It’s easy to give, but not easy to take, even when it’s your own. When it comes to culinary and entertaining tips, people think I’m Mother Wisdom. And it’s true -- I give great advice! Now if I would only listen to myself…
Here’s a memorable example. A woman came up to me at an event and said I gave her the best piece of advice in my first book, Quick & Kosher Recipes From the Bride Who Knew Nothing. It was in my chapter “Secrets of the 15-minute Chef” (page 21) where I say – NO EXCUSES!
Never make disclaimers or excuses for your cooking. Usually you are pointing out things that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. Remember your guests are not at your table as New York Times food critics. They’re in your home to enjoy the company and conversation.
It’s actually terrific advice, but I didn’t realize how hard it is to follow until this happened to me.
We were invited to my friend Atara’s for a Shabbat lunch. Atara loves my chocolate cake and she asked me to bring some for dessert. No sweat!
Erev Shabbat, I whipped up my One Bowl Amazing Chocolate Cake, doubling the recipe (as Atara mentioned a number of other guests who would be joining us). I poured the entire thing into a Bundt pan, waited the requisite 45 – 50 minutes and checked. Hmm, still raw, so I waited some more. Checked again --not yet. Waited some more checked again and boy was it done, well done!
I almost cried. Well, to be honest, I did cry, because it was five minutes to candle-lighting, and there was no time to bake another cake. Why should it matter so much to me? Dunno. Maybe it’s ego; maybe it’s because I write cookbooks and I feel that people expect a culinary masterpiece from me -- some imaginative, creative potchke every time.
I didn’t even want to bring that cake because it was over-baked. I rehearsed all kinds of excuses, then started pulling things out of the freezer. Hey, even though Atara asked specifically for chocolate cake, maybe she would go for last month’s rugelach, or how about an old frozen babka?
Hubby talked me off the ledge all Shabbat, coaching me repeatedly to keep mum. He even descended to the dirty trick of reminding me of my own advice. Wasn’t I the one who said “no excuses”?
To my eye, it was charred and below my standards, but I knew that Atara was planning her dessert menu around it. I figured that it was more important to satisfy my hostess and bring what was requested of me than to succumb to my very fragile ego. Who am I to keep a chocolate cake from gracing her table, even if it’s not perfect?
So I bring it, lips are zipped and I hold my breath as she slices it before all of her guests. A hurried excuse is on the tip of my tongue. Hubby and I lock eyes: his face is a mix of compassion and drill sergeant (“Don’t you DARE say anything! It will be ok”). In minutes, the crisis is over. Each person is served a piece of cake and Hubby does the inventory because I can’t look. He reports to me later that no one left over even a crumb. “Did anybody ask for seconds?” I reply weakly. Always the perfectionist.
In pure fact, it was overdone, but only slightly. I was the only one who could tell. The lesson here is that only you know what you set out to do, what it’s “supposed” to look and taste like, and only you are overly concerned with the impression you’re making. The moral for me was to take my own advice seriously! Sometimes things just have to come full circle.
P.S. I think I know what I did wrong. Don’t double the batter for the One Bowl Amazing Chocolate Cake. It’s too rich and thick to mix well without over-mixing, and hard to bake through without burning the bottom. I know I’ll never do it again. If we need lots of cake, I’ll just bake two!