I’ve always been somewhat of an artist in the kitchen. Not a Monet or Seurat or even a Van Gogh type of artist, but rather a Jackson Pollack. You know, the one that did the paint splatters. As much as I love baking, it doesn’t love me. Baking is precise. Baking takes discipline and timing and measurement. Baking does not involve burning the first two batches of cookies and calling it a success if the third one somehow manages to work out.
My first foray into baking began one night when I decided to make a cake. Now here’s where you need to take special notes as a parent. When I turned to my mom and told her I wanted to bake my own recipe, and that recipe involves using 7 eggs, she didn’t bat an eye or say anything besides, “well, let’s get started then.”
Seven eggs is a lot of eggs. That wipes out more than half the supply in one carton. Let alone what it does to a cake. Despite the hardship it may have placed on my family to have half the eggs for the week dumped into a bowl and wasted, I was allowed to experiment and bake to my little hearts content.
Seven eggs. A few cups of flour. A cup of sugar and some vanilla. I’m pretty sure I put some butter in there somewhere.
In my naivety I actually thought to myself, “I should write this down for the next time I want to bake my cake.”
Have you ever tasted a cake made with seven eggs?
It’s tastes like an omelet. But not a good omelet, a crazy bland cakey omelet.
When it came out of the oven and we eagerly dug into it, my mother politely said, “this reminds me of the dozen-egg cake we once tasted in Venezuela!”
I beamed, of course. My cake tasted like a Venezuelan dozen egg cake. I must be a very good baker.
Of course, it tasted terrible. I knew just enough that the cake was horrible, but not enough to know how horrible. Eggs are good, cakes need eggs, I had no idea seven might be a tad excessive when I started baking that cake. Of course, after baking (and tasting) that cake I realized that was too much, and oh, perhaps recipes are a good thing to use after all.
The main character in Tiny Sunbirds, a young girl named Blessing living in Nigeria, took over the cooking of a pot of soup when her grandmother was suddenly called away. Unaccustomed to cooking (she previously had a chef prepare food for her family) she added cube after cube of Maggi, rendering the soup inedible. As she plopped Maggi (bouillon) cubes into the pot, all I could picture was when I gleefully cracked those eggs and stirred them into the slop that eventually became my “cake”.
You’ve got to “do” to learn. Sure, you can follow a recipe but it’s a good thing to know why you only need 2 eggs or 4 Maggi cubes. If you don’t make mistakes now and then, you can’t learn from them. If you only follow recipes, you’ll never create dishes on your own. “Well behaved women rarely make history”, and, shouldn’t we all try to make a little bit of history?
When faced with bigger challenges than baking a cake, it’s good to know it’s okay to make mistakes. The only bad mistakes are the ones you don’t learn from. Certainly this is one theme of the book, the other being that in life, things fall apart.
Sometimes it’s just your cake or soup that turn out bad.
Other times, it’s things that are much more dear to your heart.
Sometimes things have to fall apart to become bigger and better things.
When you are standing among the ruins, you don’t often see the possibilities that can arise. Certainly you aren’t searching for lessons to be learned. As things get put back together, it’s easier to envision the more positive end result—sometimes. And sometimes things just need to suck for awhile. This week, I’m living that lesson… looking forward to coming out on the other side.
Don’t forget to leave a comment and I’ll randomly pull a name to win a copy of Tiny Sunbirds– your baking disasters, mistakes you’ve made, lessons you’ve learned, things falling apart– it all qualifies, so just comment and one of you will win this book!