Sometimes when you're working flat out the obvious things escape your notice. It's been a chaotic week filled with travel and minor illness, looming deadlines and small successes. We're on that seemingly endless final stretch to the finish line, where you're trying to pace yourself but the slightest edge of panic in the back of your mind is urging you to run faster, faster, faster even though you know it's a bad idea.
I was candy making in the weeks before we left for Hawaii and I had one recipe for fudge still hanging when we got back. I made the first batch and it was too soft. Instant frustration because it tasted amazing but the texture was off. My first thought was that I mixed up my numbers, somehow transposing Fahrenheit and Celsius, our digital thermometers can show either one, and leaving me with undercooked candy. TIme to start over. As I was heading back to the stove Alex piped up with a few suggestions for changing the ingredients. I disagreed. He discussed. I disagreed again. He persisted. Finally I grudgingly made the changes just so I could get started. The next batch came out almost exactly the same as the first one except it wasn't as delicious. Frustration again, ramped up several notches. Alex tasted it with me and after some thought mentioned that we might want to go back to my original recipe. Hmmph, you think? The more pressing concern for me was the still soft texture of the candy because this time I knew I had cooked it to the right temperature. I did a little research to make sure that I hadn't been cooking it at too low a temperature but no, mine seemed to be spot on. It was almost perfect fudge and I was driving myself crazy trying to figure out what the problem was. I had used two different digital thermometers to eliminate any issues with...argh. I got out a bowl of ice water to check my thermometers. Both of them were off, one by 3 degrees and one by 5 degrees. Trying to figure out how to calibrate the darned things took another 20 minutes, mentally smacking myself upside the head the entire time. And then I took a deep breath or three and realized how silly I was being. The stress of the deadline was getting to me . Usually I like deadlines. I need that sense of urgency to keep me motivated and on track. That's why I always enjoyed the rush of working a busy service. That edge is what makes things interesting. On the other hand, I'm not a miss the deadline kind of person, in fact I pride myself on getting things done on time. For this book we have extended our deadline into the grace period, with our editor's knowledge and consent, and still I was letting it make me crazy. Even worse, it was slowing me down.
It's funny how technology can make you complacent. My first thought was to look for my own errors before checking the accuracy of my equipment. How often to do we calibrate our digital scales and thermometers? How often do we even think it will be necessary? Back in the day, when I was attending culinary school, they reminded us to calibrate our thermometers on a regular basis. But when the world went digital there were rarely directions on how to calibrate the new tools and we stopped thinking about it. That fudge was a good reminder that past lessons can and should be applied to new technology and new situations. The way we measure ourselves is only as good as the standard we use. If we start with something slightly off it will be almost impossible to get the results we want. I was quietly frantic because in my head the deadline had passed and we were already late and falling further and further behind. In reality we have a new deadline and although it will be tight, I know we can make it if I settle down and remember to breathe. The recipes are taking longer than we anticipated to finish but they are so much better than anything we've done before. It's worth the extra time and effort that we are putting into them and I need to remember that. After calibrating both of my thermometers, I made the candy for the third time and it was perfect, we're talking can't stop eating it deliciousness. Accurate measurements made all the difference. Now it's time to go write it up for the manuscript.
March 9, 2009