BLACK & WHITE
So many see the world in black and white, true and false, right and wrong. Maybe it is time to start thinking in shades of gray.
A very long time ago, out of college and working an utterly lousy job in New York City, I decided that it was time to pack my bags and head out. Tired of working for barely enough wages to pay a New York rent and the bills with nothing at all left over with which to enjoy the city, frustrated by the Reagan “Me Years” and the constant talk of money, money, money swirling around me, fed up by all of my wealthy classmates who could afford the interesting jobs that paid exactly zero dollars for the privilege of working at this gallery or that museum while those of us without the support of our parents had to settle for the less than interesting or simply low-paying jobs, angry by all of the social injustice I saw, and maybe even upset with myself for the string of bad career choices I had made, I knew that I had to find a new life. So I gave my month warning, quit my job, ripped up my rental contract, gave away as much of my furniture as I could, wrapped up bags of old clothing and dumped them on the sidewalk for whoever wanted to take them away, packed two suitcases, emptied my meager bank account and left. Ah, Paris awaited on the other side of the ocean, only the first leg of what has turned out to be a very long journey.
To many of my friends this appeared to be the ultimate in cool bohemian adventure, able to pick up and move on a whim, choose a new city, a new country, slip into a new life with ease and pleasure at will. Others, not so much. One conversation struck me so forcibly that it still lingers in my mind today: I remember a friend, upon learning that I was quitting my job in a New York art gallery, packing up my bags and leaving for Paris, declaring with a sigh “Ah, I wish I could leave everything behind and move to Paris….” and felt his thoughts “if only I didn’t have a serious job, a real job, responsibility and obligations” hanging in the air between us like some unspoken rebuke. The world as he saw it, in black and white.
A few years later, my young husband decided to change professions, leave behind one that was unsatisfying, unrewarding and often mind bogglingly crazy for another that he found more exciting and better suited to his character and to his dreams. One day, he came home from a dentist appointment and related how he had casually explained to the dentist that he was leaving his profession to start another and how the dentist actually turned on him, furiously screaming that it was impossible and irresponsible to change professions like that! My husband was stunned by the dentist’s absolute outrage! It was as if our ability to turn our back on society’s expectations of us and to grab at our dreams was a personal affront to him! That wistful voice from my past, my friend’s statement on the eve of my first trip to Paris, came back to join this other, angrier voice in a chorus of disapproval, of judgment! And we were found guilty! But guilty of what?
Both my husband and I have changed professions, jobs, homes, cities many times. Cool Bohemian adventure or irresponsible whim? Black or white or something in between? We often discuss the ways of life and what role we have to play in the scheme of things, our responsibility as adults, parents, citizens. Do we follow one path, choose a career, create a cozy, secure home, have children, never say die until the end of our days? We are surrounded by so many who think so, we live in a society, a culture that sets strict rules of behavior and expectations, yet there has always been something stronger at play from my first voyage to France and JP’s long ago choice to spend two years in Morocco in lieu of performing the traditional military service to our moves from country to country, city to city. People often ask me to tell them how I ended up in Paris, how I met my husband, and this is the rather simple story.
Maybe we have simply both been bitten by the same strain of wanderlust? But when the urge to move and change kicks in, maybe it is less out of a sense of adventure as it is a need. We seem, both of us, to be on a continuous search for ourselves, for a life that suits, a society that fulfills our wants and soothes our hunger for a better life. Maybe there is nothing wrong with defying expectations and bending the rules, refusing to buy the whole Black is Black ideology. Our sons have often vilified us, accusing us of “not being like the other parents!” Acquaintances often try and amuse us with understanding smiles, interested curiosity in this wanton life we have chosen, all the while treating us as children who know no better. But life is too short for misery or discontent. And life is too short to not go after one’s dreams. Why the heck not? Maybe rules are meant to be broken, or at least bent. Are we the Black Sheep of this otherwise White Society of people who surround us? Strangely enough, once I got involved with the fascinating world of food, first as a culinary tour guide and interpreter, now as a food blogger and writer, I see that we are not alone. The world is filled with people who choose to live their passions even if it is risky, people who change and evolve not with what is happening outside but responding to what is happening inside. I sound like a preacher, like I’m declaring only what is so obvious to so many, but life is full of so many interesting possibilities and, as they say, life is too short to stick to just one thing, to live by somebody else’s rules.
For now, we are content. I am undertaking what I hope will be an entirely new career, absolutely committed to having fun while pursuing a passion. We pat ourselves on the back and suppress a grin as we watch our sons embark on their voyage into adulthood in the most unlikely, unexpected ways, following their passions rather than following the crowd. All four of us have learned that life is not merely black and white, rather it is full of a rainbow of bright, intriguing colors.
The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of What the Fruitcake?! Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking. In real life I am as colorful as the rainbow yet I dress the world around me in black and white. And what goes better with vanilla than chocolate? Perfect, buttery sugar cookies frosted in pure white decorated with a luscious Rorschach of chocolate squiggles. Kind of like what it looks like inside of my head.
FROSTED SUGAR COOKIES IN BLACK & WHITE
½ cup + 6 Tbs (200 g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup (200 g) sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 cups + 3 Tbs (400 g) flour
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Do not overbeat; incorporating too much air into the batter may lead to the dough spreading in the oven thus losing their shape.
Beat in the egg until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Gradually sift the flour onto the butter/sugar mixture, beating it in on low speed. If you add it all at once it may fly out all over the counter. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead lightly just until you have a smooth ball of dough.
Divide the dough into two or three even pieces. Gently sandwich each ball of dough between baking sheets of parchment paper until it is about 1/5- to 1/8-inch thick. Slide the parchment onto baking trays and refrigerate the sheets of dough for about 30 minutes.
Once chilled, peel off the top layer of parchment and use your favorite cookie cutters to cut out shapes of dough, carefully transferring the shapes to a baking or cookie sheet. Reroll dough scraps, roll out again and cut, using up all of the dough. Chill the trays of shapes for an additional 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Bake the cookies for 8 – 15 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the cookies, until golden around the edges. If your oven bakes unevenly (as does mine) rotate the baking sheets halfway through the baking time. Remove from the oven, gently slide or lift off the baked cookies onto cooling racks and allow to cool completely before frosting.
The quantities given for both the white and the chocolate icings are good to frost all of the cookies. Feel free to cut either or both recipes in half.
WHITE ROYAL ICING
3 cups (375 g) Powdered/Icing/Confectioner’s Sugar, or more as needed
2 large fresh egg whites
2 tsps lemon juice
1 tsp either vanilla or almond extract, optional
Whisk the egg whites with the lemon juice just until foamy. Sift the powdered sugar over the egg whites and beat on low speed until smooth and creamy. Beat in the flavoring if using. Add more sugar if the frosting is too thin and runs. It should be spreadable.
CHOCOLATE ROYAL ICING
2 cups (125 g) Powdered/Icing/Confectioner’s Sugar, or more as needed
1/6 to ¼ cup (40 - 60 ml) boiling water
1 oz (30 g) unsweetened or very bittersweet chocolate (I used Lindt’s Dessert 99%)
Gradually add enough of the boiling water to the powdered sugar, stirring, until the mixture is thick but smooth and speradable. Chop up the chocolate and add it to the icing and stir (over very low heat if needed) until the chocolate is melted and the icing is smooth.