cookies / kirsch / sweets

oh captain, my captain (and cream puffs of possibility)

In high school, I treasured my copy of Leaves of Grass – it was a gift from the Walt Whitman Society, a prize, along with cash for winning first place prize in their annual poetry contest. (I know…I was super cool)His words word transcendent to me – liquid spirituality pouring from the pages.  I wanted section 22 of Song of Myself tattooed down my back but settled for writing it neatly in sharpie down the leg of my favorite pair of Levi’s.

You sea! I resign myself to you also—I guess what you mean,

I behold from the beach your crooked inviting fingers…

Dash me with amorous wet, I can repay you.

It was about communing with nature.  It was about good and evil and being without judgment.  It was probably about sex.

In moments of soul-searching, Walt’s reminder to really lose yourself in nature to find your meaning is still relevant.

While I know that some of the roughest storms make for the most beautiful sunsets, right now, it’s as if the mooring line is cut, I’m adrift in a fog and I don’t know if it is safe to drop anchor (is it better to let the tide take me? What if there is a reef under me? Oh god, what about the baby seahorses?! What if I crush the baby seahorses?!?!).

We all may just be vessels on an ever-changing ocean, as Walt suggest; I know I am seaworthy enough to weather this, but where people need a compass in these situations, a way to chart their course – I need a captain. I need someone to tell me it’s going to be okay. I don’t need a destination, just to know I’m in good hands for the journey.

Which isn’t as co-dependent as it sounds. Listening to a lot of NPR this week, I’ve discovered that there are studies where in scientists traumatize rats to understand the effects of PTSD. The rats placed in solitary confinement do not recover from their trauma. The rats placed back in a community of rats recover from their trauma through physical contact with others.

I’m not suffering from PTSD, per se, but in the span of 10 days, four of my oldest friends moved away, I was laid off from my job, and the man I decided was the kind of amazing I’d delete my dating app for, decided I am not amazing enough.  “Traumatic” might be extreme, but it is a lot of change, and a lot of cause to do some soul searching. But we shouldn’t do it alone. In fact, we can’t. When we set about stripping ourselves down to the foundation, we need a supportive community – whether they be strangers, new friends, or long time loves – in order to build something better on top.

The problem with requiring someone else to captain your ship is that commission can expire.  That captain can find another boat, another destination. They can decide do a solo tour around the world, or disappear into the Bermuda triangle.  Inexperienced sailors may think the water are calm, the skies blue, and not see the signs of coming squall.  The sudden change in weather can cause panic, abandon ship, not realizing that the sturdy vessel will protect her captain just the same.

I ran through some trees, I napped in the grass, I escaped to the beach hoping to find some magic glimmering through the fog. I reminded myself that I am one organism of many, surrounded by an ecosystem that exists in symbiosis with me. I listened to a lot of NPR.

I didn’t get a job offer. I didn’t get a boyfriend. My friends didn’t change their minds and move back to NYC. But I’ll keep trying. All I can do is keep trying, remember that possibility is as endless as the horizon, and incoming clouds might just bring the thrill of a lifetime.

And maybe the good captains will return for another adventure on the open seas.

Cream puffs are like little clouds of possibility – by some happenstance of weird science they puff up from boiled fat and cooked flour and then you can fill them with anything you desire. These are by far the simplest filling, but quite delicious.

cream puffs with cherry whipped cream

Makes about 30 small puffs


for the puffs:

  • ½ stick unsalted butter
  • ½ teas sugar
  • ¼ teas salt
  • ½ cup water
  • 2/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs plus one large egg white

for the filling:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbs confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 teas vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbs cherry jam
  • 2 teas Kirschwasser or cherry liquor

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bring butter, sugar, salt, and water to a boil in a small sauce pan. Reduce heat to medium-high and quickly stir in flour with a wooden spoon, (I don’t know the science behind this but it’s a thing. Though I’ve used a silicon whisk to no ill effect.), and cook for about 1 ½ minutes, stirring constantly until mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan. You now have something akin to play-dough. Transfer to a bowl and beat with a mixer on low speed until cool, about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs and egg white one at a time, increase speed to medium and beat for another two minutes until a soft peak forms when you touch the dough with your finger. (Don’t attempt to tough the dough with your finger while the mixer is still on.) Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with ½ plain tip (Ateco #806) or place in a ziplock bag and snip off the tip to create about a ½ inch wide hole.

Pipe dough into 30 1-1 ¼ inch mounds onto two parchment lined cookie sheets. Smooth each mound with a wet finger and bake until puffed and golden, about 30 minutes. Let cool completely before filling.

While puffs are cooling, combine heavy cream, confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Beat with a wire whisk or hand mixer until soft peaks form. Add alcohol and jam and whip until combined and peaks stiffen, about a minute or two more.

Fill puffs. Use a frosting gun with a long narrow tip to inject the puffs with cream near the top or side, or if you don’t have one, carefully slice off a thin top of the puff, spoon in or pipe in using a plastic bag with the corner cut off, and replace the lid. Dust with cocoa powder. Serve immediately.


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