit like kurt cobain. he loves nirvana and obviously knows kurt died, but unless you were there and conscious of it happening, well you just don't get the impact. i did. living in seattle i remember it like it was yesterday. he asks me about it, like a it's another one of my stories to tell. but telling it doesn't come close to what i remember feeling about it.

river phoenix was a far far different actor than corey feldman. in a whole different orbit. and i appreciated everything i saw him in. and he impressed me. and i wanted him to fall in love with me. and i was sad when he died.

i wonder what the duke's generation will bring? certainly it seems filled with the two coreys of the world, less so anyone of river phoenix's caliber. but i wonder. he's 13. the world is open to everything right now. anything could happen. and, it usually does.

so it is in this spirit i bring you this installment of your moment(s) of zen. i know, you must indulge me yet again. but it's worth it.