Sunday, February 1, 2009

Burnt Cake

It was a busy weekend. On Friday night’s agenda was a dinner party for my husband’s co-workers. This dinner party required me to prepare a very nice sit- down meal, including dessert, for nine people, many of whom I had met only once. Further, my husband would not be around to help. The dinner went really well, and we were left with a kitchen full of dirty dishes when the last guest departed at 11:30pm. We tackled the kitchen immediately, and fell asleep around 1:30am. The next morning we awoke to prepare our home for our son Charlie’s 3rd birthday party.

(You may reasonably wonder why these two events were on back-to-back days. Well, the previous weekend the Eagles unexpectedly beat the defending Super Bowl champs, earning them a trip to the NFC Championship game on Sunday. This necessitated a last-minute move of Charlie’s party from Saturday to Sunday. Anyhow, back to the story.)

Excuses aside, throwing two parties less than 24 hours apart was a lofty goal. I immediately got to work on Saturday morning. Sleep-deprived and juiced-up on coffee, I was planning to make Charlie’s birthday cake, cupcakes , and butter cream icing. Thinking I could save some time, I tried to make all three simultaneously. I doubled the cake recipe, pouring one half into a spring foam pan, and the other half into cupcakes. I popped both into the oven and set two timers. I then cleaned my mixer and got to work on my butter cream icing.

Twenty minutes into my icing prep, I smelled something burning. I immediately checked my cake. I had placed the cake on the top rack and the cupcakes on the bottom (they didn’t fit side by side). BIG mistake. The top of my cake was burned and the bottom of my cupcakes burned. I could salvage the cake by scrapping off the burned part on top and using extra icing, but the cupcakes were unsalvageable.

Once I smelled the cake burning, I rushed through my icing recipe to get the cake out of the oven. In doing so, I poured the melted sugar mixture too quickly into my meringue mixture and cooked the eggs! Thousands of little lumps dominated the icing. Six sticks of butter, seven eggs, and an entire package of sugar were completely unusable. I had to ditch the entire bowl of icing and begin again. I checked the fridge for more butter and came up 4 sticks short. An immediate trip to the store was necessary.

Two hours and about $20 worth of ingredients later, I had remade my cupcakes and icing. Guests would be arriving soon and the house was a mess, Charlie’s gift wasn’t wrapped, I hadn’t prepared any of the other food, I hadn’t taken a shower, and the kids were still in their pajamas! In an effort to save myself a half-hour of time, I had ruined everything, and cost us hours of precious time and some money.

The events of this Saturday morning were a microcosm of my life. In an effort to accomplish too many things, I wind up doing all of the tasks poorly and causing stress for everyone else.
When I was a college student, committing to many different activities was an expected part of responsible service to our Church. I bounced from one activity to the next, sometimes with little regard for my own needs for sleep and food.

But now I am a wife and a mother of multiple young children, and committing to outside activities must be a prayerful and serious decision because those commitments affect so many other people. As a social person, it is a constant challenge for me to learn to say No. As our family grows and my children get older, my responsibilities continue to increase. While I think it is important that young mothers serve outside their home in some capacity, those areas of service should be prayerfully discerned and limited. I am by no means advocating that we all become hermits. I do think, however, that I need to put first things first. My husband and family are often asked to make sacrifices because I’ve spread myself thin taking on too many commitments. Our time is limited and very valuable, and the use of our time should be the subject of much prayer and discernment.

Otherwise, you might be eating burnt cake.


Kat said...

Red, that's so funny, I had a similar cake mishap today as I was trying to prepare for a Super Bowl party. I didn't have whipping cream for the frosting and thought, "Hey, no problem, I'll just use whole milk instead." Well, whole milk just doesn't whip up like whipping cream, which I knew before hand but stubbornly decided to ignore :), so 20 minutes and several dollars of ingredients later, I started from scratch with a simpler recipe.

Courtney said...

Thanks for your story and insight about priorities and spreadng ourselves too thin. I am a SAHM, but my husband works full time and is in graduate school for the next 16 months(he just started and it has not been an easy adjustment for our family). This was a good reminder to not let the busyness of life get in the way of family and marriage. I feel like we have struggled with this since he started school, so thank you for this timely message!

Kate E. said...

Thank you Red, as I am feeling the spread right now. I have committed to more of a job responsibility on a temporary basis and it has stretched me.

Charlie and my Jack have the same birthday but I postponed the party for 2 weeks because I was just too busy at work. I was feeling really guilty over this, but was hoping to avoid some burnt cake and hoping that my now 3 year old won't care.

Of course now that the week before the party is here I am realizing that I am still just as busy. Out two nights beyond my normal two work nights with things I volunteered for. I try every few months to take a step back and re-prioritize my obligations, but I always end up in the same place...burnt cake, etc.

Maybe by our boys 4 year birthdays we will have figured this all out?
Fingers crossed for a better year of limiting the commitments.

Mary Alice said...

Red, I love the synecdoche, I want burnt cake to become an official part of our Building Cathedrals vocab, maybe if we ever get our layout figured out we can start a side bar of insider definitions.

Years of "burnt cake" have made me into the person you now think of as a homebody -- it is hard for me to beleive that I was once the president of a sorority, but I have come to so dislike that rushed, over committed feeling that I have pretty much stopped doing things outside the home altogether, plus every meal at my house is like a party these days, so I never feel alone.

Specifically about cooking, it drives me crazy that, when he is home, my husband is a better cook than I am, but this paternity leave I figured it out. He always uses a recipe, he always follows it exactly, and he ignores everything else until it is done. I get interrupted by the phone, the needs of the kids, the side dishes that are also on the stove, I improvise if ingredients are missing and I skip steps like sifting my flour, all of which leads to inconsistent results and stress.

Also, perhaps another "builders mantra": sometimes it is okay to buy the cake.

My mom took a lot of short cuts. We rarely had homemade birthday cake, if we did it almost certainly came from a mix, as did our brownies. My field hockey skirt was never ironed and our whites did not get bleached. There were times in my life when these things bothered me, but when I look back now I remember that my Mom was often available to us and almost always happy, even though she had a lot to juggle with family, professional and social needs and my dad worked crazy hours. Even now, mom can host 24 people for Thanksgiving and then leave the next day to host a huge family weekend somewhere else without (to our eyes) breaking a sweat or making anyone feel like an imposition. She does as much as she can in advance, she knows when she can get away with packaged foods (cranberry sauce, yes, mashed potatoes, no).

There are times in life when it is okay to take a short cut. For Red, I suspect that this short cut is never going to be with food, which is fine, but if you are going to go with homemade cakes from scratch, you might not be able to also do the homemade scrapbooked invitations that Kate E. produced, or, in my case, you may just have to skip birthday parties all together some years.

Elena said...

I echo the skipping birthday party sentiments. There is something about them that I just don't like. I think that we are going to follow the route of some friends of ours. They have 11 kids and they are each allowed one all-out birthday party when they turn ten. Saves a lot of stress and really makes things special. Not to mention considerable financial savings...

This Heavenly Life said...

I feel your burnt cake pain. It seems that whenever I try to do too many things, my soul just can't keep up. I get frazzled and rush through everything. Right now, I only have two children, and my husband is usually available to help, but this won't be the case forever. When more kids come, it will be harder for me to funnel all of my last-minute efforts into a productive outcome - at the expense of an enjoyable time.

It's my luck, however, that I am pretty content to not do too many extras. But that means that when I do more than I am used to, I frazzle really quickly. I'm hoping that as I learn my lesson the hard way, I'll actually remember those lessons for next time, and plan ahead...ask for needed.

Thanks for a wonderful reminder Red!

Kerry said...

totally off topic, I apologise--but would one of you Builders address the recent "hot topic" of the woman who had 8 babies-plus her previous 6?

It's so tough, in my mind, b/c many people are talking about this and I don't know what to say. From a moral perpective: here's what I can deduce:
Good- she did not selectively abort
Bad- sperm donor
Good- she wanted to implant all of the extra embryos
Bad- she had frozen embryos in the first place
Good- she likes kids, wants a large family
Bad- she's taken quite an unconventional route to achieveing such a large family.

Thanks ladies! You always have great perspective!

Anonymous said...

To Right Said Red:

There's nothing wrong with doing back to back entertaining. But the thing is, you have to know yourself well enough to know when to call the bakery and order the cake! That said, it's good to be generous with your time and home. Keep up the good work!

Elena said...

Kerry, You might want to check out for some info on the octuplet situation. The blog is a group of Canadian women (journalist, bioethicist etc.) who are adamantly prolife sans religion. I imagine that there are strong Christians among the bunch but they are leaving their faith out of the debate so as to reach more people with life-saving information. (A few of them are French-Canadian which can lead to some very cute typoes.)

Catherine said...

Red, I've been there. I've made a midnight run to the 24 hour grocery store to get the organic cake mix after the scratch cake burned. Next year I'll get the cake mix first. :)

Kerry, a wise priest once counseled me in a similar situation not to judge the "bad" decisions and so throw out the wheat with the tares. We could acknowledge what is good and holy in this woman, her desire for children, and beyond that simply commend her and her children to God. Whatever the morality of her various decisions, God still chose to entrust those 8 tiny souls to her care.

Kerry said...

Elena and Catherine, thanks for the website, and the perspective of that priest.
I appreciate it. :)

texas mommy said...

Thank you, Red, for this humble reflection that is always timely for someone like me!