I must confess at the outset: I have never had a true French macaron. I am not even a big fan of meringue – it is often too sweet for my taste. Plus I have never been to France, nor have I been to a restaurant/bakery that prides itself on macarons. I, however, did have to make them in Introduction to Baking and Pastry while in culinary school.
But this past week, I was in possession of perfectly good egg whites from making hollandaise sauce at work. Not wanting to waste them, I began to think about what I could do with them. Kris, my boss at work, and I are always trying to think of desserts, so I thought about macarons. Right outside one of the kitchens at Forest Home is a thriving rosemary plant, which made me consider the flavors of lemon and rosemary, which I absolutely love together.
(I sometimes think that there is something wrong with me when after working for eight hours cooking, I want to go home and cook and experiment in the kitchen more. Either that or maybe I am where God has called me.)
Anyway…back to making French macarons. How hard could making this cookie be? I mean the ingredients are pretty basic: egg whites, powdered sugar, granulated sugar, and usually finely ground almonds. However, since Forest Home is a nut-free camp, I left out the almonds. (I need to figure out if the almond does anything other than add flavoring to the macaron). Then one adds the flavoring he/she wants.
I could not have been more wrong. These are tricky little cookies to make. Everything has to be just right – from the stiffness of the egg whites to the folding in of dry ingredients to even the humidity in the air.
The flavor of the cookies and the lemon curd was what I was looking for, but the macarons themselves were nowhere near what I had seen in pictures. It did not help that I over baked the meringue, nor that it was raining that day, which meant that the macarons became soggy soon after taking them out of the oven. Therefore, my attempt at Lemon-Rosemary Macarons was far from successful. I would not say that it was a complete failure, but nor would I have been willing to serve them to paying guests.
That night as Claire and I lay in bed, I began to reflect on the process again and my own journey. I attempted something that I really had no idea what I was doing, and at times I found myself second guessing myself and what I was doing. And yet when the macarons did not turn out as I had hoped for, I did not beat myself up; instead, I thought about what I would do differently next time, and tried to really learn from the experience.
As I reflected on this, I was somewhat surprised by my response, seeing as how I tend to be very hard on myself. I think that a year ago, I would not have been so gracious with myself. But nor do I think I would have even attempted such an endeavor.
For instance, three years ago, I took a personal retreat centered around feasting (which really pushed me to consider pursuing my culinary passions), culminating in me making a four course dinner for three friends. During dinner, one of the friends asked me, “Andrew, how would you have felt if the whole meal had failed?” I was almost horrified by the question; I actually had not even considered the question. And thus I responded, “I don’t think I could have handled it.”
Far from perfect results is one of the beautiful things about cooking because the next morning, I had to wake up and go back to work and cook for guests who are paying a lot of money to be at Forest Home. I have no other option. And I am 100% sure that a lot more failures lie before me as I continue to cook and experiment with new flavors and foods.
On my three week retreat (a requirement for my master’s program and a whole story onto itself), my psychologist/spiritual director pointed this very thing out to me: how apropos a metaphor cooking is to the spiritual life. No matter how many times I fail, I still have to eat the next day, and, chances are, still need to cook for others. So it is with the spiritual life. No matter how many times I miss the mark (sin) during the day, tomorrow or even the next moment affords me a new opportunity to open to Jesus and live in the power of the Kingdom instead of my own flesh. Like with cooking, I can either beat myself up and quit over every little failure, or I can consider the situation and learn from it.