Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Journey, Part 3: Cream Puff Lessons

"There are things we know so well that we are able to do them despite ourselves."

That statement, or some version of it, floated through my dreams all last night. Sometimes someone said it to me. Once or twice, it was just announced as a pronouncement from on high.

It is Saturday morning and I am waiting for the first stage of pastry dough to cool enough (but not too much!) that I can beat in four eggs and then bake cream puffs shells. I tried it twice yesterday, curdling the eggs each time because I pushed the timing on the hot dough.

It's not like I have never made cream puff pastry before. But yesterday was an unmitigated disaster in the kitchen. My mind was everywhere but on the task before me - the simple task of adding eggs to the dough.

The shells are now in the oven baking. I think I got it right this time. I hope I got it right.

These cream puffs are for a small celebration tonight of Elizabeth's birthday. She turned 17 just two days ago and, as she is with us this weekend, I decided to make creampuffs as a surprise.

It'll be some surprise, all right, if this batch is curdled also.

I have a lot on my mind right now on several fronts. My bundle of concerns is intruding into every corner of my day. Walking to a meeting yesterday, I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I missed the small moments that bring great rewards to my life.

We had had a big snow Thursday night when a front blew through. By the time I walked yesterday, the skies were clear blue, the sun was bright, and the lawns were fresh under the solid layer of white.

I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I didn't really notice.

There was that woman, smiling and calling to the man who was just loading up a snow blower three houses down. She was bringing him a plate of cookies as a thank you for his blowing out several sidewalks, including hers, on the block.

My mind was on the meeting, and on the cream puffs that I had just botched, so her delight in his surprise was lost on me.

The meeting was one of those "good but…" types. We worked through some topics that needed some input, but ran out of time before addressing the entire list, some of which are part of my bundle of concerns.

As I walked back home, my spirits sagged, but whether as a result of the meeting or the failed cream puffs, I could not tell. A bit of both, I suspect. I shared my thoughts with Warren when he got home, tears spilling over despite my best attempts not to go there.

We spent part of the evening with dear friends, keeping them company in the shop that Linda, the wife, operates. She is closing it next week after some 14 years in business and her mood as we talked quietly ranged from calm to sad to humorous. As Elizabeth was spending the night with a girlfriend,  I decided it best to put off cream puff attempt #3 until this morning, to get a fresh start.

My thoughts were muddled last night. My spirits were all over the place. And then I had a night of dreams in which the thought I started this post with - "there are things we know so well that we are able to do them despite ourselves" - kept rolling through until I awoke with it on my tongue. 

I just took the cream puffs out of the oven. They look right. I'll find out shortly.

Whatever my thoughts, whatever my spirits, there are some things I know so well that I am able to do them despite my mood. Baking is usually one of them. Cream puffs are apparently a little more demanding, and so for want of attention, two batches were lost. Not to mention a walk to and from a meeting while all of the small moments of daily life were laid out right there. Right there, right in front of me.

As I have recently written, I am on a spiritual journey. At many points along the way, including my lowest moments, I turn back to Frederick Buechner and reflect on his calming words: Go where your best prayers take you. Unclench the fists of your spirit and take it easy. Breathe deep of the glad air and live one day at a time.

Instead of mangling those cream puffs, I should have been unclenching the fists of my spirits. While I was walking oblivious to anything but my own inner dialogue, I should have been breathing deep of the glad air.

I should have, could have taken my lessons from the cream puffs. Stop forcing - either the eggs or the issues - and take the day as it comes. Go where my best prayers take me, instead of insisting the prayers follow me to where I want to go. Take the moment - all the small moments - and enjoy the rewards.

Simple stuff, but lessons I learn over and over again.

Like being on a journey and taking step after step.

P.S. The cream puffs turned out fine.


Terri said...

What a delightful surprise these cream puffs will be. Even in your pre-occupation you may prove to be the small moment of great reward in another's day, though you cannot see it yourself.

Sharon said...

I believe that's a lesson we all need to learn over and over. Days become so busy, our minds and hearts so preoccupied we fail to notice our surroundings. That is something I will definitely try to do as March rolls in.
Those cream puffs look amazing! What a wonderful, thoughtful friend you are!! I'm sure Elizabeth was thrilled!

Ellen said...

Thanks for reminding me of my grandma, who also made cream puffs. Someday I will challenge myself to this task, but for now I'm tasting hers in my mind....