Posts tagged ‘Dad’

Good Morning

In the same way that I follow a recipe, I follow a certain schedule in the morning. I don’t watch the clock and record how long I take to brush my teeth, but I have a couple things that I always do in the same order. Unfortunately, I usually spend too long doing some things. The very last thing I do before I run out the door is eat breakfast, but it often gets compromised for the sake of time. I brush my hair, pack my backpack, and suddenly my ride is at the door.

Some days I throw a handful of dry cereal into a Ziploc bag and hurriedly pour some soymilk into a travel cup, and then I eat the cereal on the go. Other days I’ll swipe an apple from the counter and eat it during first period. And some days – this is worst of all – I simply go without breakfast. Besides dessert, breakfast is my favorite meal, so those are the days to watch out for my grouchiness.

On the weekends, though, I like to savor breakfast. I love to wake up to the comforting weight of a dog at the foot of my bed, and the sound of the heater gently creaking. I walk down the hallway in my still-warm cotton pajamas and fluffy pink socks to find the kitchen bathed in petal-soft light, and I appreciate how still and how refreshing the winter mornings can be.

My parents wait for me to wake up on my own before starting to cook. Mom starts the coffee and I begin slicing oranges for fresh juice. We plan our breakfast. Our favorites are bagels with cream cheese and lox, pork chops, or eggs (sunny-side up and just a little bit runny, please.) But somehow, inevitably, we frequently end up at pancakes. Pancakes used to always fall to me the way that scones and muffins are considered my territory. But nobody is foolish enough to let me make the pancakes anymore.

There is a special place in my heart for pancakes, but they seem to hate me the most. In fact, my ineptitude at pancake-making is famous in my house. Some recipes are more forgiving than others, but pancakes have no sympathy for me. I’ve made whole-wheat pancakes that ended up a soggy clump on what I thought was a nonstick pan. I’ve burned and undercooked pancakes of all flavors and sizes.

Hands down the worst pancakes I’ve ever made were these blueberry-corn pancakes, and I don’t really have the heart to relive that particular story. I even felt sorry for our trash can as I scraped the curiously gritty and soggy pancakes into the garbage.

Like the determined teenage baker I am, I’ve never stopped trying. I always offer to make the batter and cook the pancakes. But my parents steer me to the table, ask me to set out the plates, or try to distract me with gems like “Why don’t you just relax?” and “Wouldn’t you rather have some bacon?”

You know they’re just trying to keep me from destroying breakfast for everyone. I guess you can’t blame them.

Now my mother is the one who makes the pancakes in my house, and they are far superior to mine. Whatever I am doing wrong, she avoids those pitfalls, and her pancakes end up light and fluffy.

With several overly ripe bananas browning on the counter, we decided to have banana pancakes for breakfast one Sunday. I was allowed to pick out a banana pancake recipe, but after that my mother took over. I juiced tangerines and then, unable to help myself, made a Triple Berry Maple Syrup with some frozen berries still in our freezer from summer.

I sneaked surreptitious glances at my mother as we worked, trying to uncover her pancake secret. At one point she commented, “The batter is a little thick,” but before I could stick in my nose she had fixed the problem, and I went back to simmering the maple syrup.

Ten minutes later I set the table and arranged the plates of food. The orange juice was tart and satisfying, the bacon still sizzling, and the maple syrup a deep, rich purple. We stacked our plates three pancakes tall, poured the maple syrup, and took the first triple-layered bite.

With a thick drizzle of Triple Berry Maple Syrup and small, sweet bits of banana, there was no denying that the pancakes were delicious. They weren’t dense – they were fluffy – but they were deceptively filling. I was halfway through my pancakes and was surprised by how full I was feeling. The banana flavor was also much more pronounced than I’d expected, though not in a bad way. They were just intensely banana-y, in a way that I couldn’t imagine a recipe intending.

I glanced over at Dad, who seemed to be having the same thoughts. We looked at Mom at the same time.

“How many bananas did this recipe call for?” He asked.

She took a moment to remember, then furrowed her forehead. “We didn’t have enough bananas, so I had to halve the amount it called for.”

“…Halve the amount?” I couldn’t even fathom what pancakes with double the banana would be like.

“Yeah. The recipe called for 3-4 cups of banana, and we only had 3 large bananas, which was 1 1/2 cups.”

What?

I picked up the recipe still on the counter, scanned the ingredients, and then began to giggle. “Mom,” I managed. “Not 3-4 cups. Just 3/4 cup of banana – you doubled the amount!”

We had a good laugh, but since the pancakes were delicious anyway, we didn’t dwell on the mishap. I only have two thoughts on the whole thing – first, it’s a good thing that this family loves bananas. Second, how unfair is it that I somehow manage to ruin any pancake I touch simply by following the recipe, but my mom can double an ingredient and end up with delicious pancakes? The mysteries of life.

And in all honesty, when we make these pancakes again, we will probably double the banana to 1 1/2 cups. They were just so good.

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December 16, 2009 at 9:16 pm 28 comments

Striped Peppermint Meringues with Chocolate Ganache

Lately it seems like I’ve had a lot of bad days. More like a lot of bad weeks. Everyone has those days where nothing goes right, where it seems like the flowers close when you walk by and the clouds begin to leak rain. But when those “once in a while” days turn into every other day, you start to feel discouraged.

I don’t know what it’s been. It started with an unpleasant day in school a few weeks ago, when one of my teachers gave everyone low marks on the final. We all protested but she stayed firm and unyielding. I heard the harshness in her voice and I felt in that moment that her only joy in life came from punishing us.

The following period only made matters worse. It’s a “bird class” – the kind that’s so easy, you fly through with a free A, but that day we had a substitute teacher and everyone acted up. I didn’t find it amusing, but found myself powerless and unmotivated to stand up and help her as she slowly lost control of the class. As the day drew to a close, I realized with dread I’d left some important paperwork at home, and that was the last straw as the sky opened up and began to pour.

A week later, I was spending my weekend afternoon on my bed, trying to sort out a college application. It was a particularly frustrating application, with all sorts of strange requirements and vague instructions that were testing my temper. I must have called twenty people for help on filling it out, but all I got was twenty different opinions, all conflicting. I sat there the whole day, just building up more and more tension until I had to stop looking at the unfinished page.

My friend chose that low, hopeless moment to call me with a complaint and a desire to fight, but I didn’t have any fight in me. As she yelled and I felt our friendship ending, I couldn’t take any more. My heart felt as tender as a badly bruised peach. I quietly hung up, feeling the worst I’d felt all week, and trying not to let it break me.

Usually at moments like that, I turn to the kitchen. But because of all my commitments, I haven’t had as much time to bake as I’d like. I’ve missed three of my friend’s birthdays to date, even though I’ve had their special birthday cakes planned out since the summer. There’s also baked goods I want to make for many people in my life I’m thankful for – teachers, college advisers, my SAT prep tutors. But those have to stay on hold a little while longer.

I decided to make these Striped Peppermint Meringues with Dark Chocolate Ganache as an escape from my stress. They looked beautiful, festive (hello, December) and delicious. Plus, I knew this was a recipe I could do in my sleep. I’ve made this meringue countless times as part of my favorite Swiss meringue buttercream, and I’ve never had difficulties with chocolate ganache. As I cracked the eggs, I felt calmness rise in me from my toes up, like a paper towel touched to water.

The meringue whipped into stiff peaks without trouble. I pulled out the whisk and examined the thick, glossy swirl of meringue and couldn’t help but feel peace. I pulled out my camera and took a photo of the meringue, thinking about this post. The last step before piping was to beat in a little peppermint extract. I measured out the half teaspoon and poured it into the meringue, and switched the mixer on.

I knew right away something was wrong.

The mixer began to churn and the meringue deflated in about two seconds right before my eyes. What had once been stiff, shiny meringue was now a soft, pepperminty mess, and I suddenly felt betrayed even by my KitchenAid. It felt like too much to handle.

My dad calls days like this “deviled egg days.” He told me the story as he drove me home on a particularly bad day. I was keeping my head turned and looking at the raindrops trail down the window so he couldn’t see my face, but he didn’t get discouraged.

He described a dinner party he was serving, where deviled eggs were on the menu. He threw dozens of eggs into the boiling water, only to look down and see that the eggs had broken. He went to the store and bought dozens more. On his second try, the eggs were impossible to peel, and he was forced to toss them as well. At his limit, he bought more eggs and tried a third time. He made them just right this time, and arranged them on a platter. He turned around to move the platter out of the kitchen and accidentally banged it on the counter. All the eggs slid onto the floor, unsalvageable.

I turned to look at him for the first time. “What did you do?”

He smiled and said, “I realized there weren’t going to be any deviled eggs. I just moved on, and as it turned out, nobody missed them.”

I was thinking about his words as I looked back down at the meringue. I’d whipped it another 10 minutes, hoping it would increase in volume again, but it stayed resolutely flat. But the oven was preheated, the sheets were lined with parchment, and I decided to go ahead and try them. I prepared the bag and piped them in neat stars, which drooped and failed to keep their lines. I pushed them into the oven anyway.

When they came out, they weren’t as tall or pointy as they should have been. But they tasted nice, like the holidays and after-dinner mints, so I made the ganache too. I decided they looked very cute, and the meringues were really complemented by the chocolate. In the end, I guess my kitchen wasn’t betraying me – maybe it was trying to teach me something.

I haven’t had any bad days since December began, and I’m glad to see the end of them. This morning was stunning. At dawn, I stepped outside with my camera to photograph the frigid beauty around me: a pale white sun in a cotton-candy sky and the frost-kissed Japanese maple leaves. I breathed in the fresh air and felt my fingers grow numb, and I smiled the whole way to school.

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December 3, 2009 at 8:53 pm 126 comments

Autumn S’mores – Homemade Graham Crackers and Pumpkin Spice Marshmallows

Hey all! I hope you guys had a wonderful and relaxing Thanksgiving!

Up until a few years ago, Halloween was my favorite holiday. It was nice to have a Thanksgiving break and some good food, but I wasn’t really involved in the whole process. My grandpa, who was a great cook, always made the meal. My dad would watch the football game while my mom and grandma talked. And me? I didn’t really have any Thanksgiving traditions at all, besides always having a second helping of mashed potatoes and gravy.

This year, though, marks the second year where I’ve helped prepare the meal. Last year, newly interested in cooking, I wanted to be a part of the entire dinner. With some help from my dad, I basted the turkey, simmered the cranberry sauce, mashed the sweet potatoes and wilted the spinach. I also made dessert, a pumpkin pie that survived everything, including the death of my oven halfway through baking. This year, in spite of college applications and a time-consuming internship, I knew I wanted to do it all over again.

A couple of things made it back to the menu. Last year’s turkey came out so perfectly I swore it was beginner’s luck, but I still reached for Martha Stewart’s recipe again. I also made these Vanilla Mashed Sweet Potatoes from 101 Cookbooks, which were popular across the entire table a year ago. I also searched half an hour to find last year’s cranberry sauce, made with ruby port and tangerine juice. But for dessert, I decided to tackle something completely new. I envisioned an Autumn S’more – made with cinnamon-sweetened graham crackers and springy pumpkin marshmallows.

We spent Thanksgiving at a friend’s house, equipped with a bigger kitchen, a bigger dining area, and prettier dining ware. The table was beautifully set, and there was so much color that every plate seemed a mini feast. Mom’s three-leaf-clover rolls were passed around the table first, followed by dark green and maroon Swiss chard. Sparkling cranberry apple cider glimmered like garnets in the glasses, matching the ruby-red cranberry sauce. The sweet potatoes were a creamy pale yellow, and the glazed carrots brought bright orange to the table. With the fancy plates and faceted cups of wine, it felt like Thanksgiving dinner from a magazine.

Not everyone could stomach dessert, and the night ended soon after dinner. We packed all our equipment, ingredients, and leftovers into our car and drove back home, drowsy and stuffed.

As can be expected from a family of foodies, we talked about the meal afterward. We discussed the merits of the Swiss chard and described how tender, juicy, and succulent the turkey came out. Dad explained why he didn’t care for the sweet potato dish that I adored, and Mom praised how beautifully the cranberry sauce came out. We like food, and we wanted to share it with each other.

Tonight, my parents started up a campfire in the fire pit we built two years ago. Remembering the mostly-forgotten dessert, I grabbed the graham crackers and marshmallows. Dad found a perfect stick, sturdy and straight, and roasted a marshmallow across the flames. He pulled it off the stick with his teeth and chewed. “It tastes awesome, right?” I was mostly kidding. He opened his mouth a few times, trying to pull out the proper words to describe the taste and texture. Finally, a smile on his face, he agreed: “They’re just awesome.”

For all my descriptive words, these marshmallows escape description. I can’t properly convey how fantastic they were. On their own they were lighter than air, with a bouncier, fresher texture than store-bought marshmallows. The pumpkin was subtle and the flavor was prominently spiced. I cooked a few with the flames from my stove, and they toasted and oozed beautifully, but there is no comparison to roasting them on a branch over a flickering fire. The outside crisps and bubbles burnt gold, while the inside becomes creamy, gooey, and pumpkin-y. With chocolate and a crisp graham cracker, they were irresistable.

As it turns out, I’ll remember one of the nicest Thanksgivings I had not by the fancy meal and the pretty decorations. Instead, I’ll remember my mom, dad, and I sitting around the fire in lawn chairs in the pitch black. I’ll remember my mother’s stunned face as she tried the first marshmallow tentatively, then practically lunged for another one, ending up with molten pumpkin marshmallow all over her chin. I’ll remember my dad trying to describe how awesome the marshmallows were, how the pumpkin flavor was really elevated after roasting, and how the texture could only be described as perfect.

I’ll remember jumping into the car on a whim to rush and buy hot dogs, just so we could stay outside a little longer. We kept adding logs to the fire, each thick piece of wood sending up sparks that swirled up like fireflies. And we stuffed ourselves with so many marshmallows that our fingers grew sticky, and each of us had developed a unique toasting style over the course of the evening.

And after everything, I think I may have created a new family tradition after all. :)

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November 28, 2009 at 10:27 pm 33 comments

For Mom, Dad, and Grandma

My mom tells a funny story from my childhood. Her best friend’s brother was babysitting me in his office. When my mother returned two and half hours later, I was sitting at his typewriter – though I’d never used one before – typing out a story, using one chubby finger to press the stiff keys. She tells me that everyone who saw it was shocked – what kind of four year old patiently sits for two and half hours to write a story, letter by letter?

My blog is physically fueled with flour, eggs, and several tons of sugar, but what really drives me to maintain it is my passion for writing. I’ve only recently begun to bake, but my love for the written word has been nurtured throughout the years by everyone close to me.

The other day I discovered an old photo album. I looked through it with my mom and we sat on the bed, both trying not to get overly sentimental as we turned the plastic pages with delicate fingers. Memories surfaced of birthday parties, old friends, our life in California, my loved ones in Texas whom I haven’t seen in years… I looked at my beaming face in every picture, my mother’s beautiful smile, my dad’s goofy grin and my grandmother’s affectionate winks, my grandfather’s crinkled laugh.

My best friend D- (left) and me (right) in 2nd grade

I can’t even write this post without tearing up a little. I had a beautiful, wonderful childhood. As I looked at our faces in the photos, I felt sad for any distress I ever caused my family in my rocky pre-teen years, or during my outbursts of stress as a teenager in high school. I almost wish I could be their sweet six year old again.

While I can’t be that child anymore, I appreciate everything they’ve done for me, and I have an overwhelming desire to make them proud as I grow into an adult. The evidence of their love is displayed for the whole world to see here on this very blog, reflecting in your eyes as you read these words.

Some of my oldest memories involve snuggling into a pillow at my grandparents’ house, listening to my grandmother tell bedtime stories. She is a fantastic storyteller. I’d give her the first subject that popped into my head, and she would craft the story on the spot, spinning tales of silk ribbons, fat lovable penguins, and clever mice who lived in museums. I always closed my eyes and fell asleep with her gentle, patient voice in my ears, like the sound of the ocean in a seashell.

Besides leaving me with pleasant dreams and a lingering smile, her stories sparked my own creativity and passion for storytelling. I spent my childhood writing poetry and half-finished stories, filled with characters I still cherish today. Even more importantly, her stories all concealed values and morals, subtle enough to escape my knowledge but influence me all the same. One night she described a town which rained rainbow paint, changing the skin colors of the townspeople with each passing storm. I was enchanted by the story, unaware of its themes of acceptance and diversity. Her stories helped me be a better person.

Grandma and I on a road trip – I think we caught a tadpole. :)

My mother introduced me to a new kind of writing. As soon as I was old enough to write the letters, she bought me my first diary and made sure I wrote something every night. In all honesty, I didn’t enjoy it. Some evenings I would get away with writing a couple sentences about dinner or school before running out to play – “Today I had broccoli. It was disgusting.”

But even an entry about something as simple as that night’s vegetables forced me to think about my actions and translate them into words. That little bit of writing every night built up my vocabulary and improved my grammar, and by the time I was in grade school, I was writing entries on my own free will. I wrote about my best friends, the ups and downs of the fourth grade, and what my parents were making for dinner. I wrote to remember, but I also wrote to write. I still keep a journal today, and although I write every few months instead of every day, it isn’t a chore.

By the time I got to high school, writing essays and homework assignments was never difficult, and I know my mother’s influence is there. Creativity and imagination isn’t all it takes to be a writer – it takes perseverance, dedication, and practice too. It’s not just writing, though – in every aspect of my life my mom pushes me to be the best I can be, and she couldn’t have loved me better, or given me any more of herself than she has over the years.

With my mom in front of our old apartment. She is a beautiful person inside and out.

It won’t surprise my regular readers to hear that my dad has also played a huge role in the process. In elementary school, he encouraged me to participate in creative writing programs. I entered the Reflections contest in 4th grade with my short story, “What’s for Dinner?” When I moved through the school, district, and state levels with my story, he was there every step of the way. He held my hand when I was finally out of the running and stood, crying, in the hallway of the awards ceremony. He helped me get up, move on, and submit another written piece the next year.

In middle school, he showed me authors who used words in ways I’d never considered, inspiring me to branch out. After reading a collection of Kafka stories in 7th grade, I wrote my first short story without a happy ending, attempting to imitate Kafka’s voice. I felt a little unsure about its ominous tone and dark ending, but he praised it until I couldn’t stop smiling. While that story doesn’t reflect my own personal writing style, it’s remained one of my favorite pieces over the years.

When I began to show an interest in journalism, it was my father who truly made it happen. Without his encouragement and research on my behalf, I would have never become an intern for the local paper, or been able to work with journalists from the Seattle Times. I’d originally loved to write because of the creativity and reflection involved, but after the opportunities I’ve been given, now I can see a new purpose in writing. I dream of pursuing the truth and justice, of stirring the sleeping compassion in every person, of making a difference in the lives around me.

I’m in my prettiest dress and headband with my dad. He’s my coach and my #1 fan all at once.

And after everything my family has done for me, I’ve done something for myself, completely on my own: 17 and Baking. Blogging is even another type of writing, unlike anything I’ve tried before. And all of you – for reading, for commenting, for making me smile – all of you have also inspired me to write. Your support keeps this blog going, something that brings me endless joy, and something I hope makes my family proud every day.

So here I am today, with roots in creative fiction and an appreciation for the written word’s ability to persuade, explain, and explore. I have newspaper print inked onto my fingertips and silly limericks stamped on my soles. When I look back at my life, I feel like a walking pinball machine, filled with balls of light that bounce around my ribs and brighten me from within. It hasn’t been an easy journey to grow up, but I know I always have a place to call home. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know I am a writer at heart… and I truly can’t wait for my life ahead of me.

The recipe for this old-fashioned apple cake is handwritten by my Great-Aunt Ethel. It was the perfect excuse to use some old apples, and the fact that it was a family recipe made it all the better… it made me feel closer to my roots, and it made me feel like home.

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November 20, 2009 at 9:52 pm 47 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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