Friday, January 23, 2004


It's Chefgrace's Food Friday, which means I don't have a recipe to share. I do, however, have a story that fits in nicely with D is for dessert day.

In my Tuna Salad Days I donned the traditional green cotton pants, white shirt, snappy beret, sash, pins, trinkets and other regalia which identified me as a member of the Girl Scouts. I don't recall my participation in this organization being any sort of life-changing event. It was goofing off with friends, going camping every once in awhile, selling Girl Scout Cookies, and earning enough badges to make a four-star general weep with envy. What's not to like?

One activity that I recall with a bit of gingham-checked pie-and-ice cream nostalgia was the Girl Scout bake-off. Unlike Pillsbury, we weren't required to cook it right there in the gym in front of God and country. We just had to rustle something up at home -- by ourselves -- and bring it in to be judged. I had two entries: A batch of ordinary (yet tasty) M&M cookies, and a Flan.

I did the cookies because they were yummy. It wasn't rocket science -- it was just the regular old Nestle chocolate chip cookie recipe with M&Ms instead of chocolate chips. Equally delicious before baking as they were after, M&M cookies were just fun. And it meant great school lunch dessert for the next few days.

I did the flan because I had a plan. That plan was to win, and the flan was my secret weapon.

Flans are a sort of eggy-custardy caramelish saucy concoction. They look impressive, but are a real pain to make. Flan creation involves melting sugar and coating pans and running water and trying to get the whole mess out without creating a kitchen disaster. A flan success was hard to beat. A flan failure was hard to hide. It was a culinary thrill of victory / agony of defeat kind of proposition. So I went into Olympic training, and turned out flan after flan. It was a piece of cake. Well, flan.

Bake-off day arrived. I packed up my cookies and my flan and headed out to the Middle School, feeling cool and confident.

My cookies were judged first. I sat at the table while the judge tasted my offerings. She liked them! I smiled. She offered me a cookie, and I gladly accepted. As I munched, she wrote up her comments, and then she looked at me and said, “The only criticism I have is that these cookies are not uniform in size.”

I had never heard of such a thing. It wasn’t like one was rock-sized and one was boulder sized. But she explained that I needed to measure out (with a measuring spoon and everything) equal amounts of dough, and shape them so they would look the same. I thought it was the dumbest thing I ever heard. “My family doesn’t care, so long as they taste good,” I remember mumbling in between bites.

The flan judging came a bit later. I sat at the table once again as a different judge tasted my offering. She liked it! I smiled. She offered me a piece, and I proceeded to make a classic, super deluxe Mince Pie Face.

“What’s the matter?” She asked.

“I don’t like flan,” I answered, grossed out by the very thought of eating that nasty mess.

“You don’t?” She was very confused. “Then why did you make this?”

My MPF eased into a half-smile. “I just wanted to,” I answered craftily.

I don’t think the judge ever understood. It made no difference, because I won anyway. Mission accomplished. I don’t remember what I did with the rest of the flan. All I know is that I didn’t have to eat it. I will never be a Martha, but I do know that not eating a flan is a very good thing.

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