My blog is turning one in August, and I’m having a party. Will you come? Over the last year, you’ve sent me awfully nice e-mails, telling me something about why you like this site or giving me the recipe for a similar dish or asking for clarification on something. I really like the notes about how your cookies looked when they came out of the oven, all puffed and golden, and especially the ones about…
I’ve been thinking about fables lately—those short, sweet stories with a moral tacked onto the end? One of Aesop’s tells about a boy who, reaching into a tall jar with a wide base of hazelnuts, grabs a large handful, greedy to bring the lot to his mouth. But, when his tightened fist won’t fit back up through the container’s slender neck, he bursts into tears and panic, having imprisoned his clenched fingers inside a jar full of hazelnuts, where the solution is as simple as releasing his grip.
I’ve heard that monkeys do this in real life. In tests, they supposedly leave their fists inside the jars, indefinitely, unwilling to release the nuts but also anxious about being caught in the jar. And I am fascinated. If I’m honest, it’s because I think they sound like me. Aesop’s intended moral was simple: Do not attempt too much at once; but mine would be more complex: You have got to let go and trust That Which Is Greater—because that is faith, and, because gripping things tightly doesn’t really make them yours anyway.
I hinted before at some upcoming big decisions/changes in the works around here, and, while I have nothing substantial or concrete to report, there have, slowly, been movements towards change—the loosening of my grip, as it were—and that is something. I almost rented a new apartment I loved; I’ve been pursuing some new writing opportunities; and I’ve been daydreaming a lot about what, in all of this, will matter 50 years from now.
Of course there has been food, too. That goes without saying. But what with all the change-seeking also taking my attention, I am very behind on telling you about it.
For one thing, there were these pancakes.
Over lunch on Mother’s Day, my brother happened to mention a coconut cake recipe he’d seen online, and I responded exactly as you’d expect: by whipping out my cell phone—newly with Internet, which, by the way, in itself is a huge change for me, and you know how I do with change, so congratulate me on that—and trying to find it.
The cake was beautiful: a pristine, white, regal-looking thing, step atop a cake stand and topped with toasted, shredded coconut. It was the reason that, a few hours later, I beelined straight for the baking aisle’s coconut extract and grabbed this.
What I purchased—coconut flavor—wasn’t exactly extract, but it was the next closest thing, and the bottle said something about its being good for baking. So maybe that substitution explains the problem I wound up with later, when, making the frosting, I found butter + sugar + milk + coconut flavor = icing the color of gray. As in, the same shade as gravestones or, decaying flesh.
The cake tasted all right, albeit dry. It was the frosting that was the real problem—slightly grainy and never thick enough, changing textures while I covered the cake, from fluffy to very thin and not that far from soupy. It did taste like coconut, though, which I considered a small victory, but the color! The color! I didn’t have the heart to throw it away immediately, but I’ll let you guess where I’m headed as soon as I finish this post, barring, of course, any refrigerator miracle overnight. (Fingers crossed.)
Anyway, it got me thinking. In the kitchen, I know what failure feels like. I have done it—done it to death, you could say, embracing it with cupcakes and artichokes and an awful soup I still haven’t had the heart to tell you about—and I’ve always lived to see the next mornings.
The day after I made cowboy cookies, eating two of them at my desk in the middle of the afternoon, I told my coworkers that I wasn’t very impressed. The cookies were fine, good maybe, but they weren’t anything that special. A chocolate-chip cookie at heart, they include extras like coconut and nuts and oatmeal, becoming something too complicated and yet fairly simple at the same time. I managed to polish off both cookies, though,…