my beautiful seven ::::
We have been in our new home now for almost four months. We have multiple skylights throughout the house that bring in beautiful diffuse gray blue light no matter the time of day. There is an ebb and flow in the tone of gray as the clouds pass over or as the sun arcs. There are picture windows in the front room that provide light from the south, east, and west, lighting the room without electricity until twilight. There is light in every direction.
This scattered multidirectional light is like my children. There is an ebb and flow to each. Sometimes I think I have caught just the perfect light for a photo, only to be surprised at how quick it changes, a gray cast, a shadow, a frowny face. Peach shines that light the brightest at times, yet also obscures it the most, as if I am looking into an abyss. Author and scholar Zora Neale Hurston wrote “Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.” I suppose I first felt this light when Peach was first born, cradling her tiny, pink body next to mine, my mind staggering drunk with exhaustion, my whole body in pain, but I felt it. It’s when you well up so strongly with these feelings, you can’t help but peek your head out to see the marvel.
And there are the pockmarks of being human, with anger and frustration. I hear her, with her angry words. And actions. And tumult that just eats away at my soul. Until I had children, I didn’t realize just how eardrum-rattling shrill a human being could be. I also didn’t realize the children could have tantrums that can go on for hours without a break. I’m sure that I had tantrums (without such hateful words, mind you) like this when I was a child and I was probably just as shrill as my children (karma, right?). I think time and denial have blocked those out sufficiently. Children are certainly tenacious in many ways, Peach’s stubborn resilience being more than I had ever encountered from cousins or friends’ children when I was childless. I spent much of her infancy and toddlerhood worried about not spending enough time with her. At the time, I was in residency training and essentially tethered to the hospital. Much of our catch-up time was at night when we co-slept. As she has grown, we’ve made special carve-out times to do art projects on the weekend, play at the park, and try to re-connect after a long week.
But that reconnection can sour quickly, when there isn’t enough rejuvenation on her terms (in her words, “candy”, “mint chocolate chip ice cream”, “more cookies” are often the panacea). In the midst of angry words from a child, love may be exposed from its former hiding place, but expect it to be bruised up for awhile. I’ve talked to many parents about our children’s tantrums. The advice is to not take it personally; but it’s hard not to. This being, this person, once so tiny and fragile, is now a battering ram of carefully chosen hurtful words or pressing buttons to purposely annoy (and get attention). Because she is frustrated. Because she doesn’t know how to process her big feelings. Because I look like the bad guy. So my love is out of hiding but wanting protection, weary, needing a break from this ever-constant pull and tug of my soul to others’ ends.
But this is not about my soul, it’s about a birthday, given a dose of reality. I’m not cropping out the sadness of reality when it comes to parenting. No parent is perfect. No child is perfect. We just are. Peach and I will continue to grow, she will find other buttons to push and rejoice in special one-on-one time we spend together. “Mommy,” she said out of the blue, nary a piece of candy in sight, “I like spending time with you.”
She will show me her next wiggly tooth. She will draw a picture of a beautiful queen for me. She squealed because I made coconut cream puffs for her birthday, just like she wanted. And she helped poke holes in the shells so that she could fill them. We had a great time at the kids’ cooking school for her party, making pizza and decorating purple cupcakes. She sat on my lap and snuggled after our cat of 14 years died earlier this month. She will hold my hand for awhile longer, because she knows too, we are always changing. Just like the light, we are changing.
Happy seventh birthday, Peach. I love you. I love you.
One year ago: black cocoa cookie-coffee-almond ice cream sandwiches, salted pumpkin and pepita caramels, strawberry cream cheese frosting (from Peach’s sixth birthday)
I’ve used multiple sources for the recipes, but the core of each came from two sources:. The cream puff shell (choux ball) recipe from http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/cream-puff-shells. The pastry cream recipe from http://www.cookingchanneltv.com/recipes/laura-calder/croquembouche.html with my modification of coconut milk for cream and the addition of whipping cream to make diplomat cream. If you like coconut, this is the stuff to make. It is like a cloud.
- FOR THE PATE DE CHOUX (this makes about 40 small puffs):
- 1¼ cups water
- ¾ cup butter
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 5 eggs
- FOR THE DIPLOMAT CREAM FILLING: 2 cups (500 ml) full-fat coconut milk*
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 egg yolks
- ½ cup (100 grams) sugar
- ⅓ cup (40 grams) all-purpose flour
- pinch of salt
- 2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream, whipped
- FIRST, MAKE THE CREAM PUFF SHELLS: In a large saucepan, bring the water, butter and salt to a boil.
- Add flour all at once and stir constantly until a smooth ball forms.
- Remove from the heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes.
- Add eggs, one at a time, beating well with a whisk after each. It will look curdled at first. Don't worry: this will change.
- Continue beating until mixture is shiny and silky.
- If you feel your batter is a bit thin, put it into the fridge for a few minutes. You need to have a little thickness in the batter to pipe successfully. Fill up your piping bag and pipe 2-inch rounds (or larger, depending on what your crowd wants) about 3 inches apart onto parchment-lined or silicon-lined baking sheets. You can use a muffin scoop too, if you want larger puffs. I piped almost 40 small puffs, but made a couple of large ones, specifically for a birthday candle placement.
- If you want a shiny crust: in a separate bowl, whisk the milk and an egg; brush over puffs. (I did not do this -- the puffs were still beautiful.)
- Bake at 400 degrees F for 15 minutes, then turn down oven to 350 degrees F WITHOUT OPENING OVEN DOOR and bake for about 10 more minutes. For my small puffs, this was perfect timing for a golden crust and crisp insides. The large puffs needs a little more time. Remove from oven and immediately poke undersides with a straw to allow steam to escape while cooling and prevent sogginess.
- Cool on wire racks until cool enough to handle.
- (Or, you can split puffs open, remove tops, and set aside. Discard soft dough from inside. Fill when cooled.)
- TO MAKE THE DIPLOMAT CREAM: Heat coconut milk in saucepan. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the milk and throw in the pod (or stir in extract).
- Bring to an ever-so-slight boil, then remove from the heat, cover, and set aside to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, beat the yolks and sugar until pale, thick ribbons form.
- Gradually beat in the flour and salt.
- Whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture in a thin stream, tempering the mixture.
- Return the mixture to the saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring CONSTANTLY until the mixture thickens. It make look a little curdled; don't worry, just keep stirring and nip down the heat. Strain and set aside to cool with buttered plastic wrap on top to prevent a skin from forming. You can make this up to a week in advance, keeping in the fridge until ready to use.
- When cool or removed from the fridge, fold in the whipped cream. Hey, you're ready to fill these babies! But wait -- think about your GOALS first....WHEN you decide to fill your shells depends on your mouthfeel goal. Do you like a crisp shells and an oozy inside? Wait until about an hour or less before serving to fill these. I find 4 hours is okay too, if not humid weather. If you like a chewy, softer shell with your custard, fill hours in advance, and keep chilled until serving. Some people also have luck with filled shells, freezing, and thawing completely. I find the shells are more soft and sometimes soggy. They are still delicious; you just don't have the textures of crispy/soft to enjoy.
- FILLING THE PUFFS: Once you have folded in your whipped cream into the pastry cream, fill another pastry bag with a wide tip with mixture. Pipe into previously punctured puffs, filling so some of the cream starts to ooze. Repeat with as many shells as you want to use. Or, you can freeze unfilled shells.
- Next, find your favorite caramel or chocolate sauce and drizzle thin strands on top. Peach requested caramel, which I was going to make, but we ran out of time. I used a high-quality store-bought caramel sauce and sprinkled on unsweetened coconut. While Peach's friends were not crazy about the flavor, the adults and our family loved it. Coconut is a crowd pleaser for us!
- IF FREEZING SHELLS: Freeze unfilled for up to 3 months, about 2 months on filled shells. If unfilled, remove from the freezer 15 minutes before filling. If they are not as crisp as you would like them, refresh in the oven at about 350 degrees F for 5 to 10 minutes (I never do this and never have a problem). Makes about 40 small shells.