Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How Martha Stewart Taught Me A Lesson

I am writing this blog for a couple of reasons: one, to reinforce to my loved ones that I DO cook but prefer not to and, two, to remind myself to recognize my strengths and weaknesses and to remember my limitations this holiday.

I have been known to succumb to the hypnotic presentations of the happy home-maker and reformed tax evader, Martha Stewart. She may have fallen for some bad advice from her accountant but that woman makes holiday preparation look like mere child’s play.

A few years back, I had called in sick to work. In my weakened state, I lay on the couch, surrounded by half-drank mugs of tea, dry toast and Kleenex boxes but managed to find the strength to channel-surf my way to an Oprah episode. Martha Stewart, her guest, was preparing to make “home-made white hot chocolate and marshmallows”. Now….to me, “home-made” hot chocolate comes from an envelope pouch and why-on-Earth-anyone would-want-to-make-marshmallows-instead-of-picking-up-the-99-cents-per-bag-kind is completely beyond me.

“You actually make marshmallows?” asked Oprah. “Don’t they just grow in the wild or something?”

But it was Martha Stewart…and I have been known to be a bit of an over-achiever.

The beautifully hand-made white hot chocolate (white, as in the kind of chocolate, not the temperature at which it is served) was garnished with a beautiful hand cut marshmallow in the shape of a star. The presentation was lovely. This became my new holiday mission: to prepare the best-ever hot chocolate and home-made marshmallows and serve it to my amazed family at the big Christmas dinner and serve it up like Martha Stewart would….like it was no effort at all. They would gasp and leap out of their chairs to pat me on the back and laud my culinary masterpiece.

A few days later, I obtained the recipe from Oprah’s website and planned my grocery store excursion. My odd assortment of ingredients that I purchased must have cost me somewhere in the area of $10 - $12, only slightly more than what I would have paid for a 10.5 oz. bag of “Campfire®” Marshmallows. But the impression these delights would make would be worth the effort!

December 23…two days before the big Christmas “festivus” and I set to work on making the marshmallows. Did you know that when you make candy and boil it, you must use a candy thermometer (another item I needed to purchase for this recipe) and you have to be VERY careful at what temperature your concoction reaches? This recipe called for 244 - 248 degrees. Not 243 degrees…not 249 degrees. Do you know what that is called? The “firm ball” stage. There is also a “hard ball stage” and a “hard crack” stage. Okay, that makes me laugh a little.

Anyway…the procedure was quite complicated but in the end, the mixture slightly resembled the appearance of actual marshmallows….but a little more grey (that should have been my first sign!). I poured the mix into the pan and dusted it with powdered sugar and waited for it to set overnight.

The next day, Christmas Eve, I took my new star-shaped cookie cutters (also newly purchased, along with the candy thermometer, now bringing my marshmallow escapade to somewhere close to $15-$20) and pressed it into the, now hardened, marshmallow mixture. And by hardened…I mean one rock-solid mass of marshmallow-resembling putty. It was as if Martha Stewart was mocking me. She was laughing and pointing from the bottom of the pan, crying out to me: “What EVER made you think you could match my skills in the kitchen! You fool! You FOOL!!!!” (cue the Martha Stewart evil laugh).

No matter how hard I pressed that cookie cutter into the pan of marshmallows…or, rather…tile grout….it wouldn’t budge. It would not cut the mixture. Not to be outsmarted by marshmallows, I unleashed the steak knives on ‘em.

Christmas Day arrived and the family was gathered around my table. After finishing the perfectly prepared holiday meal, I presented the family with mugs of the Hot White Chocolate (this recipe was much easier to execute and reached a higher level of success). On a separate platter, as a condiment to the hot chocolate, were grey pieces of “art” more closely resembling white landscaping rock than star-shaped marshmallows.

The family was stunned. They were all silent for a moment before they burst into laughter. Confused as to what to do with the landscaping rock, I performed a visual demonstration: “First,” I said, “You take the mug of White Hot Chocolate – a recipe I got from Oprah and Martha Stewart – and then you top it with a couple of my HOME MADE MARSHMALLOWS!” I dropped them into the mug and stirred it around. I drank it and made an “Mmmmmm!” sound just to reinforce to them that it was safe to consume.

“You make marshmallows??” someone asked. “Don’t they just grow in the wild or something?” Hmmm….seems I have heard this line before…..

They looked awful….but they tasted like marshmallows, just extra firm. An expensive and time consuming lesson to learn from my buddy, Martha. Next time I want marshmallows in my hot chocolate, I will buy a bag of ‘em from the neighborhood grocery.

So the moral of the story?

Know your limitations. If you can cook…cook. If you can’t…cook with cash. And if you try and fail, laugh at yourself and drink hot chocolate anyway.

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