On Intuition and Kitchen Disasters

How good are you about following your gut instincts? Do you pay attention to your intuition, or do you shrug it off, preferring to stick to what you planned or think you should do? I recently got a great reminder about why I should always, always, follow my intuition.

Early last month, Eugene and I drove down to Brooklyn for brunch with my in-laws. We met Eugene's dad, mom, and brother in Williamsburg and then walked around a bit until we found a nice spot to eat.*

After brunch and a few scoops of palm sugar ice cream from the Van Leeuwen truck, Eugene and I got back in the car to return to the city when I suddenly got this weird urge to stop by Brooklyn Kitchen. I wasn't even really sure where it was located though I knew it was somewhere in Williamsburg. We were already starting to drive away when I kind of blurted out that I wanted to stop by there. Eugene, used to my impulses, didn't even question me as he looked up the address on his phone then entered it into the GPS which led us the three blocks to the store. I didn't have anything in particular in mind though I wandered around a bit looking to see what jumped out at me. While checking out the flyers on a table wondering if I should leave a few for my classes,  I came across a postcard for a culinary retreat at a place called Good Commons. I grabbed the card (and left a few of my own) then headed out.

Later that evening, I was about to go to bed when I decided to check out the postcard again. The retreat sounded fantastic: a long weekend in Vermont, visits to local farms and artisan producers, gourmet meals, massages, a hot tub, even round trip transportation! It led me to the retreat's Facebook page where I saw a contest to win a free trip to the culinary retreat. To enter, I just had to submit a brief story about a recent kitchen disaster. I thought about it for a few minutes and decided to go to bed and enter in the morning. In fact I did shut down, but something kept nagging me as I lay in bed. So I got back up, turned on my laptop, and at 2AM I wrote my story. I sent it in, along with the photo below, and went to bed.

The next morning, I told Eugene about it. I said, "I entered a contest to win a trip to that culinary retreat and I'm definitely going to win." Once again, used to my unusually confident declarative statements he just laughed and went to work.

Needless to say, a week or so later I heard back and I had won! Here is my little 2AM kitchen disaster story:

"It was already late, but the craving wouldn't wait.  I worked from memory, and just like each time before, the dark chocolate cake moistened with freshly brewed espresso baked up perfectly. While the layers cooled, I started the frosting, opting to go with something foolproof given the late hour.
I melted the butter, pouring it into the base of the mixer and added scoops of cocoa, watching as the paddle whirled the dry and wet into a unified silky, black pool. A pinch of kosher salt, an over-flowing tablespoon of homemade vanilla, a splash of raw Jersey cow milk delivered fresh from the farm.

I reached for the glass canister of confectioner’s sugar and scooped in a few powdery white clouds. Stirring gently at first, then raising the speed until the dark liquid grew lighter, fluffier. The texture was perfect so I took a taste.

Bitter! I could taste cocoa, the butter, but not a hint of sweetness.

I added another puff of sugar, thinking, “perhaps I miscounted the scoops?” Around and around the paddle whirled; powdery white disappearing into the chocolate. Another taste.
Still nothing!
More sugar. More whirls. Nothing but bitterness. My mouth and eyes in confused disagreement by what each experienced.

And then? A hunch. I took another taste, this time from the glass jar I'd nearly emptied in frustration. It tasted starchy, floury, dry.
It was not sugar.

A few days earlier I'd organized my pantry, wiping things down. Tossing things out. Transferring baking ingredients from flimsy boxes to strong glass jars, each neatly labeled with my own handwriting. Somehow--perhaps at the end of that long day of sorting--I got it wrong, pouring cornstarch into the jar meant for its much sweeter twin.

I scooped out the contents of my mixer. I'd just made myself a batch of the most sweetly-scented chocolate play-dough I had ever seen."
The prize weekend ended up being fantastic. Stay tuned for pics and more details in my next post.



*I think the place was called Elsa's or Ella's, but I don't recommend it as the food was terrible, the water tasted dirty, and the waitress was wearing an uncomfortable-looking pair of tweed high-waisted shorts that gave me a vicarious wedgie each time she came to our table. I did not order dessert.

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