On sassing my recipes & making a childhood favorite with a stranger's recipe
As I write this, I'm in the middle of making empanadas. Growing up, my mom always made empanadas in huge batches. She made them for parties, and she'd give them away to her friends, then freeze the rest. I always thought she made them in huge quantities because that was just the Filipino way -- make every recipe as if you were about to feed a crowd of 50.
And now, I'm making my own empanadas and I'm beginning to see why my mother made so many at a time. They're a pain in the ass. There's a lot of making things and then waiting. Making and waiting. Making and...waiting.
I didn't realize this until just now, as I'm writing this, but I have high expectations for these empanadas. I'm not even using my mother's recipe. I'm using a recipe from Cooking Light -- how sacrilegious is this. And there's not even meat in the filling (!!!!). In the waiting between the making, I'm becoming more and more worried. What am I thinking, making these things without my mom's recipe? I'm making these things without meat?! And I'm making this dough with wine?! My mom doesn't make her dough with wine.
My fiance ate empanadas growing up, too. That's part of the reason why I'm sweating these things. Empanadas are a relic of home for both of us, and I'm potentially fucking up our mutual culinary homecomings with a zucchini filling and dough made with wine.
Of course, the love of my life would never put any kind of pressure on me to replicate his mother's empanadas. The pressure is all me. The urge I've had since childhood to do everything perfectly and exceptionally -- the first time I do it. I've since learned to coexist peacefully and productively with that tendency, but sometimes it still overwhelms me.
I'm a meal planner, so Sundays and Mondays are usually big baking and cooking days for me. This week, I've been squabbling with my recipes. I've been getting frustrated with the ones that tell me to do something, but they don't tell me why. Or they tell me to do something, but they don't tell me what it's supposed to look like while I'm doing it.
For example, I tried a new cookie recipe today. It used honey instead of sugar and lots of whole wheat flour. It told me to "beat the mixture until just combined." Now, in regular cookie terms, I know what this means. In this cookie's terms, I did not know what that meant. The dough was crumbly and it wasn't sticking together. The recipe author did not provide notes on this, and I wanted them to say something like, "Don't worry if your cookie dough is crumbly! That's just because [insert reason here]." I'm not enough of a baking connoisseur yet to know what's going on when my cookie dough is more crumbly than sticky.
So I trusted my gut. I stopped using my hand mixer and started using a spatula. It didn't make the dough less crumbly, but I figured out how to salvage it. And it turned out delicious.
I had more conversations like this with my recipes, and I won't detail them here. (I will say, though, that I sassed a recipe when it told me to "wrap the dough tightly in plastic." Why? How tightly? How tight is tightly? What happens if I don't wrap it tightly? I'm just going to wrap it in two layers of plastic wrap just to make sure -- is that okay with you? )
What's important is that I worked through my moments of frustration and trusted my instincts. (I have cooking and baking instincts now?!) It feels good to view these moments as small life victories. When it seemed like my empanada dough was going to hell, I didn't panic. I kept working it, and everything turned out okay.
Just like life. (I'm being a little bit snarky here, but I'm actually mostly sincere.)
The empanadas have finished baking. Most of them have exploded. They literally cannot contain themselves. My love has eaten one, and he says they're delicious. (Even without meat?! my brain responds incredulously. Yes, even without meat.)
Cooking and baking continue to remind me to be patient and not to panic. They also remind me that I can fix things (usually) if I'm paying attention. And they also show me when I need to let go and just make sure I do things differently next time.
So, little empanadas, you turned out wonderfully. It's better that I made you for the first time with a stranger's recipe. When I make you with my mother's recipe, I will be a wiser cook. And maybe the next time I make you, I'll figure out how to make it so you don't explode. So that you are able to contain yourself.
Bonus: I injured myself on the serrated plastic wrap blade. No blood, but I managed to shave off some finger skin. Hooray!