Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Chocolate Pumpkin Wisdom

So last week I tried to make my chocolate pumpkin cake. It isn't a hard cake to make. And it is my favorite. I thought it would be a great fall birthday cake for my new brother-in-law, Caleb. And I maintain that, even though Caleb never got a slice. I actually started making it the day before he and Katie were coming over for his birthday dinner. I pulled butter and buttermilk and eggs out of the fridge and had them all softened and room temperature and ready to go when I began to measure out dry ingredients and realized that I had no baking soda. It's funny what you don't have when you first move, and I actually did have baking soda when I got here, but I have been on a natural cleaning kick inspired by my sister. And I have concluded that baking soda really is not the best replacement for Comet, but I used up an entire box deciding that so none was left to actually bake with. I called George and asked him if he wouldn't mind picking some up after work. But by the time he got off work at ten o'clock, drove the twenty minutes to the store near the house with a ten minute baking soda buying detour, it was too late to be putting a cake in the oven for an hour. I put everything back in the fridge and went to bed.

When I started the cake the next day, everything had to be softened again. By the time I got to mixing again, it was almost time for the fam to be here. I thought, "no problem, it can just bake while we eat." I put the butter in the mixer to cream with the sugars and realized I didn't have enough white sugar. I thought, "no problem, I'll just make up for the rest with extra brown sugar." But I didn't have enough brown sugar to fufill the recipe requirements much less make up for the white sugar I lacked. Sweet sweet George says, "no problem, I'll just run out and get some more sugar." (Let it be known that the grocery store is three miles away down a country highway and not just around the corner as most Americans are accustomed to). So while George is out at the store, I decide that a productive thing to do would be to ready my pan. I bought the cutest ever brown cupcake liners with pumpkins on them and was ready to place them into the muffin pan when I realized, "I don't have a muffin pan." Well, I do, but it is packed in my parents basement five hours away. I think to myself, "no problem, I'll just make a bundt cake. Bundt cakes are good." I prepare the pan and wait for George who arrives with sugar at the same time Caleb arrives. I let everyone know it will just be a few minutes until dinner because I just have to finish mixing the cake and put it in the oven. I mix it all up and the batter is just beautiful, a beautiful golden. And I think to myself, "problem. This is a chocolate cake. Why doesn't it look like chocolate?" And then I realize I have forgotten the cocoa. I think to myself, "no problem, I will just mix it in now." I walk over to the pantry and even as I am doing so, I know. Oh yes, I remember now. I went to that grocery store, the one that claims to be less expensive than the others and gets away with all kind of subpar service and miniscule selection when in fact, it is not cheaper, and by shopping there I will not only not save, but I will add immeasurable frustration to my life just because I will inevitably have to go to a different grocery store to make up for what I need that they don't carry. All of that, to save $1o on a Thursday, when Thursday is my least convenient day to grocery shop anyway. But anyway, I rememeber that, and I remember that I had had choice words with the stock boy on the baking aisle because Dutch processed cocoa really is a fairly common ingredient and really should be stocked in their stores. But it isn't, and so I wasn't able to purchase it, and therefore, as I step toward the cupboard door, I know that the necessary ingredient to make the cake, to save us from a fourth trip to the grocery over this dessert, will not be there. And so, I walk to the drawer with the Saran Wrap instead and enshroud my pumpkin batter in cellophane until the final pilgrimage can be made to the grocery for Dutch processed cocoa.

I mean, I forget things. I have had many a late night excursion across the parking lot to borrow eggs from a fellow seminarian, but not usually to borrow baking soda, brown sugar, white sugar, and cocoa. It was definitely the kind of thing that made me think, "what is the point of this?" And that may have been a weird reaction; I guess I am just searching for meaning lately. I really wanted to know what I possibly could learn from such a confounding event. I bordered on obsessing about it, really. And maybe it was what kept me from bursting into tears, or, perhaps more like me, spewing a stream of curse words like no one has ever heard before and hurling a six quart mixing bowl of batter across the room. You will all be glad to know that I did neither of those things. I just finished making dinner and we all ate and it was fine. But like I said, I obsessed about this later. I finally came up with a very easy lesson. It was the thing I had been telling myself since it happened, but I finally listened, I guess. "Everyone makes mistakes." If anyone had said this to me, I would have been totally annoyed. Because that sounds like I made some huge mistake that everyone has to forgive me for, and all I did was flake out while trying to make a cake. But it really is true. People make mistakes. And I made five or six just making the stinking dessert. 

I have a hard time with mistakes. I was raised to not make mistakes. I have a lot of people in my life who are extremely impatient with my imperfections. Consequently, I am extremely impatient with my imperfections, also, a little angry with people always up in my business about all of my mistakes....  Anyway, I decided that the cake was not such a big deal. I mean, I knew it wasn't, but I decided to maintain that and not to let the voices in my head tell me otherwise. And well, that's pretty big for me, especially at this juncture when everything in my life is imperfect. It's okay. You know? So we have to wrap the batter up and we don't have cake for the birthday party, so we have to move three times in three months, so we have to mooch off everyone we know to make ends meet, so I have run mile after mile for months without losing inch or ounce, so I can't seem to get anywhere on time or get anything done in a timely manner? Really, so? That is where I am. 

And the best I can do is just try to live a little more like there really is grace to be had. I really don't live like there is grace for anything. And I get so angry when I am not treated graciously. But isn't it up to me? Isn't it up to me to trust God's grace for me whether other people extend it to me or not? In the cake story, my guests were plenty gracious about the lack of post-meal sweets. But I know we all have dozens of stories where people have not been gracious, whether it is our family or our friends or people we don't even know. People tell us that our shortcomings are unacceptable and/or unforgivable; they are hard on us and accuse us of wrongdoing (or even wrongbeing) when we really just, for lack of a better word, goofed. And what I learned from the cake is that sometimes these things can't be helped. I mean, no one could accuse me of not trying. No one could say that I was just lazy or lackadaisical or selfish or thoughtless in my approach to this cake. I went shopping six days ahead of time; I started baking a full day ahead of time. But it just didn't work out in spite of my planning and effort and good intentions. It was a combination of several moments like overlooking an ingredient on a recipe card, crossing something off a grocery list that hadn't actually been procured, and overestimating how much sugar was left in the bag. But it wasn't the result of some sort of sin or failure. That is hard for me to believe; it's too good to be true and makes me feel like I am being lazy or prideful or trying to get away with something. But, it is true; it's the lesson. 

When I write posts like these, it is always interesting to see what people have to say. Sometimes people take it a step further than me and are way more gracious in their words than I have been in mine. I always wish I had been brave enough to say what they say. But on the other hand, I usually write with the people I am writing against in mind, even though I know they do not read my blog. I think I have them pegged as some sort of majority though, like most people really do think like they do, and I have to write only what I can say for certain, only what I could confidently argue to them in person. But I am beginning to determine, although it's another one of those too good to be true things, that God really is more gracious than we realize, and it is not likely that we can err on the side of grace. Anyway, with that being said, feel free to disagree. But mostly, I hope I am not so immature and/or messed up that this is not a helpful lesson for some of you. Or, at the very least, you have been re-linked to the chocolate pumpkin cake recipe.

4 comments:

Wright Family said...

Oh, yay! I am so glad you are back! I loved, LOVED this post. It was so thought provoking for me. I have a hard time with my own mistakes. I feel I can be way more gracious with other people's mistakes than my own. You also made me want to examine how I react to my children's mistakes. I hope I react with grace...hmmm, that is something I need to think about. I am praying every day for y'all.

the skocelai said...

Hey Abby! I find I am the exact opposite. I am FAR more gracious with myself than I am with others. Nothing brought this out more than marriage and parenting! Question about the following excerpt: "it is not likely that we can err on the side of grace." My assumption is that you intended to communicate that it is never an error to extend grace. Am I right? I whole-heartedly agree! Our God is so gracious and if He treated me anything like I treat others... I would have been obliterated a LONG time ago. I have been on a journey the last 2 years learning about God's graciousness, His longsuffering, His abounding love. And letting that transform how I treat those created in His image.

And just when I think I've mastered it (HA,HA!) I have a sick girl for over a week and I finally snap big time when she refuses her medication on day 6 of taking 4 medications every 6 hours. Gee, 6 days of grace was all I could afford. Hmmm....

LOVED this post!

jennifer h said...

First, it is hard to adjust to a move.

Second, it is even harder to adjust to 3 moves in 3 months and not have your own stuff to work with.

Third, it is hard to adjust to living in a more rural setting after being used to surburbia, where everything is around the corner.

You have a right to be frustrated with circumstances in your life. I wish I didn't have the life experience to relate so well to this idea.

And, a postponed cake is certainly not worth beating yourself up over.


But, I can't resist saying that Hershey's Cocoa from S n S would probably make some mighty fine tasting cake. And, baking soda hasn't worked as a replacement for comet for me, but it is the best at getting out kool-aid, wine, grape juice, and any other kind of stain from hard surfaces like counter tops.

And that's my stream-of- consciousness blog comment of the night!

Abby said...

thanks, girls. i appreciate the feedback. sarah, you assumed correctly. do i need to write it differently? let me know if it is confusingly worded or something. and jennifer, if i had known what a fiasco it was going to turn out to be, you are absolutely right, hershey's would have been a-okay. it wasn't the only thing they didn't have though; it was just the only thing i forgot to get at shnucks! i appreciate your graciousness, y'all!

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