Rolling Pin and Flour

Rolling Pin and Flour

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Baking Limbo

It probably goes without stating that I'm a little bit of a control freak. My husband will be happy to vouch for that statement.  I just generally like to be in control of my life and the situations I take part in.  Before I go out to dinner at a new restaurant, I like to look up the menu online.  When the weekend or a vacation is approaching, I put together a very careful plan about all of the activities that need to take place over that period of time.  I have two sponges for washing the dishes, one for the first round of scrubbing and another for the actual cleaning part.  There is also a very specific way that dishes should be placed in the dishwasher to maximize the space and resulting cleanliness of them.

While this annoying habit of mine drives many people crazy, I believe that the desire to control goes hand in hand with being a good baker.  Let's test this theory by making a comparison between baking and cooking.  In cooking, you can take a dollop of that, a pinch of this, a splash of that, never follow a recipe and come up with an amazing dish.  It's all about going with what you're feeling.  However, if you do that with baking, more often than not, you're going to have a flop on your hands.  Baking is a science.  It's all about leaveners and how they react with acids and starches and fats.  I wish I could be the carefree person that just throws some stuff in a pot and ends up with a miracle.  But I am not one of those people.  I like to measure and weigh things and follow instructions.  I like to have control over the end result.

This is all great and grand, but at some point, you have to realize that you cannot control everything.  If you live life assuming you can alter the outcome of every situation to your liking, sooner or later, you're going to end up with some pretty major disappointments.  This is why, when Pam transitioned to head cook at the Farmhouse and I lost my bread baking duties, I had to tell myself to let go a little.  This was not my decision to make and nothing I could do would change it.  This was not an easy realization for me.

The day before I left for my vacation, I went back to the Farmhouse to finish the carrot cake I had started on my previous shift.  Luckily there was a bag of flour there to greet me.  Three hours later, I had made a cheesecake and a couple carrot cakes, hoping that would be sufficient while I was away.  I headed home wondering if that had been my last shift.

I tried my best not to think about the Farmhouse for the next six days while I was on vacation, but it couldn't be helped.  When I baked bread and cheesecake for my mom, I was reminded of all of the times I had gone through the same motions at the cafe.  When we went out for burgers one night, I couldn't help but think of all the times Javier had made me a burger and been sure to add avocado to it. I couldn't help but think about the staff in the kitchen and wonder if they had the same faulty ovens that I had to work with.

There was also the question about what to tell my father.  I had been working at the cafe for five months and had managed not to speak a word about it to him yet.  My parents had been divorced since I was very young, and though we spoke at regular intervals, the conversations between he and I only scratched the surface of deeper topics.  Like many dads, he had very high expectations of me.  I knew he just wanted the best for me, but I always felt that I let him down somehow.

When I got my job in web development, we actually had something we could talk and relate about - he had done programming work in the past.  It was a good stable job with decent pay and I worked on some projects for clients with national and international reach.  There was nothing disappointing about it.  But how would my job at the cafe look to him?  Would he think I was running away from responsibility?  Giving up on a good opportunity?  Throwing a good life away?  All of these thoughts had built up over time and made it feel impossible to bring up in conversation.  But I had resolved to tell him about it on this trip.  He deserved to know about my life and the things that I had found to make it worthwhile.

Unfortunately, the opportunity never presented itself, or maybe it did and I was just a coward.  Because I couldn't control the outcome of the conversation, I was reluctant to start it.  I took the easy way out and sent him an email when I was safely on my way back to Chicago.

A couple weeks later, a cookbook arrived at my doorstep without a recognizable return address and no note.  It was written by a chef in San Francisco that had started out in the industry with only a love for good food and no culinary education.  She landed a job as a lunch chef when someone took a chance on her.  Our stories were so similar!  Where had this book come from?

A call with my dad later revealed that he had sent it.  "Her story reminded me of you," he told me.  I was touched, humbled and ashamed.  All this time I had kept my baking adventures a secret from him, and here he was being so thoughtful and accepting of it!

Armed with the support of my family and the idea that you shouldn't assume the outcome of any situation, I endured the changes at the Farmhouse; inspired to make the best of the situation, regardless of my lack of control over it.

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