Joyce Carol Oates said that “getting a first draft finished is like pushing a peanut with your nose across a very dirty floor.” What a great analogy. My first cookbook draft and whatever masterpiece Joyce Carol Oates was referring to may not have much in common, but I can relate to her sentiment. Lately I’ve been getting a mouth full of dust bunnies on my quest to push the peanut. I write every day. I cook almost every day. But every day I wonder if the things I’m creating are good enough. I guess that’s all a part of the process.
Yesterday I started reading Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Have you read it? Mason Currey researched the daily routines of great artists. He doesn’t delve into anything specific about the work itself but instead he writes about what time Beethoven got up in the morning and whether or not Gertrude Stein preferred to work on a full stomach. It’s fascinating. And, as someone who recently made the transition from working in an office to working from home, on her own schedule, it feels inspiring and comforting. The overall lesson I’m learning is that famous artists put in the time to create. Every day. Good and bad. They chip. And revise. And they work really hard. I’m trying to see that even if some days feel like a total waste because the sentences I wrote are garbage or the cake I made sunk and overflowed all over the oven (yesterday was a winner), the key is to keep chipping and try to enjoy the challenges as well as the successes. Discouragement is a waste of time.
The other day, Gus and I were working away at Starbucks in my parents’ town in CT. An elderly lady approached our table. She was small and grey and bent and very dear. She told me that she didn’t want to interrupt us but just wanted to say that we looked very happy. She went on to say that we looked like an interesting couple that couldn’t live without our laptops. Funny observation. True enough. She asked me if we were studying for college and whether we were college sweethearts. College sweethearts? Aww. As someone clocking in much closer to 40 than to 20, I was pleased. Maybe the crow’s feet aren’t too prominent yet. I told her the truth about our age, our work, and the fact that we were married sweethearts. She smiled and said, “You both look very comfortable in your own skin.” That made my day. It hadn’t been a particularly prolific work morning, but somehow this sweet old lady could see how glad we were to be chipping. Glad to be working at something we love. Glad to be together. Happy. Satisfied in our skin. She pointed it out at just the right time. Her encouragement pushed me on through another hour of work.
This week I got my hands on some lovely, in-season strawberries. Finally. I didn’t want to do anything too fussy. Just wanted to let them be happy in their own skin.
Strawberry Roulade with Lavender Cream
In order to get the infused cream to whip, it must be chilled for quite a while. I like to infuse the cream the night before to be sure it’s cold enough.
For the cream:
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon lavender buds
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
For the cake:
Butter, for the pan
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
For the strawberries:
1 1/2 cup chopped fresh strawberries
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1. In a small saucepan, combine cream and lavender buds. Bring the mixture to a boil and then immediately remove from the heat. Transfer to the fridge and chill for at least 6 hours or overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter a 13-inch-by-18-inch rimmed baking sheet and line with parchment. Butter the parchment. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
3. In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks and 1/3 cup water on high until lightened, about 2 minutes. Gradually add 1/4 cup sugar while beating. Continue to beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla.
4. In a large bowl, with clean beaters, beat egg whites until the viscous yellow part has disappeared. Gradually add the remaining 1/3 cup sugar while beating. Continue to beat until you have stiff, glossy peaks, about 5 minutes.
5. Sift the flour mixture into the egg yolk mixture and then fold to combine. Mix in about a cup of the egg white mixture into the egg yolk mixture to loosen it. Then gently fold the remaining egg white mixture into the egg yolk mixture. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until the center bounces back when pressed gently, about 12 to 15 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, lay a clean kitchen towel on a work surface and dust generously with confectioners' sugar. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, invert it onto the prepared towel. With the short side facing you, roll the warm cake and the towel into a cylinder. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.
6. In a small bowl, combine strawberries and sugar and let stand. Stir the chilled cream to make it homogenous and then strain out the lavender buds. In a medium bowl, combine cream and confectioners’ sugar and whip to stiff peaks.
7. To assemble, unroll the cake. Spread the whipped cream evenly over the surface. Drizzle with strawberries and any juices. Using an offset spatula, spread the strawberries and the cream to combine them evenly. Roll the cake up, with out the towel. Transfer to a plate, dust with confectioners sugar, slice, and serve.