On the technical challenge of life

My mom and I cruised through the new season of The Great British Baking Show over the weekend.

This was mostly due to the fact that I finally restored their Netflix connection while I was home, as trying to do so over the phone seemed like a bit of a reach for our combined skill and patience levels. At any rate, they now have Netflix again so we watched almost all of the available episodes of the new season, and it was completely delightful.

If you’ve never seen The Great British Baking Show (?), every episode has a theme—pastry, pies, dairy, etc—and that theme is incorporated throughout three rounds: a signature bake, a technical challenge, and a showstopper. The contestants know what they’ll be required to bake in the signature and showstopper rounds and can therefore practice at home, but the technical challenge is a complete mystery. They don’t know what it is until they’re told what they have to bake—often with very limited instructions as to how it should actually be made.

September was kind of like the technical challenge of life.

I knew what the general theme of the month was going to be (chaos) but had no idea what it would actually entail.

There was a mouse infestation that required the constant reshuffling of our belongings. We lived like gypsies for the better part of the month. There was a major campaign launch at work. There were extracurricular activities at every turn, filling nearly every day on the calendar. The whole month was punctuated by the loss of a dear friend who finally gets to stop fighting cancer, but not in the way any of us wanted.

October, in contrast, has felt blurry; it’s been a little disorienting and hard to hold onto. The date keeps catching me by surprise—how are we already in the 20s?! Where did the first three weeks go?

It all feels a little bit unsettling.

Because mostly, I want life to be a signature bake. Something classic and familiar that I can plan for in advance. Every now and again I want life to be a showstopper, but let’s be honest, that’s almost never. I’d much rather bake a respectable banana bread than construct a dazzling Eiffel tower replica out of spun sugar.

The one thing I never want life to be is a technical challenge, and yet that’s exactly what it usually is.

It’s a mystery shrouded in a gingham cloth. It’s Paul Hollywood saying “make a lemon curd” without imparting any helpful information like ingredients or measurements or instructions. It’s not something you can perfect in advance; it’s something that requires the summoning of all of your skills and your sense to make the most of the current moment.

When I expect life to be a signature bake, I’m usually disappointed. But I bet if I started to look at life more like a technical challenge, it’d be easier to roll with the punches and just keep going; to find a way to put something on the plate.

Some days it might be a mostly-acceptable eclair. Others, it’s just burnt pastry and tears.

But at least there would be something on the plate. Which is why I’m sitting here writing a blog post at 11:48pm on a Wednesday night. I needed to get back into the swing of things here and put something, anything, on the plate.

Hopefully it’s marginally better than burnt pastry.


Good Things

Obviously, Season 10 (“Collection 7”) of the Great British Baking Show.

On another food note, thoroughly enjoying the Eater’s Digest podcast.

And one last food note… I know we’ve talked about these cookies before, but it’s fall again and the Incredibly Crisp Gingersnaps are still as good as ever.

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