Posts filed under ‘Cookies’

Cocoa Meringues

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.

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July 18, 2013 at 6:37 pm 43 comments

Blueberry Cornflake Thumbprints

Blueberry Cornflake Thumbprint 4

I just finished my junior year of college. Which seems impossible, and exciting. I’ve signed the paperwork on my first two apartments—one in New York, where I’m interning this summer, and another in Cambridge for my senior year. On top of everything else, I’m finally 21. But for some reason I can’t stop thinking about 17.

I haven’t posted in a long time. I didn’t forget or stop trying to. But my life has gone through a lot of changes in the last four years. I moved to the opposite coast, took classes, interned, worked, met new people, studied abroad, and lived on my own for the first time. I was in college and there was so much to do! So much to figure out about myself! And there were so many reasons why I wasn’t blogging.

Occasionally I tried to bake, but it felt like going through the motions. I couldn’t explain why it no longer made me happy, it just didn’t, even before my blogging hiatus began. The last thing I wanted was for 17 and Baking to feel like homework, so I didn’t force it. I wanted to want to write. I just didn’t expect it to take this long.

Blueberry Cornflake Thumbprint 2

For months, I could explain to everyone—especially myself—why I “couldn’t” blog. My freshman year dorm didn’t have an oven, ingredients were expensive, I didn’t have the free time I did in high school. But my explanations were starting to sound like excuses. For what, I wasn’t sure.

I began noticing I felt unmotivated about other things too. I’d stopped taking out my camera, even though I loved photography. I kept writing for classes, but the joy and creativity had noticeably packed up and gone a long time ago. I didn’t feel like hanging out with friends or going out on the weekends. I didn’t want to waitress. I just wanted to cozy up at home and watch TV.

At first I thought feeling like this was a natural part of growing up. In addition to all the changes in my life, I stressed about my career, my future, and my “potential,” which I worried wasn’t turning into “reality” fast enough. I convinced myself I no longer enjoyed baking to avoid facing a much more unpleasant truth—that I didn’t really enjoy anything anymore.

I didn’t feel sad exactly, but I felt empty a lot of the time, and for no real reason. Boredom and anxiety pushed out positivity and ambition. Sometimes I realized I didn’t even know why I was upset. The bewilderment and frustration was just as bad as the unhappiness itself. I felt like I was living in my own empty exoskeleton.

Blueberry Cornflake Thumbprint 3

Depression is terrifying. There’s no denying that. But I’m learning it touches a lot of people and is nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s also not necessarily a life sentence. Though I can’t explain why, I’ve been feeling better these days. The fog is still there, but I can see beyond it, and I’m excited by the hazy future I can make out.

A few weeks ago, I felt like baking, so I made these blueberry thumbprint cookies. There isn’t a cute memory or anecdote to recall. I couldn’t even tell you why I rolled them in cornflakes (for texture? I don’t know. I didn’t question it.) But I did feel a little better, watching them cool on the counter. I didn’t get my hopes up, but I smiled a little when none of the cookies made it to Day 2.

And today, I found the motivation to publish this post, which I’ve been writing in my head and second-guessing for months. I’m not going to question that either, just keep looking forward.

Blueberry Cornflake Thumbprint 5

I don’t know if it was a mistake to let the blogging slow down for so long. Ultimately, I try not to blame myself. I’ve realized it wasn’t something I could just chin up and power through. But it is something I can start again, if I want.

I don’t feel 17 anymore and I won’t pretend to. But that doesn’t mean I’ve outgrown 17 and Baking. Instead, I’d like to think it can grow with me. There are so many things I have yet to do, places to visit, people to meet. There are more wonderful things to look forward to than ever before. I’m going to start with 21.

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June 1, 2013 at 1:00 am 44 comments

Cornmeal Lime Cookies

cookie2

Last Thanksgiving, with only a few weeks left in my study abroad program, I packed a bag and flew to Barcelona. Although I visited a dozen countries that semester, for the first time I was traveling by myself.

It seemed daring and spontaneous when I booked the ticket. But as I walked into the rich Spanish sunshine, my nerves kicked in hard. I didn’t speak Spanish. I didn’t have companions. I hadn’t even read a travel guide or looked at a map. Nope, I went in blind and alone, a recipe for disaster.

Continued after the jump…

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August 10, 2012 at 6:30 pm 43 comments

Soft Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Cookies (vegan)

Mmmm...

My dad picked me up at the Seattle airport when I flew home for winter break. Throughout the semester I’d grown used to the unfamiliar – a different hostel every weekend, foreign customs, menus I couldn’t read. Seeing my dad’s face and falling into a bear hug made everything else disappear, like I’d never left home at all.

I breathed in the chilly air and looked out at the silhouettes of pine trees. Dad unlocked the car and I threw in my bags, a little white carry-on and the replacement backpack I bought in Rome. He raised his eyebrows as I slammed the trunk shut.

“Only two bags?”

“Dad, I’m only home for a month,” I said, rolling my eyes.

I didn’t understand the strange look that passed over his face. He’d later tell me that was the moment he knew I’d come back different, even though I didn’t see it then. How much can a person change in three months, anyway?

Baking sheet

But now that I’m back on campus in Boston, little things are different. Last year I didn’t just love living in the freshman dorm with a roommate – I needed that sense of community so I wouldn’t feel lonely, so I’d feel a connection with people. But I think I left Europe with something else entirely. These days I’m living in a single, and I’ve finally learned that living alone isn’t the same thing as being alone.

My parents are living alone. I worried about my mom when I saw her over winter break – she was eating really simple meals and bundling up instead of turning on the heat. For the first time in my life, I wanted to take care of my family, instead of just relying on them to take care of me. And I found that the littlest things in the world made her happy.

Like grocery shopping. My mom and I opened our eating horizons this winter. No more instant noodles and steamed spinach. And while I can’t wait for summer produce – delicate asparagus and heavy, thirst-quenching peaches – the winter has a lot to offer. We discovered cara oranges, faint pink and tangy. Pomegranates cracked into a thousand faceted rubies and acorn squash caramelized in the oven, its skin curling like parchment.

Chilled dough

By January, my mom was back in the kitchen. She baked bread for the first time in months. The juicer returned to our kitchen counter (my favorite is apple-carrot, heavy on the carrot.) One afternoon she bought a strange fungus from a Chinese grocery store, learned how to cook it, and introduced it to our table for the first time.

Then she said, “I want a signature dessert so I can bake when you’re not here.” This coming from the woman who once told me my buttercream frosting tasted like cavities.

Then I remembered these amazing peanut butter cookies. They’re naturally vegan – no eggs, butter, or milk – and use whole wheat flour. Plus, the recipe swaps canola oil for olive oil and refined white sugar for maple syrup. The dough comes together in one bowl, and the cookies are as simple as preheating the oven and owning a teaspoon.

The first time I made them, I brought an oven-fresh cookie to my mom. She examined it from top to bottom, took a hearty sniff, and finally tried the tiniest bite. Fifteen minutes later, we’d consumed nearly half of the cooling cookies, and agreed that they were far too dangerous for their own good.

Soft Whole Wheat PB Cookies

We made these cookies together. I showed her my favorite way to scoop flour (fluffed with a spoon, leveled with a knife) and the best way to avoid over-mixing. She rolled teaspoons of dough into balls, flattened them with a fork, and sprinkled salt and sugar over each batch. All I did was taste test.

My mom makes these cookies for holidays, for dinner parties, for friends. She even baked six dozen of these gems for a cookie swap at work. When people asked if I’d made them, she got to smile and say, “These ones are actually mine.”

When winter break ended and I flew back to Boston, there were still four jars of peanut butter and three pitchers of maple syrup chilling in the fridge. And by the time I’m home again, asparagus and peaches and all my favorite summer produce will be in season, but there won’t be anything I look forward to more than a peanut butter cookie.

[Also – if you’re reading this before 1/22/12, I’m going to be a guest tonight on Olivia Wilder Talk Radio! Click here for more info and the number to talk to me on air.]

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January 22, 2012 at 4:34 pm 87 comments

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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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