Sunday, February 26, 2012

Simple: Women, Hazelnut Meringue

Dearly beloved: we are gathered here today to explain that most things in life are simple, including women (and sometimes even baking).

You probably have seen a version of this picture somewhere. Or you have heard a saying or rhyme or joke that boils down to the same thing. Women are so complicated. The thing is, save a few exceptions (you know who you are), women are not complicated. Actually, women are quite simple. We make it easy when we want something to work. Very easy. Too easy. Forget the nuances and intricacies you thought to be true true. Forget all the imaginary complicated buttons. Forget the on and off button. No- there is ONE button. Only one. You don't need to push it up and down. You don't need to press it in and out. It is easier than that. A touch screen. A sensitive one. Gently tap. Blow on it and it will work. Breathe on its general direction, it is so easy.

Every time I get to spend some time with my friend (let's call her) Bonnie, I get this one familiar feeling. I nod my head constantly, I reiterate her feelings, I relive the frustration that most women go through at least in the early part of a relationship. Bonnie has been dating Clyde for a little while. She loves him. For now, Bonnie and Clyde are doing the long distance thing and, regardless of how one feels about that, she wants the relationship to work. He appears to want the same thing. Bonnie has one button, the easy button, but somehow Clyde fails to push it. He tries all kinds of other tricks, other non-functioning buttons, other distracting decorative buttons although she points the only one button that needs a push. Please Clyde, for the love of God, push the button.

I found a baking button even I can push -- an easy flourless one with no yeast, no baking powder, baking soda, gelatin, and other evil distractions. I found my easy baking button and I shall push in over and over. I found it among the other distractions, among trying too hard, among wanting to complicate uncomplicated things. My easy baking button is these Hazelnut Meringues - I am in love and our relationship is great.

Hazelnut Meringue Cookies

Ingredients: 1 cup hazelnuts, toasted; 4 large egg whites, beaten to stiff peaks; 1 cup sugar; 1/2 teaspoon fine salt; 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Chop the hazelnuts really well, but not as fine as a food processor would. Combine with half of the sugar.

Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Add other half of the sugar and combine until stiff again in the mixer. Fold the nut and sugar mixture into the egg batter. Add the vanilla and gently mix it in.

Spoon the batter on the parchment-paper lined sheets in rows about two inches apart. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown, rotating the pans half way through the process. Let it cool for about 5 minutes on the sheet. Enjoy and keep it simple.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Love Potion and Me

I was putting make-up on in Montreal two days ago in front of one of those fancy close-up lit-up mirrors that make you see each pore of your skin when I realized something about myself and about love. How I act in front of the mirror is entirely unrelated to how loved I feel and how beautiful my loved ones make me believe I am.

What I do every single day in front of the mirror is me, who I am, what pleases me, what makes me feel good - not beautiful, just good and normal, like my daily ritual is complete, like my routine has been fulfilled and I can move on to the next activity. It is not a trick to make me feel more beautiful or to make someone see me that way- far from it, actually.

That process is just me: I put make up on every morning in the same way: I line the lower part of my eye right at the root of my eyelashes with black eyeliner, gently touch up my upper eyelid with some version of a sheer eye shadow and finish with mascara, a fancy one I bought with my best friend on a trip to California. I love every second of this process and I love what it does to my eyes. I put perfume on- for me- because I love it. And I make sure my nails are clean and freshly painted - because I love to see them that way.

Do I need to do all that? Who’s asking? I think I need to. For me. As for those who love me...I hope not. I hope love means that I look good without any make up on, sweaty and with ragged nails. I hope it means I look stunning in my sweat pants, bleary eyed after a night of not sleeping enough, with my hair in a scrappy pony tail after a yoga class. But for me, yes I need it. No matter how beautiful those who love me make me feel, I still want my makeup, my perfume, my nail polish, and sometimes my high heels - that is me, and I love it that way.

Whether you love me or not, with my make up on or not, I know you’ll love this recipe. I made it with love and much thought for Valentine’s day. The only way to get what I wanted from it was to make it up myself, ingredient by ingredient, step by step, defying commercial Valentine’s day clichees that make my head hurt - no hearts, no chocolate, no overly sweet things- just a stunning combination of all the things that can mean love: kumquats for their perfection, rosewater for its perfume, vanilla, for the beauty of simple things, cardamom because it may make your pants fall off, honey for the sweetness in life, and bubbly for celebrating finding love.

Kumquat Compote, a Love Potion

Ingredients: 2 cups kumquats, sliced; 2 tablespoons rose water; 1 + 1/2 cups prosecco; 1 cup honey; 1 vanilla bean, split; 10 cardamom pods, crushed.

Combine the prosecco, honey, split vanilla bean, and crushed cardamon pods in a small pot and bring to a boil on medium-high. Lower the heat to medium and reduce the liquid by about one third. This will allow some of the alcohol to evaporate too.

Remove the cardamom pod shells but don't worry about the little seeds- they add outstanding texture and flavor. Add the sliced kumquats and the rose water and continue to simmer for about 30 minutes or until it reaches the desires thickness.

Serve however your heart desires. I can just eat it with a spoon.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Terrible Twos, an Anniversary

The blog is two today. In some ways my second born, this rascal became part of who I am, growing outside of me but from within, pushing me and making me question myself - what I am and what I want to be. It is responsible for parts of my anxiety, quitting my legal job, and repeatedly banging my head against the wall while trying to break into a completely new industry - writing.

French Press Memos, a name I detest at times, has been through nearly 120 posts that widely ranged from total fun to complete sadness, but always tied in a recipe. The site is still waiting for a facelift (sounds premature on a young baby, but hey) and the post-writing is not as frequent as I would like it to be (my fault, of course), but it gave me the platform I needed to practice my writing and search for my voice.

Enter the terrible two - a time when an otherwise cooperative rascal will surprise with a whole new set of behaviors: assertiveness, often saying no, doing exactly what it is not supposed to do or throw itself on the floor in a temper tantrum; making demands that are alternatively frustrating and amusing; asking at times for something it doesn't even want just to see if it can get it - testing limits over and over.

My writing follows the stereotype. The desire for independence was there - me do it- even when there is no skill (hello technology hell). Assertiveness manifested in slinging writing ideas, pitches, engagements and commitments, some that produced more busy work than anything else. Some of these I did not want or need- it was simply about testing limits. With new projects came anxiety, fear of the unknown, and growing pains. I am now experimenting with surrendering to the growth.

I started writing more outside the blog- first a column on the Gabby Gourmet website, then a legal article, then a section of a guide book, then an article in a magazine and then a couple of more. Now, I write articles twice on a local food site and will soon launch a weekly spirit column on another site. It has been a trip - much soul-searching, balancing, dealing with rejection, creating my own path.

I don't know what is ahead. I don't know the road. I don't know how to steer, where to turn, and when to break. I can just try to find my way around it, do what feels right, work harder, always keep open to trying new things, be nice to myself, and respect my limitations.

French Press Memos will remain my home for sharing thoughts and recipes. Today I chose an easy sauce: a garlic cream that complements most meat well. I picked it for simplicity, flavor, and for the playfulness- things I like to believe this blog is about. I love it with braised lamb but I dipped some chicken in it one night and good things happened.

Come back often and tell me what to do better. Like any two year old, I may not listen but I will sure try.

Garlic Cream, a recipe inspired by Au Pied du Cochon

Ingredients: 1 garlic head, 1/2 cup heavy cream, a pinch of salt.

Peel the garlic and add to the cream in a small heavy bottomed pot over low heat with a pinch of salt.

Simmer for 25-30 minutes. Puree in a blender and strain. Allow it to cool down- it will harden significantly as it gets colder. Serve cold over your favorite cut of braised meat or favorite veggie in need of some garlic goodness.

Photography by Jennifer Olson.