Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Most Accurate Self-Confidence Test: Baking

Does anyone else feel like like they've really put themselves on the line when you do something as simple as bake a batch of brownies for your friends? I don't know if it's just me, but I put a frighteningly large amount of emotions into my food prep. It's like the most OCD perfectionist hiding inside me comes out and I have to make sure that what I'm making is perfect. I know it's because I'm of the strong belief that the food you make is a representation of yourself, and that I guess I hold the same standard for the food I give to the way I live my life, but whatever I'm making, whether living or cooked, it has to have the perfect taste, texture, smell, and visual appeal.

Some people say that this feeling comes from the idea that sharing food you've made to others is one of the best ways for someone to know you in a deeper way than simply through what they can superficially see. The way you cook cannot tell lies. Through the way you present and prepare your food, people can tell whether you're artistic, creative, if you pay attention to detail, if you're sloppy, if you tend rush things, if you prefer image over substance, or even substance over presentation. Giving homemade food to others is such an iconic way to show people how you feel about them, and ultimately show others how you identify as a person. Is that an excessive claim? Maybe, but I stand by it.

My real reason for this post is that I think that above all things, preparing food, especially baking, is the ultimate test of self-confidence. Baking is a chemistry. One of the draws of preparing raw/living foods is that it's really hard to mess up. Sure you might just make things taste bland or like a brick, but you can always amend it. There is no failing. You can't burn or overcook raw foods, and if you oversalt it or make it too spicy, just add more ingredients to compensate and you're fine! However, going back to baking, you have to put in just the right amount of baking soda for the ideal amount of fluff, just the right ratio of fat to sweetener to create the perfect texture, set just the right timing to have the perfect end result. Just two minutes too long and your cake has gone from moist to dry and pasty, your cookies have gone from ooey gooey to teeth breaking, it's way more of a science than meets the eye!

Obviously, to achieve all the perfect dish, the perfect baked good, you have to trust yourself. You have to trust that you've prepared food a thousand times, trust that you know just how much sugar to add and just how much flour to sift if the batch isn't quite right. You have to trust that when you wrote down "12 minutes" in your recipe book that it's not a minute more or less. If you start second-guessing your talent, if you start thinking that someone else might know better, if you start thinking that maybe you didn't do it 100% right the last time and maybe if you just tweaked this a little... it never ends! And you'll never be satisfied with your result.

All this to say that I decided to bake vegan chocolate chip cookies last night to bring to one of my classes today. The process completely unleashed my inner self-doubter. I was following a recipe I'd tried once before and that I knew was perfect. After following it to a tee (which you may already know I never do) I set them in the oven (being raw, this is the second time I've used the oven in our new place in 6 months) and set out to wait exactly 11 minutes for perfection to ensue. When the timer dinged I took a look. They looked like gorgeous, fluffly, gooey perfection. Done right? Of course not. My first thought? Just take them out and set them to cool. My second thought? Maybe they're undercooked, maybe people prefer crunchy cookies, maybe I should ask Andrew for a second opinion, maybe people will get indigestion if I feed them uncooked cookie dough, maybe I should have made oatmeal raisin, maybe they'll just taste terrible and people will hate me. Maybe maybe maybe... I should just put them back in the oven. And for some inexplicable reason, I did... and kind of forgot about them. 5 minutes went by, and I knew I'd wrecked my whole plan. By the time the cookies cooled they were on the-way-too-crunchy side of crunchy, and I was so bummed out. The perfect impression I wanted to give was ruined. For all I thought at the time, I'd get flat out kicked out of my PhD program for being a bad baker. And did it ever bother me! I think I whined about it for hours until I was dragged to bed.

Why did this happen at all? Why didn't I just leave them after 11 minutes and call it done? Because I doubted myself. I doubted my ability as the damn good vegan baker I know I am. Ah, to doubt. It never leads anywhere good. I may have mentioned this before, but my former employer and friend, Carey Hayes, sous-chef to her extraordinary son, Chef Luke, of Luke's Gastronomy in Kingston, gave me one of the greatest pieces of advice of all time: "Never excuse yourself for the food you've made." And it's true. While I still do it all the time, I know in my heart of hearts that she is right. After all, I've made something. This is my work, my hobby, my art. I should proud of it in the same way that I take such joy in it. This is an expression of me and I should be have nothing to forgive about any aspect of what I have to offer. Rather than "don't cry over spilt milk," seriously, I shouldn't have cried over a batch of slightly overbaked cookies.

All in all, always serve what you've made with your head held high. If it's really that much of a wreck, just tuck it away somewhere in your pantry or fridge, deal with it later, and make another batch. In the time, as Andrew said, "You've made people a batch of cookies. I really don't think they'll complain!" Happy (un)cooking!

1 comment:

  1. Oooh.. I'm sure they were delicious:) AND.. I totally know that gut-twisting feeling of having baked something I felt fell short of my own expectations about how it should've turned out... I want the food I offer to be a perfect expression of my love for the folks who eat it! Andrew's probably right though (grin). Most people are just so happy to be gifted with food, and homemade food at that, that they'll just look at you quizzically when you apologize..