09 August 2011

The Ongoing Battle

Against all logic, I seem to have an affinity toward creating difficult situations for myself. Lest I get "too personal" about it, I'll just say that I tend toward roundabout ways of doing things with regard to various aspects of my life. This indeed extends to food-related matters--to which this nook in the blogosphere was initially devoted, after all--but I'm still a fan of trying to look at the big picture in order to gain multiple perspectives. (Anyone accustomed to my more contemplative musings will recognize vague, quasi-philosophical reflection as a trademark of my writing style and need to over-analyze the information I ingest.)

So allow me to tell you a story that illustrates my apparent avoidance of parsimony, while hopefully entertaining you with the edibles one comes to expect on a food blog.

During my final year as an undergraduate, I became acquainted with a guy who, years later and across a few hundred miles, is now one of my dearest friends and closest confidants. In fact, it was for him that I cooked my first intentionally-vegan meal, which in turn fostered a curiosity about veganism that eventually led to where I am now: nearly three years vegan with no regrets for making the transition or any plans of turning back. Admittedly, despite being born of curiosity with a particular interest in the health aspect of the lifestyle, veganism for me means living as mindfully as possible. But that's another story for another time.

Oddly enough, this friend of mine--let's call him Guy, just to be quaint and generic--is no longer vegan. He has his reasons, but in any case, Guy does still follow a vegetarian diet and knows a thing or two about good vegan food. Nevertheless, I am so grateful for Guy's influence in pointing me toward veganism; not only have I expanded my food horizons, I've met some pretty swell people in the online veg community (hey, that's you!), who continually remind me of what makes being vegan so enjoyable. And my habit of feeding other people (arguably, my most lucrative skill) has always involved animal-free food when it comes to Guy, and still does.

So what's this "battle," you ask? To avoid being too technical about it (because we all face adversity in various forms throughout our lives) and for the sake of fitting it within the context of this blog, I'll let it simply be a two-fold matter. The first part has to do with Guy. Although our dynamic has evolved from novelty acquaintanceship to a meaningful friendship, it has not been without its rough patches, at least from my perspective. It's a complicated situation. It's humanizing, too, in good and bad ways. After careful contemplation, I always conclude that the perspectives gained and lessons learned are worth any accompanying frustration. So I'll continue to try to stop questioning what doesn't need to be questioned and keep Guy around, because he really is a good person and has added so much to my life. (This is not at all to say that my flaws don't contribute to the stress. They do. I'm working on that.)

Part two of the battle has to do with my recent eating habits. I feel as if my ability to moderate my carbohydrate intake--particularly when it comes to bread and sweets--has dwindled considerably. Although I still consider myself generally mindful of my sugar intake, the amount of sweets I've baked and consumed seems to be weighing me down, both physically and mentally. It's possible to jump these same hurdles again, but the thought of having to do so is a little daunting. Rather than ridding the house of potential temptations, I'm instead indulging bad habits that are proving more difficult to break than I expected.

Last week, both situations came together in an epic bake-a-thon. Why? August, month of many birthdays, has a way of triggering an urge to test my confection-making skills. I always appreciate homemade goods, especially when it comes to birthdays, possibly because I was raised by a crafty, homecook mother and woodworking, mechanical engineer father. It happens to be Guy's birthday today, so I decided to whip up an ultra-cutesy homemade care package for him, as if it could counterbalance my mild, occasional anxiety-induced toxicity, to which the poor fellow is too often subjected. I was ready to let my inner Martha surface, partly from guilt but mostly because I simply can't let a friend's birthday pass without sugar-crusted acknowledgment.
The birthday care package included madeleines (flavored with lemon zest rather than strawberry extract) and double-chocolate almond cookies (an adaptation of some form of a recipe spawned by an urban legend).
It's not a birthday without cake, right? I planned to make cake balls, figuring they'd ship more nicely than cupcakes. I even gave some a test-run, which were quite successful. Then I suddenly had the bright idea of making petits fours instead; miniature, fondant-coated layer cakes would certainly be a fancy-pants surprise. Sure, it would take more time and effort, as well as leave me vulnerable to a sugar burn or two, but like I said, I don't always gravitate toward the easy route. And a tiny part of me--perhaps a little black spot just outside my presumably purer heart of hearts--felt like showing off. I already had this recipe in mind and even had homemade sprinkles on hand. Yes, it was a marvelous idea, assuming my project followed as planned.

But alas, it was not meant to run smoothly. More specifically, the fondant would not pour smoothly; it preferred to lay thickly on each piece of cake and loose crumbs and marzipan under its weight. At least a few pieces looked almost presentable.
The marzipan (also homemade) was a little rough and definitely difficult to manage. I wanted to make a matcha cake and adapted the recipe accordingly. Cherry preserves sat between the cake layers. The combination of matcha, cherry, and almond turned out to be quite lovely, despite the overall sloppy appearance.
After messily producing about a dozen ugly, mostly-covered petits fours, I decided to forgo the fondant and opted to see how a chocolate coating would work. Although still not as pretty as I'd hoped they'd be, the chocolate-covered petits fours were certainly easier to work with and looked more gift-worthy than their fondant counterparts. Because I used dark chocolate, it thankfully wasn't nearly as sweet as fondant. I prefer my sweets not too sweet, anyway, so it seems that the final change was the right decision.
I learned a few things about myself with this baking project--mostly with regard to priorities and personal limitations. I'm not quite ready to give up on making petits fours. As I type this blog post, I have a new batch of citrus-scented cake chilling in the refrigerator, topped with store-bought marzipan--so neat and easy to handle--and destined for another dear friend. I also plan to make new fondant, which I hope will be more of a success this time around. Another birthday, another birthday cake...and so the trials continue. Sure, it's a little tough on my self-discipline, but it all boils down to a labor of love. And my friends deserve all the love in the world.

Here's to another round of happy birthdays to all you August babies.


  1. oh num num num! my daughter is an August baby as well oh this all looks so yummy. i am a semi-practicing vegetarian (semi because i still east poultry on occasion) but am trying to learn more vegan cooking as well. always stop by and see what you have cooking :) 

  2. Alessandra Zecchini8/10/11, 3:13 PM

    Well all this baking looks fab, I confess that I love baking small sweet things, petit fours, cookies, cupcakes... the smaller the better... and I love decorating them :-). I prefer them to big cakes.


  3. i would love to make some little petit fours... these look really pretty! I do am a super-perfectionist, and I take too much on at once (like, OF COURSE


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