I've been reviewing a lot of my cookbooks lately. For inspiration, for love, for curiosity. As much as I love the recipes - reading them, creating them, tasting them - I love the introductions and stories woven throughout cookbooks just as much, and sometimes more, than the lovely recipes themselves. I've said this before, and I'm sure I'll say it hundreds more times, baking is storytelling. Baking is history and culture and family. When I read about other people's relationship with food, I always feel at home. Or maybe it's better to say, I feel at home in someone else's home, like I've been invited over for dinner and maybe we've already had two glasses of wine and everyone is comfortable and I'm enjoying a space I've been welcomed into as if it is my own.
I started this week with Christina Tosi's book Milk: Momofuku Milk Bar. It's a recipe book full of fun and surprises, and while some of the ingredients have sent me on wild goose chases, I've always enjoyed the outcome of the desserts included in the book. Her recipe for birthday cake is incredible and adaptable - it's the recipe that I played with to land on my Peach & Cream Cake. Today, though, it was rainy in Bloomington and I was home alone for a few hours. It wasn't that I was feeling sad, but I was feeling quiet and on the inside of myself. I wanted to read something more personal than just the recipe. In her introduction, Tosi says of first starting to bake at Momofuku, "There were a lot of horrible mistakes that never made it to the menu. Somedays I made five things that sucked. Then one day something would taste really good. And climbing up the hill became less painful than the downward spiral of failure."
Food is subjective. The taste of it, I mean. We've all had moments of pure love-bliss with a dish that our best friend tells us is utter shit. These things can happen. But more often I have found that when someone loves a dish, it tastes good and a lot of other people will love it too. The ones who don't love it will maybe even be able to tell that the food is actually good, just not to their tastes. I like this about food and baking. I like that there is an element of subjectiveness to the outfit, but it's nowhere near as extreme (or it seems to me) as say, writing a novel. And I like that when you create good food you're sharing something sustaining, something you can hold, with another person.
But that doesn't mean that there aren't days when every egg that I touch seems to crack into the batter. Or when my macaron feet just won't rise. Or when I totally forget to add the eggs to the batter period. Or, worse, honestly, just the worst, when I feel like I've done every single damned thing right and, still, it tastes like shit. Or looks like shit. It's good on days like that to hear Tosi, acclaimed chef and lovely writer, say that she sucked it up sometimes too. It isn't fun to say it, and it is such a cliché, but the failures are so much more necessary than the successes. I don't know how many coarse-crumbed or sinking hole cakes I made before I figured out what to do. Or how many times I lost my temper at a pie plate that hadn't done anything in the least wrong.
Isn't failure such an asshole?
I was sure that this week, tackling a layer cake when I had about one hour before I had to head out the door to work, would be a week of baking failures. I even left the cake in the oven as I sped away, left it with Justin to make the cake-call for pulling it out of the oven (he did incredible, really). I was wrong. I'm wrong so many times a day. The cake did fall apart a bit in in the middle when Justin flipped it out of the pan. But we used it as a bottom layer, crushed those middle pieces right back into the cake, and carried on to a delightful peaches and cream layer cake. Baking makes you roll with the punches. Or at least, it's forced me to learn to do that. It's made me learn to relinquish control. Taught me to walk out the door when there's nothing else I can do and trust that it will turn out all right. Or it won't. And I'll start from the beginning. There's always more flour.
I hope you're okay this week. And if you're not, I hope you're okay next week. If you can, make this cake with me. It might get you to a quiet place.