I'm pretty good at a lot of things. I can carry a tune, make art with pastels, drive across the country, order another beer in German. I tend to hold myself to a pretty high standard with most things I do, which of course can also keep me from taking part in other activities which I'm not particularly good at: gardening, running, parallel parking.
I love to cook and bake and have definitely gotten much better at these endeavors ever since a year ago August, when I made a decision to increase the quality of every bite I take/make. I can make an authentic curry and a (finally) a pancake which is memorable for all the right reasons.
I don't often fail in the kitchen.
This is probably why yesterday's bread experience came as such a shock.
I thought I had done everything just right. The intention was to recreate The Pioneer Woman's Homemade Cinnamon Bread recipe, in anticipation of our older son's quick visit home from college. The recipe has always seemed a bit odd to me, in terms of its time-frame, but I have learned to allow more time than printed for preparation, and to be rather sceptical of its 4-hour (!) rising time. I heated the milk, cooled the milk, mixed the ingredients, kneaded the dough, supervised its first long rising, shaped it into beautiful cinnamon-sugar-filled rolled logs, and put the pans in the slightly-warmed oven for a second rise.
Then I headed off to the grocery store, to gather piles of my son's favorite snacks. Maybe that's where things went wrong?
As my errands grew to take more time than anticipated, I called home to ask my younger son to take the rising loaves out of the oven and turn the oven on.
After a couple minutes, this is what he sent me:
We've debated ever since exactly what it was that I did wrong, and there are many theories floating around. It was likely some combination of time, temperature, and that Saran Wrap.
Whatever the cause, there it was: what the kids used to call an "epic fail."
Success and failure are, of course, matters of perspective. Sometimes a bigger "fail" can be more satisfying than a little one. A big blob-monster of dough might be better than a potato soup which ended up being just a little too salty or a quiche which didn't quite get set in the middle. In AJR's song "100 Bad Days," perhaps we can all relate to:
"...Maybe a hundred bad days made a hundred good stories
A hundred good stories make me interesting at parties..."
A friend on social media once recounted the story of her pickle of a morning. Rushing around, working to deal with family needs while getting ready for her work day, she somehow knocked an entire. Huge (I'm imagining Costco huge). Jar. Of ginormous dill pickles. Pickles. And brine. Out of the fridge, to shatter on the floor.
For some reason, her response to this catastrophe (which caused no cuts or bleeding), as she stood there, splattered in green pickle vinegar, pickles swimming around her feet, was to have the presence of mind to decide she basically had two options: She could either melt into a puddle of despair right along with the gherkins, or she could laugh like a madwoman. As I recall, she chose the later.
I guess this story has stayed with me because, reading her story, I'd hoped that I, too, would chose to laugh rather than to sob. I'm not much of a sobber, but...
In a world gone rather mad, some well-intentioned loaves of over-risen cinnamon bread certainly don't rank high on the list of the world's cares. Still, I do like to be able to predict success in my endeavors. And I did want to serve my "kids" the most delicious cinnamon toast comfort food the following morning.
But no matter. There I sat in the grocery store parking lot, looking at the photo. I called Dylan back. "So..." I began, "about the bread," and took a breath. "What the hell did I do..." And then I laughed, and then we did, together.