Monday, June 18, 2012

Lessons Learned?

It's a chilly Monday morning and June is already half over. Am I the only one feeling sideswiped by the speeding-up of time? I long for the days when I was 12 and summer vacation lasted f-o-r-e-v-e-r. Actually, no. You couldn't pay me to go back to life when I was 12. Except maybe for a day, just so I could take back all the power I'd handed over to undeserving people.

Lately I've been trying to view my life through a lens of "lessons learned." Pausing mid-stream, looking around at where I am, and asking myself what I've learned from this experience, or what I may be in the process of learning. Sometimes there's an answer, sometimes just a blank cartoon bubble and that frustratingly aimless feeling.

Already I can tell you I've learned a lot from my days off as an impostor-baker. I've learned how to make granola - a really, really good granola that gets me out of bed every morning - which has, in turn, taught me that I actually like granola.

I got to be on TV and share my buttermilk drop biscuits, where I learned that if your pre-measured baking powder sticks to its little cup, just pretend it didn't and keep going. Well, I also learned - re-learned, let's say - the importance of laughing at myself and moving on.

I've learned that it's one thing to serve beautiful baked things to friends and family at home, quite another to serve them to customers at a coffee shop. At home, I can coerce people into eating and enjoying what I make. They can claim, "Oh that's too pretty to eat," to which I can reply, "I know! And I'm cutting you a piece right now. Dig in!"

But at the coffee shop I have to watch people pass these things by, enviously declaring them "too pretty to eat." As if we weren't worthy of beauty. I can't protest, cut a slice, and shove it in their face. By the end of the week, I end up dumping my masterpiece in the compost bucket. People seem more comfortable with slightly sloppy sweets, the irregular cookie, the simple cupcake, and I've adjusted my menu accordingly.

I've had a lot of firsts already. I've cooked with rhubarb, made quiche and blanched almonds and whipped egg yolks into a frosting that was so good, I literally had to ask one of the staff to dispose of the leftovers. I've enjoyed the company of young people who are still gazing into the world with fresh, optimistic eyes. And I was called "chef" by a man who'd worked at a restaurant I reviewed in San Francisco 20 years ago. He gave me his resume. I nearly imploded from mortification.

The pretty stuff? I'm already looking forward to releasing all that pent-up creative energy on family when they all visit next month. They'll be hit with so much pretty they won't know what to do. "Worldwide Gluten Usage Quadruples," the headlines will read. "Sources cite Maine baker as cause."

What have gone over well are the Claramels. I love making them - I especially love the luxury of being able to wander over to the giant shiny La Marzocco machine, previously off-limits to me as a customer, and pour my own steaming shots of espresso. I love hearing people come in and ask if the Claramels are ready yet.

How refreshing to communicate with people in a primal, nonverbal way. Don't get me wrong, I'm a writer, I love words. But I also love seeing someone take a bite, pause, close her eyes, and go somewhere you can't possibly lead with words alone.

And the book? Weirdly enough, the very day I asked myself what I was learning from the writing process was the the day I finished the manuscript.

It's still a teenager barely out of high school. Much work remains. This is the Knitter's Book of Clara*, by far the most meaningful and personal thing I've done to date. I'm proud of it and terrified at the same time. I've made something that's very real in my mind, but just a handful of trusted people have even seen it or reacted to it yet. The road is still long. I don't even know what the book will look like or when it will be published, and lord knows I have no idea if you'll like it or not. I so hope you will.

For now, it's in the best possible hands, so I'll try to let go and keep moving forward. I'm noodling on something big and exciting to do with wool, which I hope to be able to announce in the coming months. With it? I imagine a slew of lessons ahead, just waiting to be learned.

What about you? Has life taught you any lessons lately?

*No that's not the real title