Time for 2013, and a Few Harsh Truths

I’m not very good at this whole blogging thing.

While I admire – and am a little jealous of – those who can pump out a post per day or more, I just can’t commit to it. I want to, but when I get to that Add New Post section and it’s staring back at me blankly, almost defiantly, I freeze up and forgot what brought me there in the first place. Once that nasty self-talk kicks in with it’s ‘you know, you’re really not interesting enough to be doing this’, it’s over. It’s all rather discouraging.

I’d like to say it’s because I was way too busy to blog, but that would be lying. In December, it was true: I was on my way to building what might have been a successful bake-on-demand business, offering to do the holiday baking for those who may have neither time nor inclination. I say ‘might have’ because although it was a moderate success for a soft launch, what happened afterward was less so. Pain is what happened. Over Christmas, I could barely lift a spoon let along beat anything with a spatula because my arm was hurting so badly. As it turns out, a nerve damage issue from my former desk job combined with carpal tunnel AND arthritis were all joining forces to tell me that this is not the path I’m supposed to be on. And don’t even get me started with the city zoning and regulations issues. It’s really a miracle that anyone operates a food business at all.

Which begs the question: what the hell do I do now?

In a way, the forced moratorium on daily baking made me have to do some serious thinking about my motivations. And despite all of my self assurances to the contrary, my obsessive baking was not a healthy tribute to my mother. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was more a desperate attempt to connect with her on some level now that she’s gone, and it was keeping me from accepting her death and moving forward. She had spent most of the day before the stroke took her away from us baking, and no amount of me re-creating that day through a variety of baked goods is going to bring her back.

Unfortunately, it took my best friend basically calling me out on it as well as the death of another loved one – my childhood best friend’s mother, who was like a second mother to me – to show me.

So now, I’m faced with the ugly task of rebuilding. For someone who places a large amount of her self worth in what she does for a living, you can imagine what six months of unemployment is doing to me. When I was baking, at least I felt like I was contributing something of value, building toward something bigger than myself. Sadly most of that value has been converted into inches on my waistline and it’s myself that is bigger, but that’s not the point I’m making. The point is, where do I go from here?

One consolation I have is that I’m about fifty pages away from finishing a complete rewrite of The Novel. I took all of the suggestions made to me from a literary agent who had showed some interest in the story, and changed the point of view from first to third person as well as shaved off a good twenty to thirty pages of unnecessary backstory, and am now on the verge of being able to consider re-submitting to other agents – that first one included. So I guess that’s one thing. But that’s not enough to base an entire future on.

I suppose I could start by changing my perspective. Normally, I am very much a glass is half empty kind of person. Perhaps if I could start looking at it from a more positive spin, like this is an opportunity to start a new chapter and try a whole new direction, I would be way better off both emotionally and physically. But as the late payment calls for bills I don’t have the money to pay at the moment, that might be easier said than done.

Anyone else find themselves in a similar situation? I take some comfort in knowing that I must not be alone in this.

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Update: Chocolate Contest

Update to my previous post: sadly, I did not win the recipe competition. However I did place third – of how many, I’m not entirely sure – and will be getting a basket of chocolate in recognition of my efforts. So, not too shabby for a first try.

Now normally I would allow something like this to completely deflate me and never allow me to put myself out like that again. The inside voice, that one that is usually so quick to jump in at these moments with an ‘I told you so’ or a ‘why bother trying when you know you can’t win’, has been strangely quiet this time. Oh, it’s still whispering, but what used to come through as if on loudspeaker has been reduced to little more than a whisper from the corner.

Could it be that the very act of trying something different, of taking a chance, was enough this time to keep that nasty little voice at bay? Is it really that simple, or have I just gotten lucky this time? I suspect it’s more of the latter, although the courage that comes from mere action may have had something to do with it as well. Because this time, rather than give up entirely, it’s made me want to seek out more opportunities to stretch my skills. Preferably not in a video format, but certainly with creating and submitting my own ideas for recipes.

So in that sense, perhaps I did win big after all.

Meringue Swirls Taunt Me No More!

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Finally, I give you my version of the accursed meringues! Now that I’ve finished them, I’m not sure what I was so intimidated by. But of course it’s so much easier to say that in hindsight. So let’s not go down that all-to-familiar road. Instead, let’s just focus on the fact that at last I was able to conquer this particular Martha-induced demon.

Here is a side-by-side comparison shot.

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Keeping in mind that I am by no means a professional, I’d say I did a pretty damn good job. One thing I would do differently is make sure I used more food coloring – and the gel kind instead of the liquid which was all I had on hand. But in any case the first few came out nice and swirly, while the remaining ones were more uniformly yellow. That’s fine with me – in the jar they have this sort of ombré effect which is quite lovely.

I piped as many as would fit in the oven but was still left with a fair amount of meringue. Not wanting to waste either that or the lemon I’d grated half the peel from, I set about making lemon curd for some sort of tart. I didn’t feel like making another shortcrust, though, and that’s when it hit me.

Why not make upside down lemon meringue tarts instead?

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I even crushed up some cookies to sprinkle on top to mimic pie crust. Judging by the reaction they garnered from the resident taste testers, I’d say the experiment was a success.

I must say, spending half the day in the kitchen was actually the most enjoyment I’ve gotten from life in quite a long time. I just need to figure out more ways to keep that feeling going all day long.

Recipes I used are here and here – both from Martha. Of course.

Productive, but Not Entirely Successful

Despite an excellent start early on with ticking one major item – The Book – off my goal list that had been held over from the previous week and getting some exercise in the form of walking as well, the fact remains that I still have no meringues for you.

I’m sorry.

In addition to Saturday’s rhubarb crumble, I did make some dairy-free banana ice cream using coconut milk and a pear-strawberry galette over the weekend, all of which were incredibly delicious. My husband even went so far as to say that it was the best strawberry-rhubarb anything he’s ever tasted, no small praise considering he’s a flavour snob of the highest order and that has been one of his favourites since he was a child. It’s not like I wasn’t busy. But again, they are not meringues.

Maybe it’s my miserable macaron-making experience that’s holding me back. Meringues are far less fickle than the macaron but they still depend on a certain lack of humidity in order to rise successfully. And it has certainly been humid. So it would be fair to reason that on a subconscious level I’m protecting myself from inevitable failure of the meringue by not even trying. But therein lies another problem – there has always been that layer of consciousness. And it’s less protective than it is preventative, in that before I even start a task I will have convinced myself that it will fail, and so I simply don’t bother. And that was the point of this whole exercise to begin with: establish weekly goals with a view to breaking my more unhealthy patterns. It doesn’t mean that I can state a specific goal, such as make those damn meringues, and then when I don’t achieve it I try to supplement it by making anything or everything else. That’s not how this works. So, to put it simply, what I need to do now is just shut up and make the meringues already.

And there you have it: while this weekend was productive in that I made a whole bunch of yummy things, it wasn’t successful because I did not make the one thing I had set out to. But in this case I would say that not being successful isn’t the same as failure, because another outcome has emerged: I’ve identified another important pattern of behaviour that needs to be put to an end.

Who knew that some fluffy bits of egg white and sugar could lead to this level of self-discovery?

PS: I have the eggs on the kitchen counter, just waiting to come to room temperature. And the mixer stands by their side at the ready. Fingers crossed

Progress Report

So, I am happy to report that out of the three goals established last week Sunday, the only one I have left to tackle is those infernal Martha Stewart meringues. If I can find a pic of them I’ll post it, so you can see how clearly non-terrifying they are. Hopefully I will be able to put that one to rest by Saturday.

I have begun work on the other two on my list, but they are definitely a work in progress. Although it would appear that the meringue ranks highest in terms of intimidation because I’m a wuss when it comes to beating egg whites until they form soft peaks that hold their shape, the most emotionally difficult one to get started on was The Book. But, surprisingly, it’s the one goal that has me the most motivated to continue plugging away. The exercise is…far less so. But I have been doing more walking this week, and the other day I managed to raise my heart rate by running up and down one of the small sets of stairs in my house for a few minutes. The dog was looking at me like I’d finally lost it once she’d figured out that it was not a game I was playing for her amusement and it wasn’t going to lead to her ultimate destination of late – outside. But there is more that needs to be done than the increase in walking vs car-driving and the stair cardio. I need to include some light weights in there and start committing to a routine before claiming any real sense of victory. But at least it’s a step in the right direction.

And there are technically two more days left in the week. A lot can happen in two days.

I shall keep you posted.

The Week After Last Week’s Ahead

So remember that post last Sunday when I mentioned that each week I would outline some specific things I’d like to achieve in the week ahead? Well, it’s Monday now which means that this Sunday has come and gone with nary a new list of goals in sight.

Am I abandoning my gameplan already simply because the week didn’t end up going quite the way I’d hoped it would? That would be so very typical of me, which would be the main reason why I will NOT be doing it this time. At least, at the moment, not if I can help it. I’d like to follow through on something, if only for the sake of knowing that I was capable of it. No, this week’s goals will be a continuation of those that were outlined last week. They are as follows:

1. Make those damned darling candy-swirled meringues that taunt you from the cover of last month’s Martha Stewart magazine. To borrow a phrase from the Nike commercials: Just do it.

2. Drag The Novel out for a revisit and possible retooling. See above Nike phrase – same rules apply.

3. Exercise at least three times this week. Maybe make it four, to make up for missing last week. But then again, I don’t want to set myself up for failure since that will ultimately do more harm than good… Andddd this is me shutting up now.

Except, of course, to leave you with that ubiquitous motivational quote that was no doubt dreamed up by some high-powered ad exec on Madison Avenue in the Eighties. But it has served as a powerful enough statement to have worked it’s way into our cultural lexicon, at least when it comes to seeking encouragement to push beyond what we believe to be our limitations. Therefore I obviously have no choice but to finish with it. Feel free to take it up as your own mantle for the week. And instead of talking about it…

Just do it.

Note re: the snide comment I’d made about the Nike slogan coming from Madison Avenue (in New York) According to Wikipedia, Just do it was created by Portland, Oregon-based advertising executive Dan Wieden of Wieden+Kennedy, which continues to be Nike’s agency of record to this day. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Wieden

Mind you, further research has revealed that founding partners Wieden and Kennedy first met in 1982 while working on the Nike account at McCann Erickson, whose North American headquarters just happen to be in New York. So perhaps I wasn’t too far off the mark after all… But again, I digress.

In the Week Ahead

While it’s not terribly healthy for people like me to plan – because we tend to overthink those plans and then stress about them – I think it’s important to have goals.

One of the things I’ve decided to use this blog for is to start to create new habits for myself, and maybe break some old ones in the process. With that in mind, every Sunday I will choose three things I would like to accomplish in the week ahead. By writing these things down, maybe there will be a greater chance of getting them done. It could be a good way to keep me honest. Regardless of whether or not anyone else reads it, at least I will know what’s there.

So here goes – what would I like to get done in week one?

1. Bake those meringue swirls that have been taunting me for weeks.

2. Drag The Novel out for a revisit.

3. Exercise at least three times this week.