A small celebration
It’s my Co-PI’s birthday and to celebrate I’ve been busy. The rest of the lab took care of getting a cake and hanging the decorations. Since I split my time between two labs at the moment, I wasn’t around to help and I felt slightly guilty about it. I like my Co-PI and even though he’s (probably) leaving soon I at least wanted to do something nice for him. So in spite of all the work I had to do I got to baking.
Every year for the holidays I have a small tradition that I find some comfort in doing. I don’t have family, I don’t celebrate with friends, so instead I cook/bake for my colleagues, which at my age and with the amount of work to do are basically the only friends I have. I’m okay with this, I’m not a social person anyway so it works out that I’m forced to see these people and I like them generally speaking.
I’ve gotten good at a few comfort foods that I grew up with. None of my family were good at cooking. To be blunt there wasn’t a lot of flavor. I grew up in a mexican household (although the adults I was with were adamant about not teaching me spanish, fun times!) so you would think I would get all sorts of tasty foods, but no. It was mexican food, just bland. So over the years I’ve come up with my own recipes through trial and error. None of the stuff I make has an official recipe I’ve just made it all so many times that I can pretty much do it from memory. Each batch tastes slightly different than the last and it evolves over time to something better as I try different things or different combinations.
When the holidays rolled around last year I set off to do my usual tradition and made a few different kinds of tamales and my favorite salted caramel apple empanadas. Both my own creations through the years, but they are the staples so I knew they would be well received for the most part. Sweets almost everyone loves, savory foods are tricky sometimes, but for the most part I don’t think too many people hate what I make. I’ve never had any complaints anyway.
Well I brought in a batch of tamales and empanadas for the lab last year for the holidays. I thought it would be fun and I always love getting feedback from people so I can improve. Long story short no one in the lab got any of the treats I made. That’s because my Co-PI forgot to give them out. Being a Friday (his story anyway) he took them all. As he explains it he cautiously tried one of my empanadas and managed to eat them all before he got home, so that was a success. He had never had one before, so I take it as a complement. The tamales got eaten just as quickly apparently, so needless to say it was a success in that regard.
Since it was his birthday and we already had the cake situation figured out, I decided last minute that I would make a batch of my empanadas so the rest of the lab could finally get to try them. Normally my empanadas are a multi-day event. You need to make and chill the filling before you add the filling to the dough or you will end up with a big mess. ASK ME HOW I KNOW THIS! So my normal routine is to make the filling and the dough the day before assembly. Then the next day I put everything together and cook them. Thankfully the cooking is fast, about 20 minutes a batch of 8 and I can make roughly 16 with one ball of dough, so less than an hour after assembly I have empanadas.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have days, I had hours. Last night I set out to make them and it was a process! To quick chill the filling I first shocked it in an ice bath, then stuck it in the freezer until it was slightly less than room temperature. While it was hanging out in the freezer I made the dough, but the dough needs to chill for ~30 minutes before you can put it to use or you’ll end up with a big mess. ASK ME HOW I KNOW THIS! haha yeah there’s a lot of trial and error.
In the end it took about four hours of running around freaking out to finish. I ate way too many apple peels (which I enjoy because I’m weird like that and it seems like a waste to just throw them away), I was exhausted, I was uncomfortably close to burning the first batch, and I barely had enough butter for the dough, but damn it, I did it! The rest of the lab finally got to enjoy my empanadas and I’m happy to say they were a huge success. We actually had an experiment today and my Co-PI brought the whole container to eat a few while we were getting set up.
Overall it was a fun time and a good reminder to me to plan ahead a little better when I want to do something like that. Which is why I’m sharing this story, as a warning to myself in the future to avoid doing that again because it isn’t something I want to repeat. It was worth it for sure, but it was exhausting.
At least I got some tasty empanadas out of the deal! Maybe I’ll share my recipe someday…