On “failed” poundcakes

One of my favorite activities is baking. More specifically, baking for others. I love to experiment with new recipes, and the occasion for which I most often do this is the gathering of the sangha I lead one Sunday a month.

Last week, in preparation for the monthly meditation session, I browsed through numerous recipes online, and finally settled on the two I found most appealing. I saved both, planning to try one out on Sunday and another next month. On Saturday morning I went shopping, and very much enjoyed selecting the ingredients, sorting through the aisles to find them.

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In the evening, after a lunch out with friends, I put out the ingredients and started mindfully preparing the batter for what promised to be a delicious, moist, orange saffron pound cake. I did this with love and joy, grateful for every single bit of the experience. I put the pound cake in the oven and, although the recipe called for 50-60 minutes of baking, I set the kitchen clock for 45 minutes, just to be safe. At about 40 minutes, I started perceiving the most delicious aroma spreading through the kitchen and the living room (I have an open kitchen). I checked on the pound cake and it appeared ready. I took it out of the oven and breathed in the delicious smell.

I then prepared the glazing, and started to gently brush it over the cake. It was then that I started to worry because the edges of the pound cake looked a bit burned, and it hadn’t quite risen “enough”.

And then…  I started to fret that the pound cake was not going to be good enough, looked at the clock (it was close to 9 p.m.), decided I still had time to make another, and got the second recipe, this time for a chai pound cake. I was about to finish making the batter when I realized I did not have the almond essence the recipe called for. I decided to get creative and use lavender essential oil, rather than just skip the almond essence (it again did not seem enough to just make do with the rest of the ingredients). When I got the pound cake out of the oven, it looked lovely, fluffy, and smelled really good. I went to bed happy (and deluded, but more on that in a second).

In the morning, I packed the two pound cakes. Once at the venue where the sangha meets, I sliced both of them to try them and decide which one I would serve (I was still pretty sure it was going to be the chai one, because the orange saffron did not look as appealing to me). Guess what? The orange saffron was delicious, moist, sweet, aromatic. It was most definitely not burned. The chai was… awful! It turns out three drops of lavender essential oil are way too much for one pound cake, the taste was overpowering and combined with the chai spices made me grimace.

I set the orange saffron pound cake sliced on a plate, and after the meditation served it with a cup of tea for a mindful eating and drinking practice. At that moment, and after meditating, it suddenly dawned on me… greediness and perfectionism had gotten the best of me. I had gone into auto-pilot mode upon seeing the “burned” edges, and everything from then on was a chain reaction: making the second pound cake in a hurry, adding a “rescue” ingredient out of my inability to just accept I did not have almond essence, and mostly feeling that what I had done was not enough or good enough. The result was evidently not good. So, as it turns out, the “failed” pound cake was not the first.

While sitting in the midst of a community that had just practiced mindfulness and loving kindness together, I was able to see clearly that every bit of the orange saffron cake was perfect from the beginning (right until the moment when I took it out of the oven and looked at it with a judging eye, that is). I was also able to laugh at myself, at all the times I think something is not good enough, one bite or one slice is not enough, one ingredient less than perfect is not enough.

Are you sometimes trapped in reactive patterns stemming from the belief or feeling of “not good enough” or “not enough”? Does this have an effect on how you nourish yourself?

About the author

Lilia Graue is a physician, psychotherapist, consultant and teacher. She works with brave humans to counter performative health, among other oppressive discourses, to do the compassionate healing work necessary to collectively create a culture of body justice and liberation, so that we may all become Fiercely Embodied.

Lilia Graue