by Guest Carla Laureano
The first book in my Supper Club series, The Saturday Night Supper Club, came about because I was undergoing what I like to call “home study culinary school.” Armed with textbooks and gastronomy books, I was determined to turn myself into a real cook, not just someone who could follow a recipe. My discoveries made their way into my writing life, and a series was born.
The second book, Brunch at Bittersweet Café, came along a lot more naturally: I’ve been an obsessive baker since, well, birth, so it wasn’t a stretch to write a pastry chef with nostalgic ties to her grandmother’s recipes. In the course of a lifetime of baking, the last twelve of those spent living at about six thousand feet above sea level, I’ve learned just as much about myself as I have about the science of baking.
Lesson #1: Most problems don’t come from a lack of ability; they come from a lack of planning.
With the exception of macarons, which at my altitude seem to require a mixture of black magic and pixie dust to perfect, baking isn’t all that hard. After all, the interaction of ingredients is fairly predictable, and if you’re working off a decent recipe, you can be more or less assured of the finished product. The problems come in when you don’t read the recipe through and prepare your ingredients in advance. Who hasn’t discovered halfway through that they’re missing cream of tartar or some other obscure ingredient you were sure was hidden in your pantry? And while some recipes are forgiving of a quick trip to the store, others are completely ruined by your lack of planning.
I’ve found that to be a surprisingly apt comparison to life. Most of us are capable of more than we think; we simply need to learn to plan ahead, take our time, and not leap into situations before we’ve thought them through.
Lesson #2: Problems are just a matter of perspective.
Going back to the macaron reference, I have only ever made one perfect batch of macarons, the result of several failed batches and minuscule tweaks recorded faithfully in my notebook. Recently, I wanted to make a batch and after searching high and low, determined that I must have accidentally thrown away or given away that notebook when I was whittling down my cookbook collection. Worse yet, the website from which I got the original recipe is permanently gone. I had to start over from a brand-new recipe.
It was a disaster.
Flat, gooey, stuck-to-the-mat macarons. Besides learning a) to be more careful when I’m cleaning and b) not to use that recipe again, I found that even the biggest disaster can be salvaged with the right perspective. They might not have been macarons, but made with copious amounts of almond flour, sugar, egg whites, and cocoa, they were still absolutely delicious. I called them chocolate almond chews and ate them with a nice cup of coffee. My problem was turned into an afternoon snack. Sometimes all we need is a shift in perspective and that failure doesn’t look so bad after all.
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Lesson #3: There’s no disaster that can’t be fixed with a little chocolate.
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll elaborate anyway. I made a batch of Girl Scout Thin Mint clones on Christmas Eve. Because it was a paleo recipe, the dough was a little fussy and a good portion of the cookies I cut out cracked or broke apart. I pieced them back together on the baking sheet, sealed the cracks the best I could, and hoped for the best.
When the cookies came out of the oven, they were misshapen and lumpy from handling, a little lopsided, and not all that pretty. Fortunately, I still had the chocolate coating to go, and when they were finally enrobed and cooled, they were perfect glossy circles. (They also happened to be delicious.)
Let’s just say that when you’re having a really bad day and just need to get to the finish line, there’s no shame in smoothing over the cracks by hiding in your closet with a Hershey bar.
Lesson #4: Sometimes you have to cut your losses and start over.
Before I learned I was gluten intolerant, I was a huge bread baker. People are scared of homemade bread because they think it’s difficult, but the long process of mixing, kneading, and rising is actually pretty forgiving with lots of chances to fix what’s going wrong.
However, I did have one recipe using some alternative flours that must have been misprinted, because I couldn’t get the ingredients mixed to anything approximating a dough: it was shaggy and lumpy and it wouldn’t come together. Adding more water only made it slimy; adding more flour made it grainy. After struggling with it for half an hour, I finally turned the contents of the bowl out in the trash. It pained me to waste the expensive ingredients, but at that point, I could tell there was no salvaging the recipe. Why throw good time after bad money?
Sometimes in life, despite your best efforts, you can’t salvage a situation. Maybe it’s a job that didn’t work out, a friendship that has gone from being supportive to toxic, or just a recipe gone wrong. If you’ve given it your best effort, there’s no shame in calling it quits. Sometimes the bigger waste is sticking it out when you know the outcome is never going to change.
Lesson #5: When all else fails, turn to the professionals.
I consider myself a pretty good baker, but there are just times when the recipe doesn’t come together, my power goes out in the middle of a bake, or I run out of time to finish what I intended. That’s when I go straight to the professionals: my local bakery. Sure, I might have wanted to present something home-baked, but there are times when the outcome is more important than the process.
The older I get, the more I realize that it’s okay not to do everything yourself. Some things, like taxes and hair color, I believe are best left to professionals. Other things can be great to DIY, but they just don’t fall within my priorities. I might be able to occasionally send a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies to a school party, but I was never going to be like the preschool mom who, on snack day, brought an entire tray of beautifully iced sugar cookies with each child’s name piped in script across the center. Most of the time, store-bought and boxed was going to have to be good enough. Just because you can doesn’t mean you always must.
Now it’s your turn! Tell me, what life lessons have you learned from your own culinary adventures?
(Comment below for your chance to win a copy of Brunch at Bittersweet Cafe, courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers)
Carla Laureano is the RITA Award–winning author of contemporary inspirational romance and Celtic fantasy (as C. E. Laureano). A graduate of Pepperdine University, she worked as a sales and marketing executive for nearly a decade before leaving corporate life behind to write fiction full-time.
She currently lives in Denver with her husband and two sons, where she writes during the day and cooks things at night. Connect with Carla on her website: http://www.carlalaureano.com/
Baker and pastry chef Melody Johansson has always believed in finding the positive in every situation, but seven years after she moved to Denver, she can’t deny that she’s stuck in a rut. One relationship after another has ended in disaster, and her classical French training is being wasted on her night job in a mediocre chain bakery. Then the charming and handsome private pilot Justin Keller lands on the doorstep of her workplace in a snowstorm, and Melody feels like it’s a sign that her luck is finally turning around.
Justin is intrigued by the lively bohemian baker, but the last thing he’s looking for is a relationship. His own romantic failures have proven that the demands of his job are incompatible with meaningful connections, and he’s already pledged his life savings to a new business venture across the country—an island air charter in Florida with his sister and brother-in-law.
Against their better judgment, Melody and Justin find themselves drawn together by their unconventional career choices and shared love of adventure. But when an unexpected windfall provides Melody with the chance to open her dream bakery-café in Denver with her best friend, chef Rachel Bishop, she’s faced with an impossible choice: stay and put down roots with the people and place she’s come to call home . . . or give it all up for the man she loves.