Hope & Blueberry Macarons

As a cooking instructor,  I go into each class with a passion for the food I am presenting, gratitude to be able to do what I love and hope. Hope that I don’t cut off a finger, drop something, burn myself or otherwise get myself into an embarrassing situation from which I cannot recover.  Hope that everything runs smoothly and that I’ve planned and prepared well.  Hope that my helpers (to whom I affectionately refer as my “backup singers”) remain safe and energetic.  Hope that my students enjoy the food I serve, will use one or two of the recipes again and are having a good time.  And hope that I can inspire someone to stretch their skills or try something they didn’t think they could do.

With demonstration style classes, it is easier to “read the room” and to know if your information is hitting the mark with students.  Because most everyone is listening at the same time to the information I am presenting, I usually only share information once – of course, there is the occasional question for clarification or the random “I missed that, could you say it again?”

In contrast, when I am teaching a hands-on style class, it is more difficult to know if everyone is understanding what I’m saying.  Often there are one-on-one conversations happening – between and among students, with me and one or two students, etc. – and folks are working at their own pace.  There are times in hands-on classes when I’m giving an explanation or I am showing a technique and some people miss it.  This is the nature of hands-on classes.  As much as I try to stop and reiterate the important points, I know some things get missed.

And with all classes, regardless of the type, there are some folks who give immediate feedback while I’m teaching a recipe, some folks who comment and/or ask questions at the end of class, and some who leave without comment.  I welcome feedback.  I like to hear what students think about what they’ve eaten, techniques they’ve learned, experiences they’ve had, etc.  I appreciate constructive suggestions and, if I’m being completely honest, I appreciate the occasional “ata girl” too!

So this past week, when I answered the phone at work – the way I usually do, “Good morning…The Kitchen Shoppe….this is Janice….may I help you?” – and heard in reply “oh good, just the person I wanted to speak with” my interest was piqued!  It was a student – K.S. – from my recent hands-on macaron class with a question.

We talked briefly and she told me about her recent adventures in macaron making. Before we hung up I promised to email her some information as soon as I could locate it.  Fortunately, I was able to get my hands on it pretty quickly and had the email off to her in short order.  Just as quickly I received a reply with a brief note and a photo attachment.  The first paragraph ended with “I’ve attached a picture for you ~ I’m so happy about how they turned out!”

Not sure what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised to see this:

macaronsblue

Beautiful macaron shells.  Glossy, smooth tops.  Perfect “pieds” – or frilly feet – on the bottom.  A pretty color.  As an instructor my heart soared!  Clearly K.S. had learned what I’d been teaching that rainy Tuesday night in November!  There’s just something satisfying about being a part of someone else’s learning process…

Of course, I replied that I was so proud to see a pic of her labor of love.  And K.S. blessed me with another photo:

macaronsbluefilled

A plate of perfection!  They look so good I can almost feel the crisp shells melting in my mouth.  And it did not escape my notice that the backdrop was a beautiful cloth with an illustration of French lavender.  A little nod to the French macarons!

Thank you, thank you, thank you to K.S. for providing feedback, for sharing her photos, and for giving me permission to share them with you.  Now there’s just one more thing I hope….that they tasted as good as they look!

Macarons: A French Confectionary Treat or A Metaphor for the Inauthentic Life?

I’ve been baking a lot of French macarons lately.  When I say “a lot,” I mean a lot – hundreds…probably thousands in the last month alone.  All this is/was in preparation for two classes I taught/am teaching [one last week and one this coming week] at work.  The class is entitled MMM-Macarons!

As you would imagine, I taught/will be teaching folks how to make the perfect French macaron.  In order to teach it, I had to learn for myself.  And as is true with almost any skill you learn, to be good you have to practice and you have to fail in order to understand what doesn’t work and what you need to adjust in order to be successful.

Looking Good

So I’ve read anything and everything I can get my hands on about French macarons and I’ve practiced and I’ve practiced some more and I’ve even enlisted the help of others in my learning process [incidentally, THANK YOU to those who have helped along the way]. I’ve learned about the effects of time, temperature, humidity, ever-so-slight adjustments in the weights of ingredients, air flow,  different kinds of baking trays, baking more than one tray at a time, rest time, etc. on the finished product.

All of this work and research has made me a pretty good macaron maker – not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, as I believe it likely takes years of intensive work in a macaron bakery to become an expert – if I do say so myself. And I’ve learned what needs to be done in order to present the perfect macaron.

And all of this baking has given me a lot of time to think….which as most of you know can be both a blessing and a curse!

So today, in the midst of my most recent baking frenzy, I came to the conclusion that baking macarons is a little [or maybe a lot] like life.   Most of us only want to show the well-shaped, glossy byproduct of tons of work.  We only want people to see the perfect us and the perfect macaron.

We spend a lot of time learning how to make all conditions just right so that what people see is our best.  But what we don’t like to show are the lumpy, cracked, slightly lopsided results of our efforts.  In fact, we’ll do just about anything to hide or discard the “ugly” parts.

I found that the advice in one particularly good macaron troubleshooting guide can also be applied to life.  For example:

  • What do I do if my batter [self] appears too thick?
    It was underworked.  Increase the mixing [exercise] time.
  • What do I do if my batter [self] appears too thin?
    It was overworked.  Decrease the mixing [exercise] time.
  • What do I do if my macarons look like rumpled waxed-paper?
    They did not rest long enough.
  • What do I do if my macarons [priorities] are lopsided?
    They were rested on a surface that isn’t level [rested on something other than THE rock].
  • What do I do if my macarons are [spiritual life is] completely hollow?
    They were over-mixed [over-worked] and under-cooked [too little time rejuvenating].
  • What do I do if my macarons [emotions] are cracked?
    They were not adequately rested and/or the heat was too strong from the bottom of the oven [too much stress].

Oh yes, we can learn from the advice above – both with macarons and with our lives.  But please don’t miss the idea that we have to look at what went wrong in order to know how to correct.  We have to acknowledge the imperfect in order to work toward something better.

I believe we do one another a disservice if all we show other people is our well-shaped, glossy, perfectly put-together selves.  When we do this, other people learn [or are reminded YET AGAIN] that their efforts cannot live up to perfection and we either discourage one another or we start someone else’s ‘gerbil wheel of running to catch up.’

Now, I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t strive to be our best or that we should settle for some less-than-God’s-best version of ourselves.  What I am saying is that we need to be authentic with one another.  We need to be honest on the days when all conditions are not perfect and we get a little lopsided or cracked.  Sharing our “humanness” with other people gives them permission to share theirs as well rather than hiding it in some dark, shame-filled place.

Processed with RookieProcessed with Rookie

Processed with Rookie

What we serve to others (our friends / our families) doesn’t have to be perfect to be good. Even the cracked, lopsided macarons taste delicious.  So go ahead, serve/show the imperfect ones/self!!!