Baking, Reading, Writing

It’s baking hot here in Alabama. I step out of the front door, and a wave of heat envelops me. The heat messes with my brain and burns my skin. I have headaches, and get light sunburn from walking out to the car.

The heat is bad for my head, but good for some vegetables. 

Bounty from my parents’ garden

We have more squash and zucchini than I know what to do with. And not tiny little squashes and zucchinis, either.

Furball and Zucchini

Zuchinni the size of a small cat.

I’ve never been someone who likes to cook anything beyond very simple meals that involve lots of cans and pasta. My attitude for a long time has been that it would be wasteful to try to learn even rudimentary cooking, like baking. I’m afraid of using up a lot of ingredients and making food that is completely inedible.

But we got a huge bag of zucchini from my parents this week, and I’m determined to use it before it goes bad. There are a few foods I remember making with my mom when I was a kid, and one of them was zucchini bread.

So I found a recipe for zucchini muffins online, and I started gathering the ingredients. Then I started to panic. Wait – no applesauce. Maybe I could chop some apples in the food processor? Wait – we don’t have brown sugar. Would our other, non-bleached sugar still work?

I started to freak out. The scales were slowly tipping. With every missing ingredient the voice in my head said “Give up now. Don’t be wasteful, the muffins aren’t going to turn out right anyways.”

So I took a break. I searched for a different recipe. And in just a few minutes, I found a recipe for banana zucchini muffins. This one had just three steps, fewer ingredients, and hey, even called for over-ripe bananas, three of which I had sitting on the kitchen table.

To someone who cooks regularly, I’m sure watching me as I mixed together the ingredients would have been a painfully boring experience. I went really slowly, making sure I wasn’t confusing tablespoons and teaspoons, repeating the directions out loud. But my boyfriend was at work and even my cats were taking naps. If I failed, I planned to throw away the evidence, take out the trash, and never tell anyone that this had happened. I could be wasteful once, I reasoned.

But my muffins came out great. They didn’t have the delicious alchemy of a gifted chef like my boyfriend, but they were solid, tasty muffins.

Banana Zucchini Muffin – My first baked thing

My attitude about wastefulness also applies to my writing. I’ve been wanting to try writing a novel for a while, but I’ve been holding off, reasoning that I need to get better at writing short stories first. The thought of spending a year or more on a novel, and never seeing it published, is terrifying. The same voice that keeps me from trying to cook also tells me how complicated writing a novel would be, how much time it would take, and how in the end it wouldn’t hold together. I’m afraid I’d be forced to throw the whole thing out, and pretend my first novel never existed.

Supporting this voice are the novels that I love most. I like complicated, lengthy novels with twists in perception that creep up on you. I’ve just broken a two-month long novel-reading drought with Sarah Waters’ Affinity. It’s a gorgeous book, and I’m reading it slowly, because I love the characters and I don’t want to stop hanging out with them.

I’m worried about writing a novel because I feel like I don’t have all the skills that an amazing book calls for. How can I hope for the expert alchemy of Peter Carey or Sarah Waters or John Crowley when I’m still learning how to make short stories?

What I think I need to do is plan a novel in steps: make an outline of a character’s journey and set myself the small task of taking each step. Tell myself not to stress over writing the best novel the world has ever seen. But write a good novel, that holds together, and that I’ll share with a few friends. Tell myself as many times at it takes that trying something new isn’t wasteful.

{Here’s the easy, yummy Recipe I used to make my muffins.}