Mother’s Day 2014
“Rising to the Occasion”
your favorite chocolate soufflé
Each year in honor of Mother’s Day I write a personal recipe of life inspired by and for my daughters accompanied by a family (food) recipe relevant to the message. This year it is about soufflés and “rising to the occasion” that phrase we so often hear. The recipe is for a classic chocolate soufflé and you can find it in the following post. If you would like to skip directly to the soufflé recipe you may do so by clicking here, otherwise read on.
To all mothers I wish you a very Happy Mother’s Day (Joyeuse Fête des Mères).
Ava and Julia,
This year June means graduation bringing big changes academically and socially for you both. It is an exciting time and I see you both eager to test your wings (and eyeing my shoe closet with a more relevant interest…). As you both ready yourself for the new challenges and opportunities that await I cannot help but think of not only the excitement that next year will bring but also the nervous anticipation that will begin to set in after the graduation parties and the distractions of summer. Anxious thoughts about what is to come when facing new circumstances (whether it be a school, a job, or a new place to live) are universal and never go away with age (we just learn to handle them better). When facing new situations every person questions themselves and their abilities to some degree. Thoughts like: How different will this be? What if I am not good at things? What if I fail? Can I succeed in my new circumstances? Will I be able to “rise to the occasions” that come my way?
When you have these thoughts I want you to remember this: if “life is like a box of chocolates” (and you never know what you will get), then you are like a soufflé and soufflés always rise.
soufflé = soufflé base (flavor + foundation) + leavening agent
Soufflés are versatile. They come in all shapes, sizes, different flavors, and colors. They can be sweet or savory. Regardless of the differences, a soufflé is composed of two parts: (1) the base which is the combination of the flavor and the foundation; (2) and the leavening agent.
A soufflé flavor can be made of a fruit or vegetable purée, chocolate, cheese, citrus zest, herbs, and/or liquor. The chosen flavor is what makes the soufflé a chocolate soufflé or a blue cheese soufflé.
The foundation of a soufflé is equally versatile but the ingredient combination lays the groundwork for the soufflé’s structure. It typically involves a starch: egg yolks, flour or a roux (butter with flour); and a liquid (i.e. béchamel for savory soufflés or pastry cream for sweet soufflés). The starch in the foundation will strengthen the air bubble walls to set the soufflé and the moisture will contribute to its rise. The foundation must be the proper consistency: If it has too much moisture (too liquidly) it will rise before the egg proteins can set the shape and it will pour over the sides of the dish. If the foundation is too thick it will not rise very much.
When the flavor and the foundation are combined you have the soufflé base.
A leavening agent causes food to rise. There are different types. Yeast is a living leavening agent which creates gas that makes bread rise. Baking soda and baking powder are chemical leavening agents that react with liquid and/or oven heat to give a product height. In a soufflé, the whipped egg whites act as a leavening agent because the air bubbles in the whites (created when the whites are whipped to form stiff peaks) expand with the heat of the oven. The oven heat also causes the moisture in the batter to vaporize into steam (there is moisture in the egg yolks, the milk, the butter, etc). Both the steam and the expanding air bubbles cause the soufflé to rise up out of its dish. (source: Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking, Scribner (First Revised Edition 2004).
If you put a soufflé in a hot oven it will always rise. Always. The only time a soufflé does not rise is if you forget to spoon the batter in the dish. The only question then is how high the soufflé will rise and whether it can maintain its shape and for how long. Those issues are determined by whether the egg whites were properly whipped into stiff peaks and whether the base is the proper consistency.
When you remove a soufflé from the oven (merely opening the oven door will NOT do it) the internal temperature of the soufflé begins to cool and as it does the expanded air bubbles begin to shrink and the vapor returns to moisture. This is why a soufflé falls back into its dish. If you put the soufflé back in the oven, it will rise again (although not as high as the first time).
you, the soufflé
You are like a soufflé.
Your flavor is akin to your personality, your talents, and your shortcomings. Your flavor is what makes you unique.
Your foundation is the sum of those things your family, church, and school have instilled in you since you were young. It is your character, values, morals, manners, and education. It is the core of who you are and combined with your flavor, this is your base.
The heat of the oven is like life and all of its trials, challenges, opportunities, tests, and lessons that you will encounter next year and throughout your lives.
The leavening agent is your actions, your words, your thoughts, and basically what you do or fail to do with your talents and character. Rising to the occasion is never about having enough talent or knowledge, it is about your effort and what you do to meet the challenges when life “heats” up.
This graduation, as you face new exciting challenges and situations in your lives, keep the following in mind:
- Do the best you are capable of doing. Anything less is a failure to fill the soufflé dish.
- “Failure” is an omission or inability to perform or act. When you give it your best effort, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS FAILURE.
- THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A MISTAKE. Unintended results are often labeled as “mistakes” but sometimes the unintended result is better than the intended one. A delicious example is when one of the Tartin sisters made her usual tart and accidentally placed the apples and crust in the oven upside-down. This “mistake” – a caramelized apple tart – became one of your favorites: a tarte tartin.
- TRY and TRY and TRY again.
- There is value in the process. Not receiving the grade you wanted, the part in the play, or even the end of a relationship all of these experiences have worth regardless of the end result. It is important to remember that in the process you will have learned something: how to do or not to do things or how to do things better; you learned something about yourself and what you want and what you don’t; or maybe you got a push in a different direction that is better for you. As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
- Set goals for yourself but be open to alternative options along the way.
- Be open to the fact that despite your best efforts, life may take you in a different direction and that could be even better for you. Samuel Morse is an example. Morse loved to paint and was a successful painter but never succeeded in the way he would have liked. When he was turned down for a painting project he turned his efforts elsewhere and invented the telegraph and the MORSE code. (Source: McCullough, David, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (2011), Simon & Schuster).
- Be long-sighted. Remember that life is a collection of both “bad” days (that do not meet your expectations) and “good” days (those that go the way you want). Both are necessary and cannot exist without the other.
- Face challenges wisely. Do not overextend yourself; Despite your best intentions, taking on too much will result in a disservice to yourself, the activities you take on, and the people that rely on you.
- Remember that how you conduct yourself in achieving your goals is equally as important as the result. At all times conduct yourself with dedication, integrity, and kindness.
- Success and self-advancement should never come at the expense of another.
- Be gracious in moments of victory as well as those of defeat.
- Think about your decisions and actions before you make them. Thoughtful deliberation will eliminate future regrets
- Encourage others as you hope they would encourage you.
- Listen to your intuition. You will intuitively know if you are on the right path and if something or someone is good for you or not. Do not minimize or rationalize-away that inner voice.
- If you have gotten off track and strayed from your core; if you have said or done things that you know you shouldn’t have, get back on course and make honest amends for the things you have done or said.
- Be true to yourself and who you are. Do not try to be someone else or do things like your peers because it is en vogue. Life does not allow insincerities.
- Self-reflect. Use constructive criticism positively. Do not give negativity and ill-intended criticism credence.
- Nurture the leader within yourself.
- Be gracious. Accept compliments with sincerity but do not let them go to your head.
- Accept that you will not be great in everything and that is okay. Focus on developing your strengths.
- Rejection, in any form, is an opportunity to explore a different path. I promise that the “worst moments in your life” will be your biggest opportunities for growth.
- Continually challenge yourself mentally, physically, spirituality, and emotionally.
- Try new things: a new sport, food, perspective.
- The glass should always be “half-full.” If you think it is “half-empty” then replenish your perspective until it is “half-full” again.
- Never underestimate the power of sleep. Sometimes things seem worse than they are just because we are tired.
- Know your limits. Know when to walk away from situations and people.
- Read everything and in as many languages as you are able.
- Believe in yourself. Remember the that “[t]he best way to predict your future is to create it.” (Abraham Lincoln).
The following chocolate soufflé recipe is the one I have been making for you since you were much, much smaller. Here is to you and your soufflés rising to all occasions. I look forward to both.
Prior Mother’s Day Entries:
Mother’s Day 2013. The power of words; Recipe : cherry granita
Mother’s Day 2012; The Courage To Follow Your Heart; Recipe: crunchy chocolate and espresso almond cookies
Mother’s Day 2011. Body Image; Living Women Eat Pasta, Crêpes and Bread; Recipe: classic tomato sauce with pasta