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Betty Botter Bakes a Batch of Bitter Batter

Speaking of cooking mishaps……………

There was a little incident the weekend before last concerning some pancakes. It went something like this. I had in mind to make whole wheat banana pancakes for breakfast Sunday morning. I screwed up the batter when I accidentally spilled the jar of cinnamon. It was a lot of cinnamon.

But here’s where things took a wrong turn. Instead of throwing it out and starting again from the beginning (after all, it was just a few cups of whole wheat flour, baking powder and cinnamon), I tried to fix it. I added agave. I added more flour. I added more fruit. I tried a few more spices. But I failed miserably. The pancakes were bitter and awful. No one would eat them. Exhausted and upset that breakfast was ruined, I went upstairs to feel sorry for myself and I spoiled the whole morning.

After I had some time to collect myself and recover, I spent some time thinking about what really happened. Why, I asked myself, had I refused to throw out the batter? Why couldn’t I admit a simple mistake, wipe the slate clean and start again? Wasn’t the whole point of making pancakes to do something nice for my family? Have a pleasant, healthy meal together? Why was I so stubborn that I would sacrifice the part that really mattered to me rather than admit a relatively minor screw up? What on earth was wrong with me?

Sometimes cooking is a metaphor for issues outside of food. While it may not be true for everyone, in my case, my behavior in the kitchen speaks volumes about the unconscious principles that govern my life.

For example, I invariably make too much food because food was a form of love in my family. There was always extra, and we were encouraged to eat. If you love your family you feed them more. Leftovers were saved. We didn’t waste food. Wasting was bad. To this day, I still hate to throw things out, and regularly leave things in the refrigerator well past their prime, and sometimes until they mold. I would never eat those things or feed them to anyone I liked –yet it still pains me to throw them away. I do it over and over again, no matter how ridiculous.

And then there are the mistakes. Sometimes I get a little creative with my cooking. I like to experiment with food, and I don’t always follow a recipe. This approach has had mixed results. Sometimes it works out beautifully and I end of creating an awesome dish. Other times it’s just so-so, and occasionally nothing short of inedible.

And when like the pancakes, things go awry, I simply refuse to give up. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pot roast or a pan of mashed potatoes – I dig in my heels and refuse to admit defeat. I refuse to admit I have failed. I keep trying to fix what can’t be fixed, when it would make a whole lot more sense, and have a better outcome, if I simply tried again.

When it comes to making too much food, or throwing things out, there are simple solutions. Buy less at the supermarket, don’t make extra, and throw out leftovers after a prescribed amount of time. But the reluctance to give up and admit failure struck me as a problem that went beyond food. My willingness to sacrifice the forest for a few trees had gotten me in more than one pickle.

It is the source of arguments, and their lack of resolution. It prevents me from asking for help when I need it. It is the reason I sometimes give up, on projects and people. Insisting on getting it right the first time often prevents me from getting it right at all – and this becomes the source of many failures, false starts, and much unnecessary anguish. I need to learn to throw out the bitter batter before I ruin the meal.

Life lessons from pancakes. Who knew.

The thing is, it’s just these sort of things that hold us back from achieving our goals. Hidden motivations, fears, and ingrained behaviors are the reason we fail to exercise, eat right and be healthy. They govern our relationships with our co-workers, friends, spouses and ourselves. They’re why we diet, or make small changes, but never seem to stick with them. They can be a huge source of tension and stress and physical pain. Finding them and rooting them out, is part of becoming a healed, whole and healthy person.

So I have a new mantra. Bitter batter makes a bad breakfast. Which is my way of reminding myself to ask the question, am I holding onto this (food, clothing, relationship, idea) for a reason, or because I’m afraid to let go? Does this choice bring me closer to my goal? Or am I subconsciously undermining the things I really value?