Sunday, December 2, 2012

Tempermental Candy Thermometers

I had this candy thermometer that got me through grad school. I can't number the batches of fudge, toffee, and caramel this thermometer was used for.  When I graduated and moved, I took this thermometer with me.  I can tell you that after this move, this candy thermometer made exactly four more batches of fudge and no additional batches of caramel or toffee.

The first batch of fudge was off slightly, but I didn't think much of it.  The second batch was off significantly.  So, I checked my thermometer.  Knowing that at sea level water boils at 212*F, I boiled a pot of water and clipped the thermometer to the side of the pot.  176*F.  My thermometer was off by 36*.

I took this into account for my third batch of fudge.  Instead of cooking it to a recorded temperature of 234*F, I cooked it until the thermometer read 198*F.  The fudge was perfect.  My thermometer, however, was no longer accurately calibrated.

The fourth batch of fudge was as bad as the second.  The candy thermometer seemed to be further and further out of calibration with every use.  So it was that I tossed it in the trash and bought a new one.

The new candy and deep fry thermometer made it through three or four batches of fudge and five or six batches of caramel before it was broken by a thirteen year old who was "assisting" but who also fails to pay attention and dropped it on the floor.

So, back to the store I went for yet another candy and deep fry thermometer.  In the past month, it has seen me through six batches of fudge, two batches of toffee, and two batches of caramels.  The joys of the holiday season.

This past week, while I was on a work trip, one of the head members of the company for which I do technical writing asked me how I got started in baking and candy making.  I started baking with my mother as a child, and continued through my teen years, when I also began making candy.  This continued through college.  It was not until graduate school, however, that I understood what it is that I get out of these activities.

Baking and candy making are activities based in scientific principles.  Baking and candy making make sense.

People do not.

Baking and making candy keeps me grounded in the reality that there are things in this world that can be trusted, given the same environmental factors and the same input, to behave in the same way every single time.

People are not like this.

People confuse the hell out of me.  They make no sense whatsoever.  They're like that candy thermometer that got bumped during my move and ended up miscalibrated.  Same thermometer, same altitude, same ingredients.  But due to internal damage, I got vastly different results.  Sure, I could compensate for that damage.  For a period of time.  But then, the rate of miscalibration changed again.

I never know what to expect from people.  I do my best to love them well, and sometimes this works.  Sometimes, it doesn't.  Sometimes people respond with love and grace and kindness.  Sometimes, people respond with anger and bitterness and resentment.  I know that peoples' responses are a matter of how they are calibrated.  It is a matter of the internal damage they have sustained.  But unlike with my candy thermometer, I don't know how to adjust for that, because I never know when people will respond out of their brokenness and when they will respond out of wholeness.

So, I establish boundaries, and make clear my expectations.  I ask questions, and move forward, and seek more open communication.

Unlike a miscalibrated candy and deep fry thermometer, I really can't throw people in the trash because they've been damaged in ways I cannot see.

So, I continue to engage.  I continue to love as well as I can.  And as a result, I end up with relationships that are pretty sweet.  Occasionally, when hidden damage plays itself out, I find myself in the midst of a gritty situation or an all-out fire.

That is when I head to the kitchen, and pull out my trusty instruments that do not lead my astray, and which I know how to compensate for otherwise.  I mix, and boil, and stir, and add, and boil, and add, and stir some more.  And when everything is set and the dishes are done, I package up the results and send them to people who might need a little extra sweetness in their life.  I do this last because I love blessing others.  It brings me immense joy to share this gift with them.

And all seems right in the world once more.  If only for a day.

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