Sunday, February 21, 2010

Punch it!

We made homemade pretzels yesterday.  Well, actually pretzel sticks, because I couldn't quite get them to roll out well enough to make the folded kind.  But, the sticks are yummy.

Back on track, I'm fairly decent when it comes to cooking.  Ann and I both enjoy being in the kitchen, and we eat well around our house.  One thing I'm not good with, to be honest, is baking.  It's just not something I've done a lot of nor had much practice with doing.  Ann bakes bread on a weekly basis, plus does cakes, cupcakes, tortillas, and a wide variety of other goodies.  I use flour, basically, to make gravy.

I decided, though, that I would tackle the pretzels.  Why? Well, I'm probably the bigger soft pretzel fanatic of the family.  Ann and the kids had just made a batch of graham crackers, so I thought I'd handle the pretzels.  Well, I got everything mixed up and then started running into a few difficulties.  We'll leave out the homophonic (same-sounding) word jokes: "You don't knead the dough right now." So I put the dough back in the bowl---I don't need it, right?  Those are jokes that I could do all night.

So, we got the dough mixed up, kneaded, and it had time to rise.  The next step in the process?

"Punch the dough to deflate it."  There were some other suggestions for if the dough is tight and such.

Now, I'm not much of a fighter, but I do have decent upper-body strength.  So, what did I do?  I hauled off and punched the dough.  I expected resistance.  Some resistance, any resistance…, I punched downward with a fairly large amount of force.  And that punch went straight through the dough, contacted with the (fortunately) plastic bowl and met the resistance of the countertop.  This resulted in a fist-shaped hole in the dough, a resounding "wham" heard throughout the house, and two bruised knuckles.  I expressed my pain rather loudly, resulting in Ann asking if I was ok.  (She was concerned I had fallen, because apparently the hit on the counter sounded like a 235 pound body hitting the floor.)

Why did this happen?  Simply this: words have meanings, but those meanings can be varied.  "Punch" is apparently one of those words.  In baking parlance, punch just doesn't mean what it means in karate, boxing, or self-defense!  It's meant to be a more gentle whack, simply to remove excess air from the dough.

What can I learn from the pain?  And why am I allowing you to hurt yourself laughing at me for it? (yes, you should be laughing.  It's funny.  Painful, but funny.)

First of all: Lack of experience sometimes causes us to miss the obvious.  It never occurred to me that the dough wouldn't put up a fight.  Pretzels, after all, aren't French.  So, not having any real hands-on time baking, I didn't think about 'punch' and it's possibilities.  We do that in life sometimes, we fail to see beyond the scope of our own experience.  What should we do about that?  Find people to learn from that have the experience, that have the knowledge.  Or crack open a book and read to learn from the author's experience. 

Side note on that: make sure the author's viewpoint and experience are considered.  In cooking, for example, a European cuisine manual will never mention bringing eggs to room temperature, which is necessary sometimes, because they don't refrigerate eggs.  The chicken egg has a natural coating that keeps it from spoiling at room temperature.  We wash that coating off in America, so our eggs need to be kept cold.

This need to learn from others is crucial.  Get books. Read them.  Find audio resources.  Listen to them.  Go to classes, workshops, seminars.  Sit around a table with people that know things you don't and listen to them.  Ask probing questions.  Learn from others as much as from your own experience.

A second thing to learn is for those of you who teach others: be careful what you assume the other person understands.  Don't be patronizing or condescending, but be considerate.  It had never occurred to Ann, who had already had to explain 'sticky dough' as sticking to itself, not the bowl, that I would put my best A-Team on the risen dough.  (I don't blame her, just illustrating).  So, she didn't explain 'punch.'  What terms or jargon do you use when teaching or explaining that confuses others?  How often do you do it just to keep those people confused?

I'm afraid we do this too often in church life, especially.  It's a way of holding power over others by making them feel outside by not knowing what's really happening.  It happens in teaching as well.  Really consider what you're teaching and make sure you have established an environment that makes it okay to ask questions that might sound simple.  Don't answer with a "It should be obvious, but I'll explain……"  You never know when someone's going to punch a hole in the dough.

Finally, as challenge: don't be afraid to tackle something different.  Even when it takes a little bit of pain to learn the lessons.  I had a great pretzel last night while watching a really dumb movie (Looney Tunes: Back in Action).  The pretzel made the movie worth it.  I've learned what it is to punch dough.  I had a good laugh.  My wife, who hadn't had the best day, finished the day laughing.


What are you afraid of doing simply because you don't know how?  What will it take to try?

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