May 2021

Wishful Thinking Fails Again

from The Complete Tassajara Cookbook (Shambhala, 2009)

Once during a cooking class I found myself holding a pan of biscotti in one hand while I opened the door of the oven with the other. Since the top shelf of the oven was occupied by a pan of lasagna, I aimed the biscotti for the unoccupied bottom shelf. “Let’s get these cookies baking,” I thought. However, a second thought followed quickly after the first: “If you put them on the bottom shelf, they’re going to burn.”

What to do? There ensued a lively inner monologue enumerating the necessary steps: Close oven door, find somewhere to put biscotti down, open oven door, remove lasagna, find place to put lasagna, move top shelf up one notch, move bottom shelf up one notch, replace lasagna, close door, get biscotti, open door, place in oven, close door. What a nuisance. It hardly seemed worth it.

“Forget it,” I thought. “Let’s get on with it. They’ll be okay this time.” In they went.

These are a cook’s famous last words: “This time they’ll be okay.” Sure. This time the oven will understand how awkward and inconvenient it is for me to do all that switching, placing, lifting, reaching, and it will go out of its way to accommodate me. The oven will make a special effort not to burn the cookies to compensate for my not making a special effort to arrange things differently. This time, undoubtedly, the oven will be forgiving and make allowances for my laziness. Only this time, the cookies burned on the bottom.

Once I used some vanilla sugar at a friend’s house to make a birthday cake for my father. At least I thought it was vanilla sugar, since it was a white granular substance with a vanilla bean in it, and when I dipped my finger in it and licked, it tasted like sugar. Yet tasting the cake batter after creaming the sugar with the butter and adding the eggs, I found it extremely salty. And going back to the jar with the vanilla bean, it tasted like salt. Big surprise!

Not wanting to waste the butter and eggs, I decided to go ahead and finish making the cake, thinking rather wishfully that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad once all the flour and milk and seasoning was added. It was. It was really bad, not at all what a cake should be. That was a strange birthday celebration.

The ability to believe in wishful thinking right up until you smell the smoke or taste the cake is really a wonderful trait in many ways—naïve, trusting, childlike—but the food may be an uncustomary and undesirable shade of brown or black. The taste may bring tears to the eyes.

Although I still find it painfully annoying at times, the universe (including ovens and other cookware) does not arrange itself to pick up after me. Things are the way they are, regardless of how I would like them to be. If anything, it seems that the universe is conspiring to wise us up to our own wishful thinking. Would you wish it to be any other way?

© Edward Espe Brown

Photo by Sofia Teplitzky

May 2021

Wishful Thinking Fails Again

from The Complete Tassajara Cookbook (Shambhala, 2009)

Once during a cooking class I found myself holding a pan of biscotti in one hand while I opened the door of the oven with the other. Since the top shelf of the oven was occupied by a pan of lasagna, I aimed the biscotti for the unoccupied bottom shelf. “Let’s get these cookies baking,” I thought. However, a second thought followed quickly after the first: “If you put them on the bottom shelf, they’re going to burn.”

What to do? There ensued a lively inner monologue enumerating the necessary steps: Close oven door, find somewhere to put biscotti down, open oven door, remove lasagna, find place to put lasagna, move top shelf up one notch, move bottom shelf up one notch, replace lasagna, close door, get biscotti, open door, place in oven, close door. What a nuisance. It hardly seemed worth it.

“Forget it,” I thought. “Let’s get on with it. They’ll be okay this time.” In they went.

These are a cook’s famous last words: “This time they’ll be okay.” Sure. This time the oven will understand how awkward and inconvenient it is for me to do all that switching, placing, lifting, reaching, and it will go out of its way to accommodate me. The oven will make a special effort not to burn the cookies to compensate for my not making a special effort to arrange things differently. This time, undoubtedly, the oven will be forgiving and make allowances for my laziness. Only this time, the cookies burned on the bottom.

Once I used some vanilla sugar at a friend’s house to make a birthday cake for my father. At least I thought it was vanilla sugar, since it was a white granular substance with a vanilla bean in it, and when I dipped my finger in it and licked, it tasted like sugar. Yet tasting the cake batter after creaming the sugar with the butter and adding the eggs, I found it extremely salty. And going back to the jar with the vanilla bean, it tasted like salt. Big surprise!

Not wanting to waste the butter and eggs, I decided to go ahead and finish making the cake, thinking rather wishfully that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad once all the flour and milk and seasoning was added. It was. It was really bad, not at all what a cake should be. That was a strange birthday celebration.

The ability to believe in wishful thinking right up until you smell the smoke or taste the cake is really a wonderful trait in many ways—naïve, trusting, childlike—but the food may be an uncustomary and undesirable shade of brown or black. The taste may bring tears to the eyes.

Although I still find it painfully annoying at times, the universe (including ovens and other cookware) does not arrange itself to pick up after me. Things are the way they are, regardless of how I would like them to be. If anything, it seems that the universe is conspiring to wise us up to our own wishful thinking. Would you wish it to be any other way?

© Edward Espe Brown

Photo by Sofia Teplitzky