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Baking to Perfection

When I was younger I was a ballet dancer with a pretty strict, but pretty damn good youth ballet company.  Our director was a bit of a tyrant, she’d scream and yell, she was hard on us, and she wanted us to be hard on ourselves too.  I remember falling in class once and she stopped the music and said “Are you mad at yourself?”  I said yes, and she said “You should be.  You should be furious with yourself.  You messed up, don’t do it again.”  This was no Montessori ballet training, we weren’t all winners, some of us sucked, and when we sucked, we were pissed.  I carried this trait with me to adulthood.  If I made a mistake on a test, if I couldn’t hold a pose in yoga, if I the burnt toast, I was MAD at myself.

I used to think this was a good attribute; it held me accountable for my behavior, it allowed me to hold my actions up to a certain standard.  I made dinner one night, I thought it was only decent, but my husband loved it.  I began to go through the laundry list of things I’d do differently: add more salt here, cook 30 seconds less, add this spice, remove this vegetable, on and on I went.  My husband finally said “Just enjoy the food, it’s delicious, and it’s ok that it isn’t perfect.”  It made me realize that I have set unrealistic expectations for myself.  Not everything has to be picked apart, analyzed, criticized; some things are allowed to be just okay.

This idea is still something I have to work towards.  Earlier this year I had a bit of a meltdown at the restaurant where I work.  I was making red velvet cake to serve on our pre fixe Valentine’s Day menu, the pressure was on for it to be perfect.  It came out of the oven, it cooled, it was iced, it was cut and served…it was dry.  Like, bone dry.  So what did I do?  Sat on the floor and cried.  I ruined everyone’s Valentine’s days.  Instead of ending their meal on a sweet and sexy note, they were going home to write on Yelp that their meal sucked, right?  What I should have done instead of having a meltdown was start over again and do it better the next time, but I got in my own way.  This is a habit of mine.

Recently I came across a show on Netflix called the Great British Baking Show (or GBBS as we’ve come to call it in our household.)  As you can put together from the name, it’s a bunch of british people baking.  But it’s so much more than that, the contestants are all home bakers, not professionals, competing for the title of ‘Star Baker.”  It’s a delightful show and safe to say that I’m obsessed (you should watch it, it’s awesome)  But the reason I mention it now is because there have been more than a few times contestants have had similar meltdowns where they cry, or throw their bakes in the “bin.”  But the bakers who come out on top keep their cool, their creations aren’t perfect, they have flaws, they are a little dry, or a little messy, or whatever, but they keep their heads on, they present their bakes with pride, and they know they will do better next time without beating themselves up every week.
In life, but particularly in my cooking and baking (which consumes a majority of my life,) I have to learn to take it in stride, to accept my mistakes and do better next time.  I will have to practice a bit of patience with myself, strive for perfection, but know that it’s okay to screw up once in a while.  I tell myself that now, but as I gear up to bake my next boozy baking concoction, there will most certainly be tears…but here’s to trying harder next time.  Cheers and ciao!

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