Posts tagged ‘chocolate’

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

S’mores Rice Krispies

Smores Rice Krispies 4

I thought I’d write about how grown up I feel interning in New York this summer… but that’s not really true.

More honestly, I’m playing dress up. I hardly recognize myself in the mornings, in an ironed button up and pencil skirt. Then I see the goofy photo on my employee ID—the one where I was about to say, “What?” and my bangs are too long—and I feel like a kid again.

Surprisingly, I’ve never worked full time outside the school year. Even after college began, I’ve spent summers making ice cream and hoping for a tan. While my schedule this semester might be less open, I do love living in New York. For a long time I wanted to go to school here. And though I ultimately ended up in Boston, I always wondered if I might secretly be a New Yorker.

Smores Rice Krispies 1

It takes more than a summer to become one, but I’m slowly getting used to the subway, the pace of the city, the feel of different neighborhoods. I’m learning to walk with purpose, and crossing restaurants off my list. And I’ve got a beautiful apartment I’ll be heartbroken to leave after August.

The kitchen is the first room off the apartment’s long hallway, and the first room I come home to. If you’ve ever lived in this city, it won’t surprise you that it’s the size of a shoe box. It’s narrow and dishwasher-less, with a fold-up table and two chairs an arm’s reach from the fridge. There’s outlet space to plug in either the microwave or electric kettle—only one—and the oven runs so hot you can burn yourself without opening it.

But the cabinets are stocked all the way back with spices, herbs, sugars and extracts, five flavors of instant macaroni and lots of tea. There’s a small window that looks out onto absolutely nothing but lets in a gauzy pool of light. And even though I wasn’t impressed upon first glance, this kitchen has grown on me.

Smores Rice Krispies 3

I didn’t expect to use it much. But when I found myself wanting to bake, I did.

I wanted something quick, inexpensive, and delicious. So I made rice krispies, a no-bake recipe that only took twenty minutes from start to finish. The recipe is as easy as melting butter and marshmallows, stirring it into the krispies, and pressing the whole mess into a pan. For fun, I added chocolate chips and graham crackers, since nothing says summer like s’mores.

Simple as they are, there’s something thoroughly satisfying about these little squares. I’ve always liked rice krispies—gooey, soft, and crunchy all at once, with a sweetness that sticks to the back of your teeth. These ones feel especially nostalgic. The chocolate chips melt a little, thanks to the residual heat of the marshmallows. The shards of graham cracker lend a wholesome crunch. The whole thing sticks stubbornly to your fingers, and it’s great.

Smores Rice Krispies 5

It might be my first summer away from home, living with my first long term boyfriend in my first New York apartment, working 40 hours a week at a company with 30 other interns. But one bite of these rice krispies and I feel like a little kid again, like it might be another summer spent in the sun.

I hope I never get too old to chase that feeling.

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June 13, 2013 at 11:01 pm 43 comments

Red Wine Chocolate Cake

Red Wine Chocolate Cake

Everybody has guilty pleasures.

For my mom it’s a hot croissant, one with crispy edges that flake all over her lap. Maybe you have a friend like my floormate J-, who herds people out of the room on Tuesdays when Gossip Girl airs. Is it terrible to admit I sometimes sneak downstairs and swipe a spoonful of leftover hot fudge? I don’t even reheat it or drizzle it over ice cream. Instead I eat it cold and truffle-y, straight from the fridge.

Recently, though, I’ve been obsessed with wedding blogs.

I especially love the photography. Close ups of the bride’s shoes, a brilliant pop under the white hem of the dress. The color palettes, more flowers than I can name, the blown out look of Christmas light strings as the dancing begins. Every wedding is a fairy tale.

I’d never been to a wedding I could remember. So when my boyfriend I- invited me to his cousin’s wedding at the end of August, how could I resist?

Merlot

We arrived at the barn where the wedding was set. Because we were early, and because we were staying at the venue, I got to see first-hand the absolute mania that takes place before “I do.”

The flower girl cried because she didn’t like her hair, makeup running down her face. One aunt couldn’t find her beige pumps, and another broke the lens of her glasses. A bridesmaid made a frantic last minute run for basil. Wedding photography never shows the groomsmen all distraught, mixing more pink lemonade, or the wind that keeps knocking vases over.

Despite everything, this wedding was beautiful. The couple looked happy, so truly in love, that misplaced napkins and creased dress pants didn’t matter. The ceremony was short and sweet, everyone clapped, and we felt connected standing there in the sun.

I haven’t seen the photographs yet, but here are some things I don’t think they’ll capture… The bride’s unplanned thank you speech, which brought people to tears, or the square of star-flecked sky visible through the barn’s window. The way I felt dancing with I- to the first song, the hum of crickets outside.

Red Wine Chocolate Cake Batter

When we got home I noticed a new entry on my favorite wedding blog. I scrolled through the photos and couldn’t help but smile. Not a hair out of place, every bouquet perfectly arranged, even the cupcakes looked done up. I still loved reading the post, but it didn’t compare to the raw imperfection of a real live wedding.

I’m starting to think the same is true for food.

Food bloggers have the luxury of writing and photographing their own posts. I can pick the five prettiest cookies to stack for the opening image, and you’d never know that the rest of the batch came out like shapeless amoebas. If I burnt the first pan of caramel, I don’t have to say so. You can’t imagine the splatter of egg whites or the smudges of chocolate that end up all over the counter when I’m done cooking. There is no baker messier than I.

Enter this Red Wine Chocolate Cake. I almost didn’t share the recipe. Not because it didn’t taste incredible (it did) and not because it wasn’t liked (not a crumb survived.) No, I almost didn’t post out of vanity. The photos aren’t very good.

Red Wine Chocolate Cake

This loaf is tight crumbed and soft as a lamb’s ear. The color is so dark and rich, I expect flowers to bloom from it. The wine gives the chocolate a flavor that impressed everyone, something deep and complex and mystifying. And it tastes even better Day 2.

But none of that comes through in the photos. (In my humble opinion, they’re kind of flat and ho hum. They don’t make me want to open a bottle of wine.)

My excuses are that the light was poor, I was too lazy to reshoot, and that this everyday chocolate cake is plain to begin with. But let me tell you what the photographs don’t show.

My disappointment when I smelled our buttermilk, and my recklessness when I decided to use merlot in the batter instead. My friend D-’s surprise as he tried to pin down the mystery ingredient. The thick, unashamed second slices my neighbors cut for themselves.

My mom’s sneaky footsteps down the hall in the middle of the night, the click of Tupperware being opened and shut again, and quiet chewing as she returned to her room.

Guilty pleasure for sure.

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September 1, 2011 at 1:26 pm 67 comments

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites (dipped in chocolate!)

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites (dipped in chocolate)

Inspiration has hit me again. Pretty hard. And this time I think it’ll be harder to shake.

I had some free time between classes, so I went to the store. For the first time in my life, I bought myself basic ingredients, starting with absolutely nothing. I tried to balance quality and price as I grabbed flour, sugar (white, brown, and powdered), vanilla, salt, butter, cream, and eggs… At the very last minute, standing in the check out line, I ran back to get baking powder and soda. Almost forgot.

When the total came up and I took out my wallet, I mentally calculated how many tables I’d have to wait to gain it back. Since when was baking such an expensive hobby?

This being-an-adult, shopping-for-your-own-groceries thing is tough. But I smiled the whole ride home.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites

As the week went on, the anticipation grew. I think this is what I discovered. When the only times you bake are for dinner with the neighbors, birthdays, holidays and paid orders, something is wrong. When you’re baking just because? Because you want to, because it’s Thursday, because there are four pounds of sugar under your bed? These reasons are happiness-generators, like fresh batches of Play Doh and abandoned fields of dandelions.

Faced with the freedom of no guidelines, I couldn’t decide whether to go crunchy or chewy, warm or chilled, chocolate-glazed or baked with fruit. On Saturday I was sure I would make a citrusy pound cake. Sunday I’d switched to some kind of breakfast scone, easy to share with the common room… By Tuesday I found myself wanting a few secret pots de creme in my mini-fridge, a midnight snack just for me.

Then, considering the mediocre fruit selection in the dining hall at lunchtime, it hit me. I took three ripe pears and looked up a recipe for clafouti. I packed all the ingredients and tools, plus a book and my camera. I lugged the ridiculously heavy bag down the street to the dorm building that has kitchens.

Peanut Butter

The kitchen was a bit of a letdown. There was no soap by the sink for dishes. The windows were blocked by buildings and didn’t let in any natural light, so no photographs. But I figured out how to work the oven, mixed the clafouti batter as best I could, and hoped for success. I sat down to read and discovered that, somewhere in Chapter 2, I could smell sugar.

I pulled the puffed, golden-brown custard out of the oven and experienced a more real satisfaction than I could have possibly imagined. My bones felt solid, my lungs felt full, and would you believe it, I felt starved. I washed the dishes and repacked the bag in a dream, and as I turned to leave, I grabbed the still-hot pan without thinking. My hand automatically opened and the clafouti splattered like vanilla-infused ink. The metal pan clattered against the linoleum and I thought it would never stop ringing in my ears and in the corners of the empty kitchen.

Empty-handed, without photos or a taste. Bitterness started to settle like steeping tea.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites

But then, in spite of myself, I laughed. No regrets, no tears. Because, let’s be real, it was a pretty stupid move on my part, but it didn’t take away any of the pleasure I got from the baking process. Blog post or not, for one afternoon, I felt unfiltered elation. Maybe there was a lesson in the unsalvageable clafouti – the joy comes from the process, not from being recognized as the “baking blogger” or from eating a lot of cream.

Instead, I’m sharing these Peanut Butter Pretzel bites with you. They’re easy enough to make from a dorm. Creamy peanut butter, sugar, and vanilla combine in a rich and addictive filling. Sandwiched between two crisp, salty pretzels and dunked in bittersweet chocolate, you end up with an incredible party snack that vanishes fast.

No mixer required. No fiddling with foreign ovens. You can even melt the chocolate in the microwave (which I did.) The result is a delicious, one bite contradiction of creamy and crunchy, sweet and salty, peanutty and chocolatey.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Bites (dipped in chocolate)

I knew right away they wouldn’t survive the weekend, but that’s okay. I’ve still got 3 ½ pounds of sugar under my bed. That’s reason enough for me.

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March 25, 2011 at 12:07 am 143 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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