Have you ever been so focused on arriving at a destination that you do everything in your power to speed up the process of getting there?
Just the other week, in a frenzy to clean up my house and run errands before having company later that week, I locked my keys inside my bedroom. After a few choice words directed at my stupidity, I waited for about half an hour for my roommate Julian to arrive home and unlock the door. In that time, I listened to some music and breathed.
Though essential to human life, it’s interesting how often we forget to breathe.
As I have been pursuing healthier ways of coping, cooking and baking have proven to be cathartic ways to destress. Whether Imon is teaching me the basics as we cook a green curry from scratch or Crystal and Rey are flexing their great British baking skills as we make banana bread, there is something really fulfilling about making something together.
While texting my friend from high school about my new hobby, she mentioned that my reading Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat was a good way to learn the fundamentals, but that she preferred improvising like her mother had done when cooking for her. I likened her mother to a jazz musician who improvises with the flow of the music, not confined to the sheet music or any specific rules. There is something magical about being able to step into a kitchen, take whatever is there, and make something out of what is available to you.
It reminds me of life and how even though we may never get the best ingredients or the perfect tools, what we make of our situations is really based upon our ability to improvise.
“I mean the parchment paper is to prevent the cake from sticking to the pan, but the last time I made it, we didn’t use parchment paper and it was fine. Do you want to use the paper?”
While cooking is known to be a highly improvisational activity, many say that baking is quite the opposite. Substitutions and inaccurate measurements can be the bane of amateur bakers.
As Crystal and I added extra carrots, extra pineapple, and less confectioners’ sugar to our carrot cake, we hoped that the cake would still turn out well even though we were modifying the recipe to reduce our waste.
We greased the pan and decided screw it, save the environment and do away with the parchment paper.
Forty minutes and a handful of expletives later, the cake finally fell out of the pan and luckily in one piece.
When we finished the cake and tried our first bites, we got to see how our failed careers in acting might have gone as we tried to talk up the cake even though it was most definitely a tad dry.
Our hosts were gracious enough to say that they loved the cake, but suffice it to say, we weren’t the proudest of our finished product (though it did look quite amazing).
However, despite the less than optimal finished product, the process of making that cake was filled with laughter and learning moments. I remember thinking later on in the night that even if people hated the cake, that the process was enjoyable enough to be worth it..
Sometimes it’s the learning that happens in the kitchen and the company of your fellow chefs and bakers that make the day rather than what you end up eating.
You know the feeling:
Maybe you snoozed the alarm a few times more than you should have.
And maybe you also took a little bit too long picking out your Friday Fit…
And maybe your sandwich bread just had to be toasted today…
Either way, when you get to your car, you know that you are running a little late. You insert the key into the ignition and……
The usual sound of a humming engine is replaced with the retro machine gun sound bytes from the Metal Slug arcade game..
This was the situation I found myself in this morning..
My natural reflex is to go to a place of anxiety as I swear like a sailor and panic.
Today after a flurry of “fucks” and “shits,” I texted my boss to let her know that my car wasn’t starting and she told me:
“Don’t worry about coming in today! Just focus on getting your car back to normal!”
What ensued was a journey by penny board to Ace Hardware to get a few wrenches, a clutch AAA jumpstart sponsored by Julian, and then a perilous drive to Costco where I bought a new battery and installed it right in the parking lot.
As incredibly stressful as this day could have been, surprisingly, it was the farthest thing from anxiety inducing.
Knowing that my boss was more concerned about my well-being set the tone for the day.
As I skated to the hardware store, I enjoyed the Southern California sun and the absolutely beautiful day that today was. The hardware store team member was super helpful and advised me not to spend as much money as I was going to and instead directed me to a cheaper wrench. Julian came through with the AAA jumpstart and got me the ability to get to Costco. He even followed me to the tire center to make sure I didn’t stall in the middle of the street. The tire center employee was swamped, but because I wasn’t operating from a place of stress and anxiety, I was able to be cordial and therefore he was cordial back. I may have spent a little longer in that Costco parking lot than I’d like to admit, but at the end of the day, the battery was successfully replaced (thank you Youtube), and my car is back in operation.
Are you ready for this conclusion though?
As I was waiting in line to turn in my dead battery, I made this crazy correlation between the dry carrot cake experience with my dead battery adventure.
In both situations, I had non-optimal circumstances: in one case our finished product was not to our expectations and in the other case my day had to be completely re-arranged due to extenuating circumstances that were out of my control.
In both situations, the people I interacted with and my attitude changed how I perceived the day.
I had the opportunity to be dissatisfied and disappointed with my results and my situation in both cases, and yet due to my attitude and the people I was with, I chose a different path.
It makes me wonder how often we fail to see the joy that exists in the chaos of our daily interruptions.
How often do I get so immeasurably stressed and frantic about life not going to plan? Or how often do I get annoyed that I’m not going to make the time table that I previously set?
It could be a career, a relationship, personal goals, or a number of other things, but I always tend to obsess about the goal rather than the journey.
Oftentimes the best parts of life occur on the way to our destinations.
We only get to see the nature preserve in the morning when we are forced to skateboard over the bridge to get to the hardware shop.
We only get to converse and laugh about cutting cakes improperly when we engage in the process of making something rather than just buying something pre-made.
So the next time your plans go to shit, and your finished product isn’t quite as magnificent as you thought it would be….
Take a second to breathe.
And when you finally open your eyes, look at what is around you and take note of who is there with you.
Maybe we all need some dry carrot cakes and dead batteries in our life to help us appreciate the journey.