Taking Out The Slop

When I had an experience last month where I literally took out the slop, it got me thinking a lot about avoidance, ‘cause who actually likes to deal with slop?

As you’ve probably guessed, this is not an article about feeding animals, or farming for that matter, and if you run on the squeamish side, you may not want to read this. But, I will reassure you: no one got sick or was harmed in the making of what happens next.

The story that I am about to tell has some parallels with an article I wrote on bread-gone-bad but it was so much worse, on every possible level, that there was no part of me that was appreciating the enormous learning opportunity that was presenting itself, until mid-way though it all.

The Dream

Some of you know that I am a fan of using up about-to-expire food, formerly so extreme that many years ago I gave myself food poisoning on the day that I wrote my Registered Clinical Social Worker exam. But I digress, that’s an entirely different story.

Last month I was bitten by the ‘use it up’ bug and was inspired to make a lemon-yogurt snack cake. Set-to-expire yogurt: check; an abundance of dehydrating lemons: check; buttermilk: check…it was all looking good. The batter came together well, looking nothing out of the ordinary. It had a nice lemony scent that had me imagining that a slice of cake later that day would make a very fine accompaniment to a cup of tea. I even took an egotistical thought-train-trip, fantasizing about how I could masquerade as a devoted baking parent, offering snack cake to my children and a visiting friend.

The Nightmare

Ten minutes before the cake was scheduled to be done, I opened the oven to check it, in an effort to prevent over-baking. Oven now open, I entered a state of complete disorientation. I was too confused to actually be shocked (which came later). Testing toothpick in hand, I stared down at the liquid batter in my glass baking pan that was bubbling and spurting like a type of witch’s brew. Unclear of what was going on, I futilely stabbed my toothpick in the middle: it was pure, boiling liquid, and the batter was a deep tan colour.

Grasping still for answers as to what was going on, I smelled it, and it was not fine. No. Not fine at all. I didn’t have a clue what had happened.

So then I called out for support because I was starting to panic. My worst fear seemed something to the effect that I had completely lost all baking ability—that there was something in me that had permanently forgotten, on the most fundamental of all levels, the skill of baking. And while I am a counsellor, I still have to watch out for and deal with irrational thoughts.

But then someone in my household had a sensible solution: inspect each and every cake ingredient until we could identify a rogue item. Lemons: fine; yogurt: nothing funky; flour: good; butter: fresh; baking powder: check; salt: check; sugar: oh-oh. I tasted it and my mouth puckered. “This ain’t no sugar,” I thought. But what was it??? Quick brain scramble and review: I had been cleaning out my pantry two weeks before and had reorganized everything into containers. And it was at that point that I realized that I had added some unlabelled citric acid to the sugar container.

Ignoring The Slop

I had to leave the kitchen at that point. I couldn’t deal. Every time I looked at the slop I got triggered.

So then I spent the next two hours pretending that I hadn’t made a pan o’ slop. I closed the doors to the kitchen, I did some housework in other parts of my home and I almost forgot about it—until it was time to make dinner.

I sized up the mess again and it dawned on me that no amount of avoiding was going to make the slop disappear. It’s an obvious point, but I can resort to magical thinking when anxious.

Taking Out The Slop

So I touched the pan, looked again at the mess and made the decision to take action, heaving the now-cool pan in my arms and taking it outside to the compost bin. And while I wanted to believe that I could quickly dump it in the compost and run back in the home, it had now congealed in its cooled state while also hardening on the top, which made it very challenging to remove from the pan. My arm strength was not great so it was a challenge to hold the pan in one hand, scrape with the second and prevent the pan from falling into the compost bin and breaking.

But I did it and damn, now I had to wash the pan. This was a job that only a human dishwasher could handle. First soak. Then return to the kitchen and deal (again).

And then I felt scads better after the pan was restored to its original state.

What did I Learn?

Taking Action is Important

The biggest lesson that came to me is that dealing with something difficult is more than just acknowledging. Taking responsibility and following through with dealing with the consequences was important. And it wasn’t easy.

Let’s break this down and look at two sets of consequences: avoiding and facing, using my story as an example.

Ignoring The Slop (Avoiding) – Possible Consequences:

  • House starts to smell
  • Batter rots over time
  • I can’t use my baking dish again (if I’ve thrown it out) and have to buy another
  • I leave the pan for someone else in the family to deal with, which could cause conflict and/or resentment
  • It is unfinished business that stays in the back of my mind, preventing me from moving on
  • I don’t want to do any more baking for the foreseeable future / baking confidence is shaken
  • May cause recurrent feelings of inadequacy in response to related triggers

Taking Out the Slop (Dealing) – Consequences:

  • Have to scrape out heavy slop with unpleasant odour
  • Have to wash the pan
  • Have to acknowledge transient feelings of inadequacy
  • Home smells better once slop is removed
  • Family members are not inconvenienced or frustrated with something that is not their problem
  • Have a positive resolution
  • Confidence is built through facing and taking responsibility for the situation

Emotion Is Not Equivalent To Truth

Feeling inadequate does not mean that I am inadequate. I made an entirely inadequate (inedible) cake and I’m upset. That’s it.

Irrational Thoughts Can Arise Under Stress

“I have lost my baking ability.”

There are a few strategies here that can help:

  • Acknowledge the thoughts and let them go. No need to buy into them, no need to banish them. I can just watch them arise and pass.
  • Look for evidence. In this case, I reminded myself that I have baked countless things over the years that have turned out well. I also remind myself that I have a habit of getting emotional and reactive when things don’t and this is something I can continue to work on.

Reaching Out May Help

In this case, eliciting someone else’s help who was not triggered brought much-needed perspective and logic to the situation.

Confidence Comes From Experience – It is Not a State of Mind

It’s only through being challenged and dealing with these challenges that we realize (and internalize) our own capacity and strength as human beings. No one gets a medal for bravery when there is no adversity.

First-World Problems Are Still Legit

I am NOT saying that first-world problems are equivalent to or worse than problems that threaten our ability to live safely and securely. And, human beings can get triggered in ways that often don’t make sense to us, which may leave us feeling confused, embarrassed or even ashamed. This is not the time for self-judgement. When we’re triggered it’s often based on past experiences or situations.

Of course, I hope that I won’t bake up some slop again, but at least I know that I can deal with it if I do.