Skip to main content
This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

In case you had any doubt that my mind spins ceaselessly, telling itself stories and reconstructing memories and looking for the pattern in the chaos, I did something today that reminded me of something else. Sometimes I think I wouldn’t remember anything if it wasn’t for thinking of something else. There are lots of memory tricks, and association is one of them, so maybe I’m just brilliant.

And since the word is staring me right in the face, let’s go with association, which is what I made today between dessert and a course I hated in college.

Come along.

I’ve been on a mission over the past few months to clean out my pantry. I have a bad habit of buying things, then forgetting why I bought them. I also, in spite of nearly 25 years of marriage that included only the two of us, have a bad habit left over from living in a family of eight people, of buying things in multiples. If a recipe says I need a can of tomato paste, I have to buy two, because what if another recipe needs it?

Or if the wild rice is, say, $5 for one bag or $7 for two, it makes much more economic sense to buy two even though I now have wild rice for the next three years.

Anyway, my pantry got to be a little annoying. So I’ve been systematically using things up that are extra, and finding recipes for the forgotten things, and actually making room for the things that get used every day.

One of last of the leftover things was a can of sweetened condensed milk. I think I bought it once because Ralph wanted to try it in his coffee, but actually I got two because… what if he really liked it? Then he would want another.

This can of sweetened condensed milk has been in there for a long time.

I had a few minutes today to do nothing at all, so I looked up recipes to use it. The problem was that most of them required other things, and the point of this particular project is to use up, not to buy more.

I found one recipe that looked good, a basic thumbprint cookie with a dulce de leche center made from sweetened condensed milk. Super!

Except. First you have to submerge the can in a pot of water, then you have to boil it for three hours. Three hours! Then you have to take it out of the water and let it cool for a few more until you can actually make anything out of it. That is way too much overhead.

Then I came across a recipe for Brigadeiros.

I’ve eaten them before, I’ve even made them before, and they’re good. They are like super soft chocolate caramels. But mostly they are stupid simple to make. A can of sweetened condensed milk, some cocoa and a tiny bit of butter. Cook, roll them into balls, drop them into a bowl of sprinkles and voila! Magical dessert and one less can in my pantry.

Also, in a pinch, you can just eat them by the spoonful right out of the pot and save yourself the effort of actually making them. In case you were wondering.

Making these today reminded me of a college class that I hated with every fiber of my being. I wish I had a better association because somehow I can’t help thinking about this class whenever I see these things, which is kind of a shame. Brigadeiros deserve better than that.

It may surprise you to learn, given my propensity for words and the fact that Ralph and I put out a podcast with over a hundred episodes, that the one thing I hate even more than getting into an elevator when I have to pee is public speaking.

Not just public speaking, as in getting up in front of a crowd and having to talk, but having to speak at all in front of more than two people at a time.

Ralph and I went to BNI meetings every week for many years, and every week you would have to get up in front of a room of the same 20 or 30 people, and talk for 30 seconds about your business. I knew everyone in that room. Many of them were my clients. Some of them were on our podcast. I had a great time talking with them one-on-one and we had good relationships.

But every week having to stand up and talk for that 30 seconds was cause for great anxiety.

Most times I wasn’t even there for myself. I would go on behalf of someone else who couldn’t make the meeting, and I would read their prepared script instead.

Standing up in a room of 30 people who I knew and liked and had good relationships with, reading off of a prepared script that someone else wrote, was cause for great anxiety.

Phobias are not supposed to be rational.

This college class, it was a class in public speaking, a requirement in my freshman year. I don’t actually remember learning anything. I only remember having to stand up week after week and say things.

One week we were instructed to give a demonstration. As part of the demonstration, we needed to include a component for audience participation.

We had two weeks to plan and prepare. But no matter how much I thought about it, I couldn’t think of what on earth to demonstrate. It’s not like I could juggle or do origami.

In the end I settled on a cooking demonstration.

This, by now, should surprise no one.

What should also surprise no one is how that particular demonstration went.

I decided that I would demonstrate how to make Brigadeiros. All I needed was three ingredients, a pan, and one of those college dorm hot pot burners.

One of the things it’s important to know about Brigadeiros is that they are sticky. In order to roll them, you have to butter your hands then roll quickly and drop them in the sprinkles before they turn to gluey mush. It’s challenging to do on a good day, let alone on a day when you’re in a panic because you’re standing in front of a room of your college peers.

The demonstration was bad enough. I ended up mostly covered in chocolate glue, with cocoa powder scattered all over the floor from where my shaking hands had dropped it.

The audience participation part was pure chaos.

Picture a room full of college freshmen, buttering their hands and trying to roll tiny balls of sticky caramel.

At least I wasn’t the only one covered in chocolate glue by the time it was over. On the plus side, everyone was too busy gleefully licking their fingers to notice me anymore, because I really just wanted to evaporate and never be seen again.

The only thing the instructor said to me was that I should have given more history about the candy I was preparing.

That was my brush with food TV fame. I decided that I’d be much better off making my disasters quietly.

So now Brigadeiros are eternally associated in my brain with college public speaking, and in a way, I’m glad that can of sweetened condensed milk is gone because I don’t really ever want to make them again. I should’ve just boiled the can.

But then I wouldn’t have had a word, or a story to go with it.

So I will go enjoy my 9th Brigadeiro now (don’t judge) and back seat some Destiny like you do on a good Saturday night. And we’ll see what word tomorrow brings.

Photo: a few Brigadeiros that made it into the sprinkles, before I ate them out of the bowl.