Intermission: I am my own worst enemy
Before we continue with Act 2, please let me state that I’m not a whiny, complainy little brat when it comes to my craft. Professionally, it’s my responsibility to maintain control over every type of situation that occurs in the kitchen. I have a very strong “the show must go on” philosophy. But here, we’re not talking about my work.
On a strictly personal level, I love to bake. I love creating beautiful, ethereal cakes that bring happiness and joy to others; so it’s slightly possible that I am a bit over-ambitious in my planning. But it’s my destiny to be my own worst enemy. When I’m at home, in the weeds, when it becomes a Stage 5 shit storm, Terri with the cool, calm and collected demeanor ceases to exist and she implodes into a black hole of self-doubt, despair and hopelessness. Briefly.
When others around me begin to spiral out of control I can reach in and ground them quickly with a simple reality check. Unfortunately, at 2am, no one is actually available to perform that service for me. After 10 minutes of self-torture and wallowing, I’m able to pull myself together and get on with what needs to be done. Call it “experience,” but I’ve come to realize that the unexpected events that trigger my implosions are actually part of my creation process. While I am trying to pull myself out of the black hole, I have the ability to visualize the end product, to see the cakes as they are completed and to feel that overwhelming sense of accomplishment that I know will come once we’re serving the cakes. That visualization gets me through that dark hour of despair. And yes, I have this episode every time I bake. After all, I am human.
Act 2: Cake or Death?
As I slept, I had nightmares about over-baking the dacquoise (imagine if that actually happened: there would be no time to do it over again). I kept waking up and checking my alarm clock. When the alarm finally went off, I stumbled downstairs to take it out of the oven; falling down the stairs on my way to the kitchen. Awesome.
I don’t actually remember taking the dacquoise out and turning the oven off. I don’t even know how I got back upstairs and into bed.
I woke up at 7am on Sunday, slightly nauseous, mildly panicking. The tasting was scheduled for 2pm. It had to be perfect. The gravity of the situation was starting to sink in: I was making my brother’s wedding cake. If I couldn’t pull this off, I’d consider myself a failure on every level. Not only that, my parents were coming – this is their first time attending a cake tasting of mine. Not only that, the bride’s parents were attending as well. The stakes were so high. I was feeling quite small and overwhelmed. Deep breathing. A strong cup of coffee. Staring out the window with unfocused vision. Pull yourself together. It’s only a tasting – it’s not the actual wedding cake. They have never been to one before – no one has any expectations, except you, you crazy bitch.
I triaged the situation down in the kitchen and decided that while Paul went to get the groceries, I would assemble the chocolate cake and measure out the ingredients for the other two cakes. It wasn’t so bad: I needed to bake 2 cakes, let them cool and assemble. The fillings and frostings were already made and ready. How bad could that be? Would I need all 6 hours before the scheduled tasting? Please. I’m a professional!
Chocolate cake assembled and in the fridge. Tally: 2 cakes completed. Feeling better. I was standing on semi-solid ground again after feeling like I was hopelessly sinking into quicksand. Groceries were procured. I was back on track. I baked the next two cakes, cleaned up the kitchen while they were cooling and even managed to eat a bit of breakfast.
While I was assembling the third cake, the Strawberry Dream, my headspace moved into deeper, more soulful areas. I started to take my time with the cake. I thought about the other cake tastings we’ve had over the years. Did we have set-backs? Yes. Did I prevail? Most certainly, I did. Did the guests enjoy themselves? Gosh, I hope so. Were they just humoring me? Oh, maybe… I ran through the list: Antoine and Robert, Ford and Christin, Ming and Jason, Peter and Christine, Naz and Andrew… each event was special and meaningful. Today would be no different. I thought of my brother. I thought about the first time I made a strawberry tart with vanilla pastry cream and how much he loved it when he first tasted it. I thought about the first time I had this cake in culinary school. Before I had even tasted it, I told my pastry chef instructor that it was my FAVORITE CAKE. I thought about my chef instructor, who eventually became one of my dearest and best friends. When I finished assembling this cake, I knew this would be one of the contenders.
I moved the strawberry cake down to the fridge and started cleaning up to prepare for the last cake. Paul was getting the rest of the house ready for our guests. It was a gray and rainy morning, but I was feeling surprisingly warm and relaxed.
As I set up for the last cake, a phrase popped into my head. In Larry McMurtry’s book, Lonesome Dove, he talks about a particularly difficult cattle drive: it was a long, dry, hot, dry and difficult travel between two rivers. Towards the end, the cattle were struggling from dehydration and exhaustion. The cowboys were despairing, hoping they would reach the next river before the cattle all died. Suddenly, they began to notice signs along the way that indicated they were approaching water. As I remember the phrase, “the cattle began to quicken their pace, despite their exhaustion as they began to smell the water.” Yes, I’m a cow, and yes, I could “smell the water.” The end of this cake prep was near — we were about to have a party!
~~~~~~~~~~~~ TO BE CONTINUED ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~