I was born with a short fuse. I know this because I can specifically recall going from zero to hero in .002 seconds when my teacher gave me a U (that stands for Unsatisfactory, which is the Kindergarten equivalent of F) over what I thought was a decent piece of work. At five years old, I was sent to my room for God knows what, and I can still see my chubby little hands wailing against the side of my plastic Fisher Price kitchen set, curls tossing around my head like furious little garden snakes. I spent hours muttering to myself behind my pint-sized desk about the injustice of the art teacher who sent me to the corner after I told Jason his picture "didn't look like a self portrait at all." It began in the kitchen the first time I tried to make sugar cookies on my own and I didn't know I had to chill the dough for several hours (six year olds are not quite that patient); so I baked them right away and I ended up with bits and crumbles which Mom willingly ate with her fingers and announced they'd be good over vanilla ice cream. I felt devastated at the sight of them, such a blow to my fragile little ego. I'm pleased to report, however, that I have since made great strides in restraining my hot little temper. Take, for example, what I will refer to as a misunderstanding on the part of the oven, only because it's really the only thing that keeps me calm.
I have a little ritual: whenever I get a new cookbook, I have to go through the entire thing before making anything. Neurotic, I know, but I prefer to break in a new book with careful thought and consideration. After patiently flipping through every single recipe of Nigella's How to be a Domestic Goddess, I decided on the Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake (it was a tough call between that and the Kidney and Liver Pie, but I think I might the right choice). The description was verbose and beautiful, and the glossy photograph on the opposite page showed a charcoal-dark loaf, slouched down just a bit in the back, exhausted with chocolatey goodness, I'm sure. It was well past bedtime, but cravings know no reason, no self control. So not wishing to wake up the fam, I crept into the kitchen and decided I would do this the old fashioned way (and for the benefit of the asleep): with a mixing bowl and wooden spoon. I must say, the gently thwack-thwack of the wooden spoon against the ceramic bowl was music to my ears, a pleasant exchange from the whirring buzz of a stand mixer. It all felt incredibly domestic, everything was amplified in the quiet kitchen*: the heavy crack of the chocolate under my knife, the hairline splitting of eggshells. The finale of all the mixing and blitzing came with pouring boiling water over the chocolate batter and creating what probably equates to a Hershey's chocolate facial. Feeling quite pleased with my progress already, I reread the directions for baking (35 minutes..blah blah...put a cookie sheet underneath...it might drip...yeah, okay...) and popped it into the oven, sans cookie sheet (they never drip that much anyway, right?)
So what sparked my fury, you ask? What set the emotional flames ablaze? After a mere 17 minutes in the oven, I peeked in with anxious delight, ready to see my glorious creation. What I saw was a loaf pan bubbling over with chocolate batter, a regular Callebaut volcano in the middle of my kitchen. And this was not a mere tablespoon or two, I'd venture to say there was a solid 3/4 cup of batter scorching onto the bottom of the oven. That is what rage is: $8 worth of high quality chocolate burned to the bottom of your oven. I could feel the snakes unraveling themselves from my scalp, I'm certain any unfortunate soul who walked in would've turned to stone immediately. I sat there, staring blindly into the heat, clenching my bony fingers and tightening my jaw. I promptly slammed the oven door closed, walked upstairs and sat on my bedroom floor, frantically flipping through the cookbook. How could this happen!? I used the right sized pan! I set the right temperature! A feeling of defeat welled up in my belly and it occurred to me: I'm crazy.
I tried to let it go, tried to excuse the mishap, but this sort of thing makes an ordinary girl into a Medusa-like creature. I flopped onto my overstuffed mattress, staring blankly at the ceiling and considering chucking the entire loaf into the garbage out of spite for what my oven did to me. The only thing that soothed me the next afternoon...and I mean the only thing...was eating it. It was incredible; rich with chocolate flavor and light on my tongue. It was dense and smoky, the top satiny and soft from resting in the pan all night long (while I fumed and wrung my hands together). The center caved in just enough to make the middle slices all the more desirable than the end pieces. I ate two slices the following day, trying to pretend I wasn't enjoying it, hanging onto my fury with an iron death grip.
So maybe my baking-rage hasn't completely subsided. The occasional failure sets me back a notch or two and I am learning to recover. Sometimes eating chocolate loaf cake helps.
* I've been known to start up a batch of cinnamon rolls or pumpkin muffins between the hours of two and five o'clock in the morning, when it's really quiet. I realized I had a problem when at 4-something or other in the morning during college, I found myself sitting at the kitchen table, writing out reheat instructions for the cinnamon rolls resting on the counter, shaking with excessive sugar consumption and covered in powdered sugar. Yeah, that's a problem.