Monday, November 17, 2008

I've wondered if I could hang on

I don't mind admitting that I've been addicted to Top Chef since Season 1. At first, it was just the novelty of seeing all the San Francisco shots and guest judges from local SF eateries. Then I got kind of fascinated by how these contestants whipped stuff up with little time, limited ingredients and some other insane constraint. I remember from working in chemistry lab that time management skills are everything. If you don't carefully orchestrate the timing of various steps, it can wind up taking you an unnecessarily long amount of time to conduct the simplest of experiments.

Of course, there is always the element of the unknown. I think that's the key with plans anyway- any carefully concocted plan ought to be flexible, because chances are something will derail you from the perfectly structured plan. I wish I could remember when I finally learned that lesson. I know that when I was young, I would plot out an exact course for my life, and get extremely frustrated when the pieces did not fall into place just so. And I know that somehow I let that go, and nowadays I am happy if I have some skeleton of an idea of where I am headed, filling in the details as I go. It would be nice if I had some epiphany, some moment of perfect clarity, but I think it was more a case of one disappointment after another finally setting me straight.

Anyway, yesterday, I had quite an impressive baking fiasco. I had planned to tinker around with making bread, and afterwards make a lemon cake. Made sense- the latter was a tried and true, foolproof recipe, the former was a complete crapshoot. I was going to a dinner, so the lemon cake was my trusty companion to take along.

I had allotted a good amount of time for this bread-making business, because making bread can take a while. With my previous focaccia experiments, however, time was needed but not so much wiggle room. Now, I should have known better. First of all, as usual, I wasn't satisfied with following a recipe. I wanted to use some whole wheat flour and some graham flour, and I wanted to use 2% milk instead of regular, and on and on.

So I had this ball of dough sitting in a covered bowl, and just needed it to rise. It takes usually about 2 hours, maybe 3. Well, at the 3 hour mark, the dough was stubbornly sitting mostly in place. I was more than disappointed about that, and considered throwing out the dough altogether. But instead of doing anything impulsive, I turned my attention to the lemon cake. It turns out that, in the 1.5 hours it took me to make the lemon cake, the dough miraculously, but slowly was starting to lift. But at that point, I had to get to dinner.

I decided to let the dough sit, wondering all through dinner whether the dough had gone mutant and taken over my entire kitchen. When I got home, the dough had actually puffed up perfectly, but by that time it was late. I threw it in the refrigerator, unsure of whether that would be the death of it all. Bad, bad time management skills, indeed.

Today, after coming back from school and doing various other things, I decided to revisit yesterday's failure. I made mini-loaves because I convinced myself those would be less painful to throw in the trash. Except, lo and behold, everything came together today, and I got myself some cinnamon-swirl bread:

gonna rise up, turning mistakes into gold

It's one of the few things I've made that tastes exactly the way I imagined it would when I first set out to make it. As Hannibal from The A-Team would say- I love it when a plan comes together.

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