I come to my best epiphanies either late at night or early in the morning, and usually while I’m baking. I bake not because I like to eat sweet things, but for the process that allows me to work with hands methodically while ruminating in my own mind. My favorite time at the bakery is in the early morning when I’m all alone, watching the night fade to day, the traffic slowly pick up, and people rushing by in their suits to their office jobs. I don’t envy them. I don’t have to talk to anyone and can listen to whatever music I fancy that day and as loud as I want it while I move my nimble fingers across the crimp of a pie. The head pastry chef at my bakery calls this her “zen space” and I’ve found that statement to be quite true.
2013 has been a challenge in many ways. I can’t even count the amount of lessons learned, tears shed, and miles covered. It’s been a tumultuous year in every way possible; relationships ending and beginning, leaving a familiar community to start over in an unfamiliar one, draining my bank account to the last drop and replenishing it over and over, switching several jobs, galavanting through Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Canada.
I use to fancy myself sentimental but I find little use for it these days because it indicates a longing for the past or events in the future that have yet to happen. I think, for the first time in my life, I can say that I am truly living in the present… and it feels damn good. So without rambling on too much longer, I would like to review the 2 most important realizations I came to in 2013, that happened to be while I was baking at odd hours of the night.
1. I don’t know how this popped into my brain; it was Thanksgiving week and being a baker at a bakery that specializes in pie, the work was literally nonstop and my schedule insanely inconsistent. I was working all night and sleeping only a little during the day, so I became a nocturnal creature that week and my world changed definitively. I started noticing things I had never noticed before and thinking things that I never thought would cross my mind in a million years. Towards the end of the week, peoples faces started looking pretty weird. Sleep deprivation is one hell of a drug.
Anyway, it was the last night before Thanksgiving and I would enjoy 5 days off that at about 3:30 in the morning while I was making my way through a massive amount of dough, it came to me: 2 ears, 1 mouth.
It was simple biology. We have 2 ears and 1 mouth. Do you think, Caity, I thought to myself, that our creator (and I use that term very loosely) had intended that for a reason?
Shut up. Seriously, just shut up. Listen more. Listen to people’s truths for what they are and not what you want to hear. (I’ve never had a problem speaking up for myself so this concept was particularly applicable for me). So simple. The end.
2. This holiday season, I decided to make all my coworkers/friends homemade gifts. I made a few different things, one of which being sea salted soft caramels. To say the least, it was quite a tedious process, and anyone who has worked with sugar would know that. I completely overestimated myself and the time that I had to fill twelve huge mason jars with individually wrapped caramels. Cooking sugar to me is one of the most stressful but rewarding facets of pastry art. It takes forever to cook, but once it does IT GETS REALLY HOT and the temperature rises REALLY FAST. Do not ever walk away from sugar on the stove, not even for a minute. Accidentally splash yourself with some? Enjoy your nasty, bubbly burn for weeks to come.
It was the day before I was leaving town straight from work to go home for the holidays, and I had to finish my gifts. It was too late to go back, I couldn’t forfeit the project because I’d already made custom labels and dropped $80 on ingredients. I began a batch of caramel around 8pm, certain I would be a success. The caramel cools at room temperature for at least 3 hours before you can handle it. I was still awake packing and taking care of last minute things when it was finally cool enough to handle… but it hadn’t set. My caramel hadn’t set. I must have not cooked it for long enough (was my candy thermometer broken?). It had the consistency of jam. Freak out ensued for the next hour where my mind went totally blank. It was midnight. I had work at 5am. I should have been in bed hours ago. I’m not even packed. fuck.
I weighed my options. Should I make caramel apples instead? No apples. Give people jars of caramel sauce? I would only have enough for like 2 full jars. Admit defeat, call it quits and eat all the time I’d spent on the jars, labels, and packaging not to mention the cost of all of the ingredients? I don’t give up easy. I decided to throw my caramel sauce back in the pot to see if I could cook it at a higher temp and for longer, having no idea whether or not it would be successful. I sat over the hot bubbling pot for another 30 minutes, got it up to 350F before I poured it into the sheet pan, went to bed and hoped for the best. The next day I cut into my caramels. They were utter perfection; melt in your mouth but perfectly firm, bite size pieces of heaven. I went from feeling like a failed pastry chef for not succeeding the first time to feeling immensely proud of my resourcefulness and intuitive nature in the kitchen.
This led me to realize that being a good baker or chef wasn’t about making mistakes, it was about how you salvaged your mistakes. I’ve seen the culinary institute trained bakers that have been at it for years that I work alongside make huge mistakes and then attempt to fix them, more often than not successfully. Then I realized this concept could be applied to life in general. Not one person is exempt from making mistakes, it’s how you recover from your oversights with grace and resourcefulness that are indicative of your character/personal growth/etc. Valuable insights almost always come with fucking up, so regret is pretty much pointless, unless you continue to make the same mistake repeatedly.
On New Years Eve, I had 6 of my good lady friends by my side as we took tequila shots, danced our asses off, popped bottles of champagne on the bus and passed them around to strangers who became friends, poured glitter on everyone, ran around the streets of San Francisco screaming and laughing for life, turning heads everywhere we went… and I’ve never felt younger or more alive (despite the hangover). Salud, l’chaim, and cheers 2014, I wouldn’t have chosen to enter you in any other fashion.
Remember, worry is nothing but a prayer to the devil.