Thursday, October 28, 2010

To Heal, Pour Salt In Wound

I'd like to share a little story about failure.

This story is a personal story, so I know all of the little details about the main character, like motives. Thankfully, I can tell you the moral of the story, too.

I decided to make caramels. I recently saw this recipe for salted caramels and they looked really good.

I wanted them. However, I did not want the $1.50 per price tag from a real candy shop that came with them.

What do the poor do? They make!

I took my sugar, water, light corn syrup and cream of tarter and heated them up real good.

I let it do its thing.

I added the heavy cream and soy sauce (I know, weird) right when the recipe said to.

I lobbied in the butter.

I mixed. I stirred. I did everything right.

How did they turn out?


They were definitely burnt. Worse, the apartment smelled like burnt Chinese food with a hint of dairy.

What had I done wrong? I added all the right ingredients. I followed directions. I didn't question the soy sauce, even though my limited candy making experience told me it just wasn't right to add Asian condiments.

And now I had this.

After yelling at THAT STUPID STOVE for several minutes, I opted to just relax.

I assure you, this "just relax" nonsense is very uncharacteristic of me. If I did everything right, it had to turn out. It was science. It was the rule.

In another bout of totally uncharacteristic action, and said to myself, "I'll make them again tomorrow."

Because...I wanted the house to smell bad again? I cannot tell you what made me want to try making the caramels again.

Plucky stick-to-it-tive-ness. Stubbornness. Tomato, to-mah-to.

The next day, I followed the directions again, but this time made the caramel on a different burner of the stove, thinking it would keep from getting as hot as the bigger one I'd tried the day before. However, this burner didn't reach all parts of the pot, and I feared it would create a hot spot in the middle, burning half of my caramel, making it...I dunno, half as worse as yesterday?

In my fear, I abandoned ship. I pulled them early, afraid that they would burn and that we'd have a repeat burnt-Chinese-food-day in the kitchen.

How did the second batch turn out?

Underdone. Because I hadn't cooked them long enough at the end, they never solidified like the slice-able and chewy caramels the recipe (which now felt like it was taunting me in a mean-kids-on-the-playground kind-of-way) promised.

So, proving that I was still the head of my kitchen, and that no soy-infused caramels were going to bring me down, I dumped them out into a bowl, and they became sauce.

This was the best caramel sauce ever. It has topped both ice cream and popcorn. It finds its way onto my spoon in the middle of the night. And, it does not taste at all like Chinese food, burnt or otherwise. The soy sauce adds a smoky flavor that adult tongues really appreciate (completely different than the saccharine-only sweets for kiddos).

Here are the parts I'm sure you've been waiting for: the reflection, and the moral of the story.

I think on blogs, and in real life, we have a tendency to share only our successes, or the things we think others will like to see, or the things that turn out perfectly. I also think that's a big disservice to the writer and the readers.

I am not perfect. I am way, way imperfect. I have been reminded of that by outside forces lately, but I think that learning it from my own failed endeavors helped me realize that it's OK. Since much of my life feels a little upside down right now, it was really good to have this absolute failure in a very unimportant area to remind myself to deal with it, get over it, move on. This advice works for those little things.

In a sense, I think the advice evolves when the failures get bigger, more important. Our path in life, our relationships, and the big-ticket decisions don't always turn out perfectly, or even the type of imperfect we expected and were ready to deal with. Sometimes the caramel burns. Sometimes you pull early and things still don't turn out. Sometimes the smell of burnt Chinese food will seep into your pores.

But sometimes, you turn the failure into something. Sometimes it unexpectedly works in ways you didn't anticipate, and winds up in bowls of ice cream at first you didn't think you needed, but end up being essential and really comforting. Sometimes just going with the soy sauce, as weird as it sounds, works out.

And so I am here to repeat something you already know, but that I needed reminding of this week. While many things can't be changed outside your skin, you're in control of what you do. If you blow it once, give it another go. You might fail again, but that might just be OK.

The End (of the story).


  1. You have a true gift, friend! Keep writing.

    And, I still want a blog lesson!


  2. Haha, thanks, Molly! We definitely need to catch up, and we can incorporate a lesson! :)