Even in grief, we grow: Finding the sweet spot in the pandemic with homemade marshmallows
Anyone else feeling the bitter and the sweet these days?
Last week alone was a roller coaster. I have three close relatives who are all dealing with COVID-19, and it’s been tough to try to support them from outside their homes.
In my sister’s case, she lives in Idaho, so I couldn’t do much more than order chicken soup, mandarin oranges and kombucha for a surprise delivery from Whole Foods. My cousins, who live in Austin, are well taken care of by their mama hen, but when they came down with COVID-19 earlier this month, I felt a little of that mama hen energy.
But how to help? Neither of them could taste anything. I’ve heard that the roasted orange trick helps when you’re already on your way to recovery but not when you’re in the early stages of this virus. I thought maybe they’d enjoy some chicken noodle soup, if not for the taste but the nourishing socially distanced hug it represents, so I pulled out some frozen chicken breasts and asked my 14-year-old to help chop up some onions, celery and carrots.
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This was just a few days ahead of the inauguration, before poet Amanda Gorman so beautifully described what has been going on in this country and in my own home. “Even as we grieved, we grew ... even as we hurt, we hoped ... even as we tired, we tried.” Those were the words that kept ringing in my ears after hearing her recitation. Even as we grieved, we grew. How true have those words been over the past few years?
During the pandemic, we lost both of our pets, and in the years leading up to COVID-19, my kids bravely joined me at funeral after funeral. Both of my grandmothers. A sweet little 4-year-old girl whom I’d met through Season for Caring. A friend we lost to suicide. My dad.
Every person is feeling grief and hurt, growth and hope in their own way this year, and Gorman’s words — “The loss we carry, a sea we must wade” — reminded me that it’s OK to lean into these ups and downs.
My kids and I have been pretty tired lately, and not for a lack of sleep. All these hours spent on Zoom. Gray days that make them want to stay inside. Week after week of not getting to see their friends.
The last thing Julian probably wanted to do that day was chop up a bunch of onions, but even as he tired, he tried. He’s been working on his knife skills lately, so he wanted to know precisely how big I wanted the onions chopped and what exactly I meant by “cubed” carrots.
I’m learning how important it is to show in the kitchen, even if it’s a skill he’s seen before, so I gave him a few examples and then walked away from the cutting board.
Cooking together is a dance we’re still learning. He wants to learn culinary basics because he can start to see a time in his life when he’s living away from home. My younger son, however, wants to help when there’s sugar involved.
Gorman: “And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.”
What stood before me was a rare moment when both kids were away from their video games and totally present in the kitchen.
“Wanna make marshmallows?" I asked.
The Instant Pot chicken soup could take care of itself, so we pulled out the sugar, gelatin and KitchenAid mixer. Avery used his YouTube aficionado skills to find a recipe video we could watch as a refresher. (The last time I made homemade marshmallows was 2010, when I wrote a story about DIY s’mores.)
Joshua Weissman, a popular YouTuber who is now living in Austin, gave us a six-minute tutorial about prepping the pans, heating the sugar and whisking with the gelatin and water mixture. We started measuring the ingredients and the energy of the house shifted. After so many days of worrying about my sick family members and what was going on in Washington, D.C., and whether the kids were going to experience anything “normal” ever again, I felt that hope, that growth that Gorman would soon speak of.
The boys were goofing around and chatting away, liberated for a moment from the constant pull of their devices, which have been their primary source of both entertainment and interaction with their friends for what feels like an eternity.
We all watched as the temperature of the boiling sugar continued to rise. As soon as it hit 240 degrees, we pulled it off the stove and slowly poured it into the bowl of the stand mixer. The smell of hot sugar filled the kitchen, feeding the kids’ excitement. After a few minutes of whisking, we saw the white fluffy marshmallow batter that we’d just seen on the video. I stopped the machine and let them each have a taste of the pillowy warm sugar. I thought they were going to melt onto the floor from sheer delight.
Moments like this are as special to me as the big ones, like watching the first female vice president make history on those Capitol steps or hearing that stunning piece from the young poet laureate.
“Bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free. ... Our love becomes our legacy.” Yes, Amanda Gorman. Yes.
I don’t know what my kids will remember about this pandemic, this historic inauguration or that time we dropped off chicken soup and homemade marshmallows to our cousins who had COVID, but I hope they’ll remember the feeling of wading through a sea of loss and pain to find the light, be the light and maybe even share it, sweetly.
More from Addie Broyles:
- 10 lessons from M.F.K. Fisher about cooking during hard times
- 'Everybody is cooking more': Meet the spice company in Manor adding flavor to Austin dishes
- Baking our way through love, loss and apple season
What a treat to have homemade marshmallows on hand. We had gelatin stocked, which made making these even easier than I remembered. Keep an eye on that sugar mixture; you don't want it to go much hotter than 240 degrees or else the marshmallows will be tough. A stand mixer makes the last step particularly easy, but you could use a handheld mixer, too. We knew we were gifting some of these marshmallows, so we stored them in Mason jars, making sure that every side of the cube had a light dusting of powdered sugar to keep them from sticking together.
— Addie Broyles
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup potato starch or cornstarch
3 packages (22 grams) unflavored gelatin (a small box, such as those sold by Knox, usually contains four packages)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups light corn syrup
Small pinch salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Mix together the powdered sugar and potato starch. Spray an 8-inch-by-8-inch baking pan with a light coat of oil and then dust on the bottom and sides with some of the powdered sugar and starch mixture, reserving the extra.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with either a whisk, stir together the gelatin with 1/2 cup water. (It will congeal while you heat the sugar mixture.)
In a medium saucepan, combine another 1/2 cup water with the granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, stir well and then cook for about 10 minutes until the mixture reaches the soft ball candy stage, between 235 and 240 degrees. (Don't guess on this step. Use a thermometer, preferably a candy thermometer. Don’t stir the mixture while it simmers, and turn down the heat if it starts to foam.) Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.
Turn the mixer on low speed and slowly pour the hot sugar syrup into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes white and thick. Add vanilla during the last minute of whipping. (You can substitute other extracts, but note that some, such as peppermint, are stronger in flavor and won't require the full amount. This is the stage where you also can add a few drops of food coloring, if desired.) You want the marshmallow mixture to be pourable, but thick enough that it looks like it’s pouring in slow motion.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. Dust the top some of the remaining powdered sugar mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit, uncovered at room temperature, for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
When you're ready to cut the marshmallows, loosen the sides and bottom of the solidified mixture with a spatula that has been dusted with the sugar and cornstarch mixture. Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board that has been dusted with the sugar and cornstarch mixture. Coat a knife with the sugar mixture and then cut the marshmallows into squares. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.
— Adapted from a recipe by Joshua Weissman
Addie Broyles writes about food, food culture and home cooking for the American-Statesman. She can be reached at email@example.com.