Perfectionism, procrastination, and dulce de leche

June 10, 2009

I didn’t grow up in a household that entertained; during the first 18 years of my life, the number of parties at our house could be counted on one hand. So the idea of throwing a dinner party is intimidating on its own, never mind that I regularly subject myself to lovely magazine spreads depicting the perfect get-together, one where all the guests look like a J. Crew spread, no one spills wine on the carpet, and everything comes out of the oven on time. As a result, even as my cooking skills advanced, I rarely shared them with friends. A dinner party seemed like so much work, for results that I couldn’t guarantee would be perfect.

This blog began as a way to combat that perfectionism. I figured that committing to a blog would help me learn to rise above my Martha Stewart tendencies and just create and share something delicious every weekend. And if I left something in the oven too long, sending my perfectionist dreams up in a literal cloud of smoke, well, that would at least be good reading.

But then the other perfectionism kicked in: you see, I create content for Web sites for a living. I know how it’s supposed to be done. I know what not to do. I have a vision for what this site will eventually become. And I struggled–continue to struggle–with the many steps between what it is now and what I know it could be. In culinary terms, I want to skip all the chopping and simmering and go right to the eating.

This all came to mind the other day as I made dulce de leche in the slow cooker. The simplicity of this recipe (from Slow Cooker Cooking by Lora Brody) astonishes: you just mix whole milk, sugar, a vanilla bean, and a pinch of baking soda in the slow cooker insert, set it to high, and let it cook uncovered for several hours. I stayed home while I was making it, so I was able to observe the sauce’s progress: After a few hours, it started to look like vanilla bean gelato, with its dark specks of vanilla on an off-white background, and it filled the kitchen with a sweet, musky floral smell. I was practically dancing with anticipation–until I checked back a few hours later and found a near-gray sludge topped with an odd froth that looked like dirty sea foam. The smell had gone from almost sickly sweet to the distinct odor of milk that was just starting to turn.

I seriously started to worry that something had gone wrong, that my caramel dreams would not be realized. But in the midst of my distress I told myself to just wait and see what happened next. Sure enough, my patience was rewarded within a few hours, when the sludge had transformed to a rich, sticky caramel. I warmed the last cup of milk and whisked it into the mixture, making it into a proper sauce. After it cooled, I transferred it to two clean jars: one for me, and one to give to friends.

As I think about this blog going forward, I hope to keep in mind the dulce de leche, which had to go through some pretty ugly stages on its way to becoming a deliciously sweet, aromatic sauce that enlivens everything it touches.

{ 1 trackback }

Kylie Batt1
June 13, 2010 at 9:26 pm

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mrs. Kennedy June 11, 2009 at 8:24 am

There you are!

That’s a wonderful lesson in patience, faith in the recipe, and I guess faith in yourself.

Jin July 26, 2009 at 1:10 am

hi michelle! it was nice meeting you at blogger prom. i just emailed you pics! =)

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