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So Many Notes and Colors and Flavors
[Monday, January 19, 2015]
Shiv was comfort-baking again,
this time with some company.
Heron had assured him that
it was better to make things for
himself, because even if they were
cookies, then at least they were cookies
made with decent ingredients and not
topped with an inch of day-glow frosting.
Today Shiv and Heron were baking
shortbread cookies, because Heron
had told Shiv that once you learned
the basic recipe, you could create
dozens of different variations.
Shiv and Gray had made shortbread
before, because it was dead easy,
but Shiv didn't have it memorized yet.
"Are you sure I'm doing this right?"
Shiv said, yanking at the bag of dried fruit.
He'd gotten two kinds, one regular and
one with candied bits for fruitcakes,
so they could compare results.
"Yes, I'm sure," Heron said.
"You might try cutting the bag
rather than tearing, though."
"Oh yeah," Shiv said, feeling stupid.
He flicked out the tiny bit of metal
that he kept under a fingernail and
used it to slit the package open,
then measured out the fruit.
Heron snitched a few bits
from the bag to nibble.
"That's good," he said.
"Okay, we have all of
our ingredients ready."
"Mise en place," Shiv said.
"Gray taught me that."
"That's a very useful skill
in the kitchen," Heron agreed.
"Now we make the dough. This
works a lot like soda bread, and
you already know how to do that.
Make a mountain of your flour,
then add the butter and rub it in
with your fingers until it's crumbly."
Shiv obeyed, enjoying the silky feel
of the flour and even the slippery butter.
As he worked, he could feel the textures
beginning to change, until the mixture
resembled a pile of breadcrumbs.
"That looks good," Heron said.
"It's time to add the sugar
and the vanilla extract."
It was real vanilla, too,
the good stuff that the Finns
made at home from booze
and whole vanilla beans.
When the bottle opened,
the whole kitchen abruptly
smelled just like vanilla.
Heron took a deep,
"I love real vanilla,"
he said. "It's like
"Yeah, I get that,"
Shiv said as he
measured it in.
He turned to reach
for the dried fruit.
Then Heron backed
into him, because
Shiv's kitchen was
small for two people.
Shiv felt something
brush against his butt
and jerked away, whacking
his hip painfully on the stove.
His flailing hand hit a bottle
of vinegar, which promptly rolled
onto the floor and shattered.
Flinching away from that,
Shiv bashed into the hood
over the stove and knocked
off the big tea jar, which
landed in the cookie dough,
spilling loose tea everywhere.
"Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" Shiv said.
He could hear his own voice
cracking as he tried not to cry.
"I can't do anything right."
"It feels like that right now,
doesn't it?" Heron said. "But
it won't last forever. I promise."
"I don't know why I'm still so -- so --"
Shiv said, wringing his hands.
"You've gone through a lot,
especially in the last month.
It's only been a few weeks
since you got assaulted."
Heron said. "Don't expect
to get over it instantly. I didn't."
Shiv looked up at Heron through
his fringe. The older man was
always so calm, it was easy to forget
that people had pounced him too.
Heron had told him about that
after hearing what Chyou did.
It was hard to imagine anyone
stupid enough to misread all of
the 'so not interested' vibes
that Heron gave off, but then,
some people were just
dumb as doorstops.
"I guess you'd know,"
Shiv admitted. He
clenched his fingers
together in an attempt
to stop the shaking.
"Do you want some help?"
Heron asked, his hands
hovering over Shiv but
not making contact.
"No -- it's not -- I can't --"
Shiv stuttered, jigging away.
"Okay, no problem," Heron said,
dropping his hands. "I'll let you
work through it yourself, then.
You can handle this."
Shiv panted for air,
struggling to get
his breathing back
under control again.
Breathe, Dr. G whispered
in the back of his mind.
Slow your breathing, and
your heart will follow.
Shiv concentrated on that,
and after a minute, he could
open his eyes and look around.
The kitchen was a disaster.
Broken glass and red wine vinegar
spread all over the tile floor.
The tea jar had landed in
the cookie dough, unbroken,
but leaking tea leaves everywhere.
"See, it's not so bad," Heron said.
"Only the store-bought bottle broke,
not the special one, and everything
can be cleaned up in a minute."
"It's not special," Shiv said,
clutching it so hard that
his knuckles turned pink.
It was just a big white jar with
TEA printed on the front that
he'd found in the stash building.
"Okay," Heron said. "That's
up to you. We can clean up."
"But the cookies are ruined!"
Shiv wailed as he looked at
the ugly black mound.
"No they're not," Heron said.
"We'll just make that one
a batch of tea cookies."
"Huh?" Shiv said.
"Plenty of recipes for
shortbread cookies use
black tea leaves," Heron said.
"We can make more dough
to use the fruit later, if you
still feel like cooking."
"I am not giving up,"
Shiv said through his teeth.
"Good for you," Heron said.
"How about I wash the tea jar
and you clean up the glass, since
you're good with sharp things?"
Shiv would never get used to
how the Finns accepted him
so easily, superpowers and all.
"Fine," he said, and swept his hand
above the shards to gather them up.
Then he used some rags to clean
the vinegar off the tile floor.
Meanwhile, Heron emptied
the remaining tea into a bag,
then washed the white jar.
"Let that air dry all the way
before you put the tea back
into it," Heron advised.
"Okay," Shiv said, then
looked at the lump of dough
covered in tea leaves. "You
really don't think this is ruined?"
"No, it'll be fine," Heron said.
"I'll just pick it up and shake off
the excess tea, then knead in
what's stuck to the dough."
Shiv watched as Heron did so,
and the dough wound up with
little black flecks throughout.
"Taste it if you want to,"
Heron said, pinching off
a little for himself. "If there's
still too much tea in it, we
can just add more dough."
Heron's blob had somehow
escaped the general massacre.
When Shiv sampled the dough,
though, it tasted pretty much the same
as shortbread always did, just with
little leathery bits of tea that had
kind of a dark flavor to them.
Shiv liked dark flavors.
"This is good," he said,
and started rolling out
the dough to be cut.
"I'm glad you like it,"
Heron said. "Now you
have caffeinated cookies."
Shiv grinned. "Well, that
doesn't suck much at all."
Carefully he cut the cookies
from the dough, rerolling it once
to make more circles, then leaving
the last scraps in rough shapes.
Meanwhile Heron was kneading
bits of dried fruit into his dough.
Shiv popped his baking sheets
into the oven and set down
the other two by Heron.
Then he started mixing
another batch of dough
for the candied fruit.
It wasn't like they'd run out
of people to eat the cookies.
"Done," Heron said, dusting off
his hands. "As soon as yours
come out of the oven, we can
transfer the cookies to cooling racks
and then put my batch in to bake."
"Yeah, that works," Shiv said.
Then he sighed. "I'm sorry that
cooking with me turned into
such a disaster. Again."
"It's not a disaster, it's just
a little awkward," Heron said.
"But it made a huge mess,"
Shiv protested, grimacing.
"Everyone makes messes
sometimes, and everyone
can learn to clean them up,"
Heron said firmly. "That's life,
Shiv, if you panic over every mess,
you'll be running from one crisis
to another for the rest of your days."
"That sucks," Shiv grumbled.
"Yes it does, so don't do that,"
Heron said. "Learn basic skills
for safety and cleanup. Then when
something goes wrong, you just
pick up the pieces and move on."
"Yeah, with me around, something
always goes wrong," Shiv said.
"Everyone makes mistakes,"
Heron repeated. "It doesn't mean
there is anything wrong with you."
He chuckled. "On the contrary,
some cultures put a tiny error
in their crafts on purpose."
"What? Why?" Shiv said.
"Some believe that only God
can create perfection," Heron said.
"Others think the work might come
alive if it's completed. Navajo rugs
skip a stitch to let out the evil spirits."
"Wow," Shiv said. "I never heard
of anything like that. How weird."
"It's not weird," Heron said. "It's
just a different way of looking at
mistakes, and all of those are
healthier than beating up on
yourself for every goof."
Shiv wished that his head
worked that way, but it was
mostly full of bad tape, unless
it happened to be running Heron
or Dr. G or Boss White or ...
... actually, now Shiv had
more channels in there than
he used to, and the new ones
were much better than the old.
"Sounds nice," Shiv said wistfully.
"Of course, it's also a good idea
to think about what went wrong
and why, so you can avoid
repeating it," Heron said.
"Well that's obvious," Shiv said.
"My kitchen's a sardine can.
It's great for one person, but
even two gets crowded."
"Has that caused problems
before this?" Heron asked.
"Yeah, Luci was cooking in here
with me, and she dumped soy sauce
on her dragon shirt," Shiv said.
"So we might consider cooking
in a different venue," Heron said.
"I'm sure that our uncles would be
happy to host comfort cooking."
"We did that at Christmas,"
Shiv said. "It was ... nice, and
you could park a bus in that kitchen."
"Simon needs the turning radius,"
Heron said with a shrug. "That
makes it nice and roomy when
the rest of us join the fun."
"I know," Shiv said. "I'd love
to cook there more often, but it's
on the other side of the country."
"So?" Heron said. "That's not
a barrier when you know teleporters --
all of whom seem to have heard that
Uncle Tolli got a pasta maker for Christmas."
Shiv snickered. "Let me guess, now
they're all hanging around making
puppy-dog eyes, hoping to get fed."
"Yep," Heron said. "They're adorable."
"Heron? How did you know that
the cookie dough wasn't wrecked?"
Shiv wondered, sniffing the air.
The cookies smelled delicious.
"I know a lot of variations on
shortbread, so I figured we could
just switch flavorings," Heron said.
"The more you know about cooking,
the easier it becomes to recover
from the inevitable mishaps."
"Cool," Shiv said. "I didn't
know you could do that."
"Cooking is like painting or
writing a song," Heron explained.
"Just as there are only so many notes
or colors, there are only so many flavors --
it's how you combine them that sets you apart."
Suddenly the timer on the oven dinged.
Shiv pulled out his sheets and began
picking the shortbread cookies off
them to put on the cooling rack.
Heron moved his trays into
the oven and reset the timer.
Shiv added the candied fruit
to the fresh batch of dough,
then started kneading it.
Bits of red, green, and yellow
appeared and disappeared
as he worked the dough.
"That's what I like best about
making stuff," Shiv said. "There are
so many notes and colors and flavors.
It feels like I can do ... almost anything."
"You can," Heron assured him.
"It's just a matter of learning what
each ingredient can do, whether it's
a musical instrument, a pigment, or
a scoop of loose tea leaves. Once you
know that, then you can make combinations
that nobody has ever imagined before."
Shiv felt the corners of his mouth
curl up. "Or make glorious mistakes."
Heron patted him very gently
on the shoulder, letting Shiv
see every move on the way.
"Creativity is allowing yourself
to make mistakes," Heron said.
Art is knowing which ones to keep."
Shiv bit into one of the tea cookies
and moaned in sheer pleasure.
"Well, I'm definitely keeping this one!"
* * *
Comfort baking helps people feel better. Making food, preferably healthy food, is a form of self-care. Even homemade treats are better than storebought junk food.
Frosting and food coloring can be pretty bad for you. It is possible to make frosting from real food -- I'm partial to cream cheese frosting on carrot cake -- and food coloring from kitchen ingredients that you can use in making your own cookies. While some of these are subtler colors and flavors, others are dramatic: pomegrante makes things extremely red, while spirulina or matcha will make them very green.
Shortbread cookies come in many flavors, including Earl Grey. You can pretty much use any tea leaves you like, though. The dough can be mixed in various ways. Heron likes to use his fingers; sometimes Shiv goes along with that, other times he uses a spoon.
This is a typical fruit cake mix of candied fruit bits. This is a fancy mix of regular dried fruits. Both are good for baking, but more people like dried fruit than candied fruit.
Mise en place is a French culinary technique of preparing things in advance, which literally means "put in place." It also improves organization in other life areas outside the kitchen, making it an ideal technique to practice during times of chaos. It can help you calculate preparation time, too. Understand the techniques and steps. Here is a worksheet and key about it.
The rewind button in the brain can replay good tape or bad tape. But mostly, these guys are assholes. Undoing verbal abuse requires silencing the inner critic. This involves changing negative self-talk to positive self-talk. Here are some examples of those changes, and a list of positive self-talk statements. Shiv has a hard time because he has rarely heard phrases from positive parenting. He is just now getting to where, sometimes, a good phrase will play instead of a bad one. In order to work, positive statements must feel true. If not, the mind rejects them and may even work against them. Often it's necessary to start with a small step ("I am trying something new.") before working up to the main goal ("I am making great progress.") later. Here is a list of affirmations sorted by category.
It has to be okay to make mistakes, because everyone makes mistakes and that's how we learn. Many traumatized children are afraid to make mistakes due to their past experiences, a very serious limitation in life. Create an environment that is resilient about mistakes. This encourages people to deal with them and learn from them instead of hiding them and making matters worse. There's even a game for learning this. In one of my online classes I assigned students to try a project at the edge of their current skill level, which pretty much guarantees something will go a bit pear-shaped.
Success relies on knowing how to analyze and solve problems. Follow the engineering problem-solving pattern.
"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep."
-- Scott Adams