Cocoa Meringues

July 18, 2013 at 6:37 pm 43 comments

Cocoa Meringues - Hand

I never thought I was the kind of person who would be fired.

I’d been waitressing since my freshman year. The restaurant hired me my first month in Boston, even though I’d never taken an order or carried more than two plates across a room. I think what ultimately sold them was my interview–I walked in with a firm handshake and no doubt I’d find a job, so I did.

I liked waitressing right away. My first day of training, I wanted to be the fastest learner my boss had ever seen, to earn solid 20% tips from every table and have fun doing it. Two years later, I felt pretty good. I was not only the server who’d worked there the longest, but also the server with top sales. I always planned to work at that restaurant until I finished school.

I can’t pinpoint exactly where things started to go bad, or which Bad Thing was the last yanked thread that made the whole thing unravel. One by one, most of the staff had either quit or been fired. My three favorite managers left, one after another. Turnover had never been so high, business so slow, or my earnings so meager. I didn’t look forward to work, but I kept coming in.

Cocoa Meringues - Box

Then one morning last October, I had bad stomachaches and a forehead that could melt butter.

When I called in sick for my shift that evening, the manager said I needed to find my own replacement. Determined, I called all of my co-workers, even the ones who worked at different locations, but nobody wanted to come in. Trying to stay calm, I called my manager again, and told him I honestly couldn’t do it tonight.

“People don’t get sick on a Saturday night, a few hours before their shift.” He continued that if I didn’t come in, things would be “very bad for my future there.”

If I’d been feeling sick before, it was nothing compared to the worry his words sent pinwheeling through my stomach. Just like that, I knew it was over.

I’d never been fired from anything before. I prided myself in being a great employee, a great intern, a great student, a great whatever. I actually liked learning. I always wanted to be the best I could be. Now, to be unceremoniously fired from the first real job I’d ever had? After two solid years? What was wrong with me?

Cocoa Meringues - Raw

It was around that fall I first realized something was different. Looking back I know it was depression settling in, but at the time, it was happening so slowly I hadn’t really noticed.

I was bored with my classes, which weren’t challenging enough. I was so comfortable with my friends, I never went out and looked for more. There was a time I could juggle two jobs, four classes, an internship, and all the relationships I wanted to maintain. But as I sat on my bed that afternoon, phone on my lap and tears welling in my eyes, I felt like I couldn’t do anything.

I was going to be fired. Fired. I felt like such a failure.

I didn’t know what else to do, so I called my dad. We hadn’t talked in a while, partly because I didn’t have anything positive to tell him, and I didn’t want him to know how I’d been feeling. When I heard his enthusiastic “Hey little girl!” I was ashamed to have this conversation. He heard it.

“What’s wrong?”

“Dad,” I said. “It’s not good.”

Cocoa Meringues - Baked

He let me explain what had happened without saying a word. At the end, I finished with a horrible, nasally “So I think they’re going to fire me.” I stared at my toes and hoped he wouldn’t be as disheartened with me as I was with myself. The dead air rang in my ears a few moments, and then he finally spoke.

“Screw them,” he said. Except he didn’t put it quite so nicely.

I was so shocked and so relieved I started crying, more emotional than I would’ve been if he’d yelled. “You’re not mad? You’re not disappointed?”

“Honey,” he said, “you work hard. You gave them all you have. And if that isn’t enough, you don’t need to take this. If you aren’t happy, by all means, get outta there.” He paused. “Mom says, ‘Tell her you’re right.’ So there you go. We’re with you.”

Cocoa Meringues - Bitten

We talked until my tears were dry and a reluctant smile crept in. After hanging up I drank a cup of tea, watched some TV, and went to bed early, glad I hadn’t been too scared or too proud to call. I got better. And two days later, I went into work for my next shift, head held high, ready to face whatever happened.

Fragility is natural. It’s what makes porcelain and lace and new flowers so beautiful. It’s what makes a good meringue cookie so addictive. And it’s what makes us human.

In the end, I wasn’t fired. But I did quit. And when I finally left that job, I learned something else—it’s okay to feel breakable sometimes. It’s okay to let other people see that vulnerability. Because the people who care will always be there to support you, to comfort you, and to believe in you, even when you can’t do those things for yourself. Especially when you can’t do those things for yourself.

And they’ll be there for you when you can.

Cocoa Meringues - Whisk

Cocoa Meringues
Makes about 3 dozen little meringues

3 large egg whites
1 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons quality cocoa powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk together the egg whites and sugar the detachable bowl of a stand mixer. Place the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t actually touch the water. Whisk the mixture, stirring as the steam heats the meringue and dissolves the sugar. When the sugar is completely dissolved, and the meringue is very warm but not hot, remove the bowl from the heat.

Re-attach the bowl to the stand mixer and whisk on high for 5-6 minutes, or until the egg mixture forms stiff peaks. Add the vanilla extract and whisk until incorporated. Whisk in the cocoa powder.

Pipe small meringues, or drop by the heaped teaspoon onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake in the center of the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the outside is crisp and crackled, the insides marshmallowy and soft. Cool thoroughly on a rack. Store in an airtight container.

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43 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Chef Tom Minchella  |  July 18, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    Love meringues and I will have to try this with cooca

    Reply
  • 2. jenlee420  |  July 18, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    Hey! You’re definitely not alone on how you feel…quitting is really ok. I actually quit the excutive board of my school club and part time job because I didn’t feel passionate and challenged enough. When I made that decision, I felt that I’d be missing something in my life, but I’ve found better things to do with my time.

    Anyways, I will definitely try your meringues which will be the 1st time. :) Take care!

    Reply
  • 3. ritavegas  |  July 18, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    Your maringues look so airy and delightful!! It’s so good to have people next to you that actually CARE about you :)

    Reply
  • 4. soumyaj  |  July 18, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    Reblogged this on quirrk and commented:
    A beautiful story with a cookie at the end! :D

    Reply
  • 5. hinnamh  |  July 18, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    I’ve never tried meringues before, so this will be a first. Loved the lesson of this story… :)

    Reply
  • 6. vickytoriali  |  July 18, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    I’ve definitely felt like that and am afraid to disappoint my parents. Still am reluctant to talk of my worries and failures. But aside from that, I love the analogy you made with cocoa meringues. At first, I was not sure why there were pictures of meringues interspersed through your post. What a great post. I’m just starting and am learning. Love your photos after a session of taking my first food pictures with my DSLR.

    Reply
  • 7. iscribbler  |  July 19, 2013 at 12:04 am

    I worried, fretted and felt like a failure when I “quit” teaching after many years with dwindling passion (sounds like a bad relationship, right?). Then I realized that I wasn’t quitting but starting again – taking control of a situation that was controlling me and making me miserable and unhappy. It was hard, sure, but it was what I needed to restart. :) Kudos to you for taking control of a situation that was obviously making you miserable. It takes a great amount of courage! (And I love your parents – they sound so supportive! You’re a lucky girl.)

    Reply
  • 8. Elissa's Dad  |  July 19, 2013 at 1:27 am

    When you were born, Mom and I just couldn’t believe how perfect you were. We wanted you to stay just like that perfect little infant forever. But time passed, as it always does and we watched with joy as you entered a new stage. We wished you could stay that way.

    With each stage, you grew and changed and became something more. We wished you could stay that way.

    Time passes so fast and with each stage you have become something more and Mom and I still think you are perfect. But we know you will become something more. We wish it could stay that way.

    So many times you and I have shared a needed hug, the kind in the kitchen on a sleepy morning, with you in that same dirty robe you love so much. The kind where you melt into my chest and bury your face and I wrap my arms around you….perfect. I wish it could stay that way.

    Everything changes, but you are still perfect to me just the way you are. I wish it could stay that way.

    But you will change again as you always do, growing into something more and being more than you knew you could. But I have always known. You are perfect then and now. I am always proud of you, miss you more than you can know. I wish I was there when you came home so tired for that hug and to turn you into that mummy you adore. But instead I watch from afar as you turn into the woman I have always known you would become, still perfect. I wish it could stay that way…

    Reply
    • 9. The Confident Baker  |  July 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm

      I’m so glad your parents are supportive of you. What a wonderful gift that they’re able to share their feelings with you…

      I’m the mother of a 25-yr-old son… it’s hard for us to watch as you learn life lessons.

      Hold your head high and know you’re living with integrity and passion.

    • 10. Liz Marsden  |  July 24, 2013 at 1:27 pm

      This post brought a tear to my eye, so glad Elissa has a family and a Dad as awesome as mine :).
      Your daughter is so talented and she writes so beautifully, I have been reading this blog for years from across the pond :) and have enjoyed every entry.

  • 11. Warm Vanilla Sugar  |  July 19, 2013 at 7:35 am

    I HATE your manager!! Ugghh, good riddance! You need to work somewhere where you feel supported, girl, waitressing is hard enough as it is without some butt being mean to you! Also, love the look of these meringues!

    Reply
  • 12. Polly  |  July 19, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    So glad you are back to baking and blogging, and so impressed with who you are becoming. Wonderful post, and great recipe. Thanks, Elissa.

    Reply
  • 13. Catalyst Cook  |  July 19, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    <3 my heart warms for you!

    Reply
  • 14. Ashley Bee  |  July 19, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    I hate that, just because you’re young, everybody thinks “sick” is synonymous with “hangover” or if you are sick on a weekend, it’s a lie. So freaking annoying. Ageism, oy.

    Glad you kept your head held high and got out of a bad situation. Never settle for people who undervalue you, no matter what.

    Plus, those meringues are fantastic!

    Reply
  • 15. astrogirl  |  July 19, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    Elissa, as always your reflections, photographs, and wonderful cooking continues to be impressive. I have every belief that you will obtain success in this life. Just keep expressing yourself through words and photography. Thank you again for a lovely post.

    Reply
  • 16. josieskitchen  |  July 19, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    As a teenager who is just starting a cooking blog, I love your blog. Thank you for being so inspiring and showing me that you don’t have to be an adult to make it!

    Reply
  • 17. cindysous  |  July 19, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    I have been following you for years-you are brave and strong and I am on your side. Your parents are wonderful . your writing and photography are individual and honest, I like that. …cindysous in seattle

    Reply
  • 18. Ann  |  July 19, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    That “manager” did not act like a manager. He acted like a jerk. If you are ill it is NOT up to you to find a replacement; it is the manager’s responsibility. It is his responsibility to support his employees until he has proof he cannot. And that didn’t happen. I’m glad you are outta there! He is NEVER going to reach the levels in life, in professionalism, in success that you will. . You have great character; he certainly didn’t show any. He has apparently had no management training. That was very low of him to threaten you like that. Maybe you’ll be in a position to fire him one day…but I doubt you’ll be in that kind of business. You are head and shoulders above him already. Those of us who have watched you the past few years know you are a very responsible and bright young lady. And never, never feel like a failure in anything unless you have not given it your best. Losing that job would NOT have made YOU a failure in any way. Sure, it would have been embarrassing and hurtful to be treated so unfairly, and fearful because you were unemployed, but you were not “at fault.” Best wishes on your continued education and keep us posted as you progress. (The meringues look wonderful. Thanks.)
    Chin up! You have a lot of supporters.

    Ann

    Reply
  • 19. Kelsey  |  July 20, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Good for you for standing your ground and knowing when enough is enough. As I look back to my post-college waitressing days, I think about how thankful I was that, the one day I did call in sick, my managers believed me because I’d been so dependable and hardworking. I hope your manager realized that shortly after the way he dealt with you.

    College is an amazing, confusing, maddening, exciting, hopeful time. You find out your best-laid plans won’t/don’t actually work out and you stumble upon new paths you never knew existed. The world opens up wider than you ever realized was possible.

    Keep plugging along. The best is yet to come.

    Reply
  • 20. Rosebriars  |  July 20, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    Thank you for sharing the lovely story and the recipe. Fragility is indeed a lovely thing, especially when it leads us to reach out and find that love and support were always ours, despite our weakness. These look so amazing I may actually try them! (I’ve never made meringues and i’m pretty unmotivated in the kitchen lately).

    Reply
  • 21. Fudging Ahead  |  July 22, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    So glad you were able to recover from that. Awful bosses mistreating employees can make life miserable. Good for you!

    Reply
  • 22. Dan  |  July 23, 2013 at 11:39 am

    I still remember when you were going through all of this. You were strong then, and you’re even stronger now. I think this is one of your best pieces yet. Your writing and food are always perfect, but I think this post really highlights your depth of character. It’s wonderful that readers around the world can get to know the strong, confident, amazing Elissa that I get to see everyday :)

    Reply
  • 23. Melissa Franceschini  |  July 24, 2013 at 1:34 am

    Your commentary on fragility is beautiful. You will recover from this. It will strengthen you. Good luck!
    PS…..meringues look fabulous.

    Reply
  • 24. Natashia  |  July 24, 2013 at 1:57 am

    I really enjoyed reading this, because I can relate to it. I was made redundant a year ago, and at the time it made me question my job, my skills and made me doubt myself. In the end the person responsible for my redundancy was fired. It was a bitter-sweet feeling. I knew it wasn’t me, and it was just the assholes that we sometimes come across in life (and work for) that ever made me doubt myself. It’s ok to crash, cos then you can look back, move on, and feel even more confident in who you are. It’s all a learning process. I shared my experience as well and it helped me move on.

    Reply
  • 25. Aiza  |  July 24, 2013 at 6:28 am

    Elissa,
    This is my first comment on your blog. You are my favorite blogger.
    Also you are very lucky to have parents that pull you together when you are hurt. Because many of us never have that privilege.

    Reply
  • 26. Liz Marsden  |  July 24, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Reblogged this on Reflections and Ponderings and commented:
    A beautiful post from one of my favourite bloggers. Check her out, she writes and photographs so beautifully.

    Reply
  • 27. Celine  |  July 24, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    I’ve been following your blog since its beginning, but started to miss some posts because I was too busy with college too! High-school timetables were so much better for baking!!

    Through your latest posts, I can see myself a bit haha… I’m 21 too, and was 17 too when you started blogging!

    Glad to see you’re back, even you don’t post as often as before, it’s okay :) Pictures and words are as beautiful as before (or more beautiful???!)

    Reply
  • 28. Amy  |  July 25, 2013 at 7:55 am

    I completely get this feeling. I was recently fired (my contract was ‘no longer viable to renew’ – whatever) and the first person I called was my Mum. I was so ashamed, I had thought the meeting was to increase my hours. In the end, my relationship with most of my bosses was healed but I still feel the sting about losing that job, a job I loved and believed in. Now, I just need to find a new job.
    Being a job seeker brings a different kind of shame and I am so afraid that my parents and friends don’t think I am looking hard enough. I know this is projection of my own insecurities, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
    In the meantime I guess I’ll have to make meringues :)

    Reply
  • 29. Naomi  |  July 30, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    I made these today and they were PERFECT.

    How do you think it would work as a big pavlova?

    Reply
  • 30. Sis  |  August 6, 2013 at 12:24 am

    Just checked in here to copy down your cheesecake recipe and see that you’ve been baking and blogging again! It was wonderful to catch up. Welcome back! Can’t wait to try the new recipes.

    And hang in there! You’re gonna be fine!

    Reply
  • 31. Sapir  |  August 6, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    Wow, this was really inspiring. I think it was actually braver of you to quit than to have gone into work and submitted to your clearly unfeeling boss. Jobs come and go and I don’t think a person can be judged by how many jobs they have held in their lives, but rather how they handle themselves in tough situations. There was no reason for you to have been treated that way after how much hard work you put into that job. I’m sure tons of employers would love to have a hard worker like you.
    On the flip side, I can’t bake to save my life, by these look so good I might just have to give them a try!

    Reply
  • 32. Alexandra  |  August 19, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    Love meringues, never made them with cocoa before, will definitely have to try them.

    Reply
  • 33. tess quizon  |  August 31, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    though meringues, are not really my “cheer me up food choice”…you and your dad are surely one of my “inspiration source choice”. ;) This post touched me for a lot of reasons…thank you for writing this. “Screw them!” lols…

    Reply
  • 34. summersnaps  |  September 21, 2013 at 2:28 am

    “it’s okay to feel breakable sometimes. It’s okay to let other people see that vulnerability. Because the people who care will always be there to support you, to comfort you, and to believe in you, even when you can’t do those things for yourself. Especially when you can’t do those things for yourself.”- I love what you wrote, thank you for that

    Reply
  • 35. Heather  |  September 24, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    I’ve been reading your blog since you were actually 17. You’re a rare individual. Talented, smart, and dedicated. This particular blog post was beautiful. PS. Your dad is right. Screw them.

    Reply
  • 36. sudhakar  |  November 17, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    Crikey 21!!! What a sad and ultimately uplifting post. Keep your chin up. My mental voice was sad as it read the meringue recipe.

    Reply
  • 37. Cocoa Meringues | VIVIMETALIUN  |  December 5, 2013 at 8:30 am

    […] Cocoa Meringues […]

    Reply
  • 38. thesweetthingsoflife  |  January 28, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    these look so great! I will definitely give them a try!

    Reply
  • 39. Aqiyl Aniys | Natural Life Energy  |  March 19, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    These meringues look totally awesome. I love cocoa.

    Reply
  • 40. lifeofmissb  |  April 5, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    Great post! Your dad sounds like a very wise man…He sounds so similar to my dad who I called in tears after a particularly nasty annual review I’d suffered through in my first ‘real’ job post-university. His words were on the same lines as “screw em”, I didn’t quit right away I waited until I found a better job somewhere else and moved on ASAP.
    PS. The meringues look divine…I’m going to have to give them a try sometime.

    Reply
  • 41. C.J.P  |  April 6, 2014 at 6:43 am

    Sounds to me like you’ve got a fantastic support group around you & good riddance to that place you where at! urgh!

    Reply
  • 42. Matea  |  October 18, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    These meringues look so good! Comfort food :)

    Reply
  • 43. kids clothes  |  November 19, 2014 at 12:20 am

    kids clothes

    Cocoa Meringues | 17 and Baking

    Reply

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Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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