Jilliene Seymour

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The Perfection of Baking Without a Recipe 

 

 

I’ll never forget the piercing sound of the smoke alarm. I was in the kitchen with Momo, my grandmother. I knew immediately what had happened. I could hear the voice inside my head saying, “You forgot to set the timer. You burned the cobbler. It’s your fault.” I ran to turn off the oven and Momo hopped up on a stool and waved a kitchen towel below the alarm. 

Earlier that day, Momo and I drove to an orchard and hand-picked peaches to make the cobbler. We’d spent 45 minutes accurately measuring the ingredients. The process was meticulous, and yet, my favorite activity as a child. Momo taught me every detail, like how to fold the butter into the flour just enough to make a flaky crust. Baking a perfect cobbler took time, patience, and exactness. When I burned the cobbler, I was flustered and embarrassed, but Momo wasn’t mad or disappointed. She knew that it was more important to learn from our mistakes than to wallow in them. 

Soon after, I started dancing. I didn’t like the idea of studying ballet at first. I thought it would be boring. My chorus teacher said I had a natural talent though, and that it would be a shame if I didn’t at least give dance a try. Shortly after my first lesson, I fell in love and ultimately became obsessed with ballet. What started as a hobby turned into five hours of practice every day, six days a week. 

 

 

Ballet brought out the perfectionist in me. A ballerina must be driven to study and imitate movements perfectly. The rigidity and rigor of the form and the intensity of the practice schedule meant I didn’t have much time to think about anything else. My teachers appreciated my dedication and commitment. I felt that ballet was the one thing in my life that I had control over. If I wasn’t performing the best I could, I was disappointed in myself. I loved to dance, but I wasn't happy, and I didn’t know why. 

Fortunately, Momo recognized that ballet had turned into an unhealthy fixation in my life. The next time we made a cobbler together, Momo set out the peaches, took out the oats, the flour, and the sugar. She told me to make the cobbler and when I asked for the recipe, she told me that I didn’t need it. 

I didn’t know what to do. I was taught to always be precise, both when baking with Momo and when dancing ballet. Momo explained that I was taking things too seriously. At a time in my life when baking and ballet should be joyful, I was too focused on making everything perfect. She was right. 

It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve learned to let go. I now see dancing as a way of expressing myself. Baking and ballet taught me to balance precision and exactness in my activities with freedom in my head and my heart. I can now bring this relaxed way of being into new passions like slacklining, painting, hiking, and my studies. 

Today, the voice inside my head is telling me not obsess over any one aspect of my life. Through my own growth, my experience dancing, and life lessons I learned from Momo, I have become a freer and happier person. Momo is no longer with us. She battled cancer for three years until she lost her life. I still make peach cobbler without a recipe. And I know that perfection isn’t the goal.

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