Sometimes in life, you fail. It’s normal. It’s expected. And one failure, or even two or three or eight, doesn’t mean you’re a total mess, nor does it mean you should give up. F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of my favorite authors, once said: “Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” This is true in everything, but most especially cooking. Even the best bakers & chefs have bad days (I mean really, you ever watch a Food Network challenge or Chopped? it’s like DISASTER CENTRAL up in that bitch); it’s to be expected. Especially for me. ‘Cause, really, why should I be any different? I’m not trained in this. I’m self-taught. I do things randomly & fly by the seat of my pants. I made applesauce cake with a brandy glaze for Jay to take on tour to Ohio with him & the band last week (because he loved the one I made for Christmas), and I had to literally ask him if I put vanilla in the glaze. I couldn’t remember, because I didn’t follow a recipe; I just made it. So really, I can’t take it too seriously when I have a failure like this (although I use top notch ingredients & have to say the waste of all those eggs & butter & flour & sugar & corn syrup makes me nauseous let alone homicidal). I actually ended up having two failures in one week, though, which I guess in the grand scheme of things is no big deal, but boy, have I been feeling lousy about it. My “good karma” kitchen stretch has gone on for quite some time though to be quite honest. I was kicking ass & taking names in the oven room. I make lemon curd in my sleep. I make such an amazing beer bread it ought to be illegal. My frosting never wilts (anymore). I MASTERED SOUFFLÈS FOR CUPCAKES’ SAKE. And then- HOLY SHITBALLS- pardon my French, but within a matter of days, I managed to mess up two different recipes completely. I think I had a curse put on me. No shit. I think it was some Hoodoo-type thing.
Anyway, it happens, blah blah blah, whatever.
But it sucks nonetheless. I’m not used to failing, I usually go after what I want & get it, and the same is true for recipes, learning new things, conquering difficult concepts, etc. Examples: I was a straight A student (except that pesky math) who learned two years worth of Spanish in 1 week when I started a new school at 13, my teacher had me doing book reports in kindergarten to avoid being bored, I applied to ONE college which I was accepted to early & my first job was a paid intern at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So yeah, failure sucks. But it sucks even more when it doesn’t quite work out the way you’re used to. Especially when you’re psyched on hanging your fangs on pecan pie in all it’s delicious sugary, syrupy glory… & you end up with a load of crap. Which is what happened to me shortly after this lovely picture. My lovely purple pie plate, my lovely & beautiful crust, and those lovely pecans all ready to go.
I stress the loveliness of that picture, because that’s the last time it was lovely. It all went to hell in a hand basket after that… and I wasn’t even drunk (yet).
No, I lie, after the pie mixture was put into the crust, I placed the pecans in a beautiful pattern on top. That looked nice. Until it was finished baking. If I was religious at all I’d have sat there & said the rosary. That’s how awful it was. I cannot even bear to explain the mess I created. I couldn’t even take photos to show you, it hurt too much. Seriously, I’m not kidding. I spent all that time on the crust & the filling (and all that goddamn money on pecans which are like $600.00 an ounce!) only to have it end in misery. Add that on top of the cookie recipe I failed at a few nights before & you’ve got a recipe for a Xanax & whiskey-induced coma if ever I saw one. Am I fixating? Yes I am. That’s what I do when I fail at something: I fixate on it until I figure out why the hell I failed in the first place, and then I do it again the right way. But with both recipes (which were both two different desserts from two different books by two different authors, mind you) I cannot figure out where I went wrong. I did everything right. Okay, so maybe I’m not a pecan pie master. Should this really bother me? No. I make a gazillion other things every day, and most of them are insanely delicious & pretty damn aesthetically pleasing. But it does bother me. It really, really, friggin’ bothers me. And the cookies I failed at? I’ve made those before, with absolutely no problem. So what gives?
Alright, with all the problems in the world, I’m probably exaggerating & being slightly over-dramatic about a forkin’ pecan pie & batch of cookies. But this is a baking blog, where I talk about baking, and so that’s what I’m doing. I’m sure you bakers can relate to the frustration. Which is why I’m sharing this. I’ve never been one to shy away from my failures, I’ve always been honest about them. Some of them work out, some don’t. But I wanted to go into detail here because I’ve gotten a lot of e-mails lately regarding baking specifically, and some mentioned how they enjoyed my recipes a lot, even though their attempts “never come out looking as nice.” And to me, that isn’t even the point. The fact that it’s edible, it’s made correctly, it’s not spoiled & looks remotely attractive is the key. It doesn’t have to look 100% perfect, mine doesn’t! The enjoyment of the creation of it, the enjoyment of eating it, that’s what’s important. The decorating can be learned with practice. The fun of it is the creating. And who cares if it’s got frosting sliding off or they’re not perfectly domed!? You’re not on Cupcake Wars. A cupcake or cake or cookie that doesn’t look perfect is NOT a failure. Eat ‘em & your stomach will never know the difference. However, this pecan pie was not edible. My stomach could not have processed it unless I was a goat. I wouldn’t even mind, but this is my second attempt at a pecan pie. The first one was a different recipe, one by Emeril Lagasse, that I made last year or the year before and I wasn’t thrilled with it because it had chocolate in it. It also didn’t look very attractive, and I used a store-bought crust as a shortcut, so I was on the wrong path from the beginning. But at least that one was edible! This one could’ve been used to kill someone- well the crust, anyway. The middle of the pie was drippier than my 6th grade teacher. Ugh. I wouldn’t even have cared if it looked ugly as sin or had horns growing out of it, as long as I could’ve eaten the damn thing. Instead, into the garbage it went.
The point is, though, despite my fixating on this, it happens. It just does. Sometimes the stars aren’t aligned, sometimes the kitchen witch isn’t on your side, sometimes your neighbor puts a Hoodoo curse on you, and sometimes even the weather is against you. Whatever the reason, it just happens, and it happens to the best of us. So don’t let it get you down. Just toss it, smile, & move on to the next recipe. Which is exactly what I’m doing! As soon as I figure out what went wrong.
See those books? Yep. I’ll be busy for quite some time. But really what else is there to do in the winter but read, bake & cook? Oh… and eat. So yeah. Two silly little failures aren’t going to ruin my fun in the kitchen anytime soon.
But I will say this: pecan pie can FUCK OFF.……. (Censor that, Lamar Smith)