Never Say Never

As a therapist, I often discourage my clients from using global-type words, like never, always, no one, everyone—as in no one has ever liked me; I’ll never be any good at anything; everyone thinks I’m incompetent, etc. It sets off a chain reaction of futility and hopelessness. And, it’s usually not even accurate. I mean, surely someone in all your years on the planet, has liked you; you must have, at one time, been good at something; and most likely not everyone you know thinks you’re completely incompetent. Really, why tell yourself things like that?

There is one exception, however. I’m NEVER going to make another dessert as long as I live—never. I’ve had it. I can’t do it; I never could; I’m lousy at it. And I defy anyone who knows me to think of an exception to those claims.

Let me walk you through my day. Actually, it started a couple weeks ago with an on-line search for tortes—something yummy for the holidays. I found it: a layered caramel, chocolate torte lightly sprinkled with sea salt and topped with dollops of Chantilly whipped cream, sprinkled with a special chai spice blend. Does that send chills down your spine, or what?

I priced out torte pans at Williams-Sonoma and other fancy-schmancy places, and decided just to borrow one from my friend, Trudy. I mean, how many times a year do I make tortes? Never before. Oops, there’s that word again.

My writer’s group has been on sort of an extended holiday season hiatus; with so many distractions, no one has had much time to write. Two months had gone by without meeting. One member had reached his tolerance peak, and suggested we have a combined Chanukah and Christmas potluck meeting. Ah, a perfect opportunity to try out this new recipe.

What was I thinking? Had brain fog settled in like the marine layer that drifts inland from the ocean, obscuring my memory of all desserts past? Somewhere in the far reaches of my awareness, I heard a small voice saying, “at least don’t attempt the crust—they make perfectly fine pie crusts now that you could use.” Okay, I could cheat a little. The recipe is pretty complex and will demand most of my attention. No use worrying about how a lousy pie crust will turn out.

I assembled all the ingredients, the measuring spoons and cups, the various sized pans and plates that I would need. I fought my way through the mental cobwebs that seem to string themselves across my mind whenever I try to follow a recipe (or directions on how to assemble something, or program something).

Meticulously, I measured out just the right amount of sugar and water. I cooked it just until it began to turn caramel colored, as the directions said. I added the cream ever so slowly, whisking to blend it just so, and added in just the right amount of sea salt before setting it aside.

The ready-made pie crust had baked the appropriate amount of time and was golden brown. When it was cool, I oh-so-carefully poured the caramel layer onto the crust, and put it immediately in the refrigerator to “set.”

Twenty minutes later, I checked my creation. Not only had it not “set,” it had leaked out through a crack in the crust and was pooling onto the refrigerator shelf. This did not bode well. I shut the refrigerator door. Maybe another five or ten minutes and it will be firm? At least not ALL of it had leaked out. Perhaps the crack had sort of plugged itself up with gelatinous filling.

Ten more minutes, and I peeked again. Okay, it was sort of firm; maybe firm enough to gently add the next layer of heavy cream infused with chocolate malt Ovaltine and melted bittersweet dark chocolate bits. This layer was gloriously rich, shiny, luscious. I slid the partially filled crust carefully from the shelf, and mopped up the sugary goop that had oozed out.

V-e-r-y carefully, I began to drizzle and spread the chocolate on top of the caramel layer. Every now and then, I had to stop and breathe. The next step was to return the whole thing to the fridge for another half hour to continue setting up. The chocolate was mostly staying on top of the bottom layer, but threatened to overflow the edge of the crust. I was so focused on not tilting the torte, that I caught my sleeve on the handle of the saucepan in the sink.

Have you ever had the experience of a moment when time just stops? It just plain stands still in honor, or horror, of whatever irreversible thing is about to happen. The whole torte, in slow motion, began to slide off the plate and into the sink. In my attempt to intervene in fate, I over corrected, causing the torte to break in half. One half landed in the sink in chunks and blobs, the other sort of landed on the counter and spread in an ever-widening circle of slushy caramel and chocolate. A piece of crust fell onto the floor, as if to make a point, and crumbled into granules that defied retrieval.

Well, what can you do? Cry, scream, throw things? I thought about those as viable options. I checked the clock. Still enough time to bicycle up to the bakery and pick up some dessert. I cleaned up the mess, hopped on my bike, and arrived at the bakery counter all without shedding a tear. There in the glass case were four mini-chocolate espresso tortes with wells in the middle that just begged to be filled with that chai-flavored Chantilly whipped cream that I hadn’t yet dropped or ruined—or made.

Come on—whipped cream? How hard can that be?


  1. Anonymous says:

    You are such a talented and humorous spirit, Jo!
    Love & Blessings,
    Chris (Bari)