I firmly believe that just as we all have something we are brilliant at, something which comes effortlessly (or almost) to us, there are other things which just don’t work for us. I’m thinking in culinary terms here, but I think I could probably expand that to cover life in general.
If you need a batch of truffles making, I am your lady. My signature is a milk and dark blend of chocolate, rolled in a dusting of butter cocoa and edible glitter. Pancakes? Definitely! Jessica is just eating a batch of drop pancakes with sultanas for breakfast.
But meringue? Just the word makes me mentally flinch. How hard can it be, to whisk egg white and sugar, bake low and slow? Hard enou that I have been found on my hands and knees in front of the oven, with my apron over my head, weeping because they just won’t work.
You’d think I would know well enough by now that I can’t make meringue. But oh, how I want to be able to. And so when I spotted an ingenious recipe for vegan mediums, I thought that this was how I could become good at meringues. Instead of egg white, you use the water from canned chickpeas.
I was dubious at first, but after 5 minutes of beating, the water was white and fluffy like egg white would be. And so I started beating in the sugar. I beat and beat. I added more sugar. Best some more. Added more sugar. Until all my sugar had gone in, and I still had a bowl of gloom, not a stiff peak in sight.
I decided to bake it. I had put in three times the sugar, beat for ages, there was nothing left to do – it was bin or bake time. Well, after 2 hours baking and overnight cooking, it looked like meringue. It looked like a big flat pavlova. Hurrah! But…wait. I broke a corner off to try, to make sure it didn’t taste of chickpeas. Ah. Only the top half inch or so is meringue, underneath is a layer of syrupy chickpea sugar water. Excellent.
I felt bad the whole time I was making them. In the back of my mind I was thinking about all the previous times I have tried and failed, while hoping this time would be different. Late last night I was thinking about it in bed. Why did I try and do something I know myself to be bad at?
Making meringues isn’t exactly a vital life skill. They sell them in Marks and Spencer, not ten minutes from my oven to the shelf. So why? Because for years at work, I was part of a culture where your best was never good enough. Constant improvement was written into the warp and weft of life. If you had done brilliantly, you should be asking how you could have done better. And you know, with a bit of time and distance, I think yes, we need in work and life to achieve certain standards. We don’t want to be less than we can, but surely after a while, your best is good enough. There are only so many ways to do the washing up for example. I’m happy to learn from others – give me a recommendation for a great new washing up liquid and I’ll give it a go. When I was learning as a little girl, I was happy to take advice that it’s best to wash the cleaner things first and the dirtiest last. But now I’ve got an efficient technique and good products…how much more energy is it sensible to invest?
And so…is it time I just accept that I can’t make meringue. I can do a lot of things well, but this just isn’t one of them. There are plenty of people out there who make marvellous meringue. Maybe I’ll leave it at that. We can’t all be the best at everything, and we don’t have to be. I’m not saying we shouldn’t develop our skills. Just that maybe it is ok to try being good at something else.
In fact, how can we know what things we might be good at if, rather than trying new things, we are trying old things that don’t work for us? So tonight I will serve the too layer of the meringue with a smile. Who knows, it might turn out that vegan meringues will become my friend’s signature dish. But tonight in bed, I’ll be thinking of all the things I would like to try out in the kitchen, but more generally in life as well, and look for opportunities to have a go.
And I mustn’t forget either, that sometimes it is as important or moreso to have fun rather than be good at something. A number of ping pong tables have popped up round town in recent weeks. There are bags and balls, and you just help yourself. On the way home from a walk last week, we stopped for a game of what I call ‘whiff whaff’, and had so much fun. I definitley wasn’t the most skilled player, but I didn’t need to be to enjoy it.
So, life lessons from Vegan Meringues.