I have a reputation for burning food that I am cooking in a frying pan. I'd like to make a good case in my own defense - and I can, sort of - but the fact remains that I do burn things that I am frying. And sometimes baking. If not a lot, then a noticeable percentage of the time.
My husband rides me for this to no end. At this point, we've been together long enough that all he has to do is look me in the eye and smile sympathetically when something I've cooked verges on blackened. Even the kids are in on the joke.
If I am frying something, be it pancakes or frozen taquitos, and one or a few should over cook a bit, I am quick to put them on my own plate, hopefully to prevent the others in my family from noticing. If that doesn't work, I silently defend myself to anticipated dissing: I like them that way. I am being selfless and giving the best morsels to my family.
Once I made the mistake of telling my husband about this exercise we did in 5th or 6th grade. Our teacher gave us a piece of paper with a list of instructions, numbered one through fifty. Item number one instructed us to READ THROUGH ALL OF THE INSTRUCTIONS before starting in on following them. Items two through forty-nine told us to write our name on the top of the paper, perform various computations, count the number of steps from our table to the bathroom, draw a big X across our paper, etc. Then number fifty said, "Go back to the start of this list and complete ONLY items one and two." Items one and two were, respectively, to read all of the instructions before beginning and to put our name at the top of the paper.
Being a smart, overly-confident kid (at least overly-confident in academic matters), I looked at my paper, and essentially ignored instruction number one. I probably skimmed the first ten items and then decided I didn't really need to read through all the directions - I'd be able to wing it. I then proceeded to write my name on the top of my page, make X's, count steps, the whole charade. I ended up totally humilated: I'd been outed as a non-direction-reader.
My husband rides me for this one, too. Anytime I don't read the instructions thoroughly and it comes back to bite me, or is even revealed in the smallest, most harmless way, he gives me the look. Not unlike the burned food look. The sympathetic smile and slightly raised eyebrow that says, "I know you: You are a non-direction-reader and you can acquire all the advanced degrees in the world and still you will never learn." At least he loves me anyway.
Originally my plan was to write about deconstructing this whole notion and process of identity - our own and ours as perceived by others - and how it is both descriptive and prescriptive. Do I really burn things more than other people or is that just the perception based on the reputation?
Then last night I made apricot jam.
I am way into preserves and pickles and making them. I was making an enormous batch of jam, the largest I'd ever put up, and I was really concerned about burning the bottom of the pan. A significant concern in jam-making, even if you don't generally burn stuff.
When the jam was about 80% ready, I had a proud moment. I'd cooked the jam very carefully. I'd patiently heated it slowly, stirred frequently. I hadn't burned it. Progress!
So what did I do? I turned up the heat, of course. Just a little, what I thought was not too much. I'd been patiently cooking for nearly two hours, I still had to process the jars, and I was kind of ready to go to bed. Plus I wanted the jam to be a bit thicker than most homemade jams you taste.
Then, not 10 minutes later, I felt solid matter scrape off the bottom of the pan while I was stirring. Large, dark flecks came up with the spoon. I did it again - same thing, solid matter, dark flecks. I did it a third time before I admitted that I had burned the fucking jam. ARGH! I took it off the heat immediately so as not to burn it more, and stifled my desire to stir it again just to see, since I'd already brought too much of the burned gunk into the jam.
Turns out that at the end you really have to stir it more. And maybe I shouldn't have turned it up that little bit. Over-confident again.
Out the window goes my deconstruction of the notion and process of identity. Cooking on low heat and reading directions are my behavioral mantras - guidelines I know I must follow, despite all of my impulses. I give thanks to the apricot jam for reminding me to accept, once again, that I must return to these mantras. Always. I try to be more patient and more humble.