When Life Hands You Lemons

Yesterday morning I discovered the bread dough I’d left rising 24 hours before. It’s been a busy few days. See, normally, you mix the bread dough (this sourdough) in the morning and bake it at night, or in the night and bake it in the morning. Mixing it one morning and baking it the next morning… not recommended. The dough had done what I’ve learned dough does: risen like it should and then, unattended, fell. But I pressed on. The dough was extra sticky and didn’t feel right, but still, I baked it yesterday morning, thinking maybe it would right itself.

It didn’t. What came out of the oven was flat like unleavened communion bread. Very sad. That night, when I got home from work, I contemplated throwing it away, but instead made my sad bread into croutons. Croutons are simple. You just cut the bread into crouton-sized pieces, drizzle them with a bit of olive oil so that they’re touched with olive oil but not sodden, add some dried herbs (I used powdered garlic and parsley), stir it around so they’re coated, then bake on a baking sheet at 250 degrees until they’re dried (about 30 minutes, stirring a couple times). And now the inedible and laughable bread becomes something useful on salads and soups — something that didn’t end in the trash. (I ate a bunch right off the cookie sheet. –Ed.)

The croutons became, yesterday, a ridiculous metaphor for the proverbial making lemons into lemonade. The week before, the president of the division of the company I work for had called a global meeting for yesterday morning (the same morning I discovered my too-long-risen dough), and there were many hallway conversations and much speculation about what this meeting would entail. Up to this point I’ve been through five company sales, the last in 2001, so I had my own theory that I largely kept to myself.

My theory turned out to be right: Several pieces of my company, including my piece, are being put up for sale. In a quickly changing publishing market, any instability isn’t welcome news, even if it wasn’t unexpected. And as the sole breadwinner — a breadwinner who was having trouble making bread — for a family of five, I had my own immediate negative reaction. But I could see the looks on the faces of colleagues who hadn’t been through a sale and didn’t think selling businesses was even possible: they were gobsmacked. I was sad.

After the short meeting, my team gathered, and I explained that this wasn’t the worst news we could have received. Our piece of the business was still viable; the five or six (truthfully, I’ve lost count) sales I’ve been through in the past had all turned out just fine and put me in a better position than I was pre-sale; it wasn’t as if we’d gotten news that our part of the business was shuttering and we were instantly without jobs. Having seen how various companies have handled or mishandled sales in the past, I know how forthright, transparent, and compassionate my current company was in communicating this difficult news.

So of all the possible reactions, in my professional life I’m going to make croutons from what on the surface appears to be inedible bread. As I told my team, the best way to find a good outcome is to brush ourselves off after what was obviously going to be a less-than-productive day, and make our piece a valuable and sellable product by doing what we do well. And when I come home from work tonight, I know there’ll be homemade croutons to sprinkle on my salad and a husband who is just finishing some garden tasks and kids who are bustling with news of their days and backyard ducks being delivered in one short month. And regardless of the outcome of this immediate situation and the twists and turns it might take in the short term, everything will turn out just fine.

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6 thoughts on “When Life Hands You Lemons

  1. It certainly is why you’re so cool. Also, Lynn Risotto and I think croutons make excellent cocktail nibbles!

    • Hey, Anonymous: Sylvia would agree. She asked for croutons, bread, an orange, and a banana for breakfast. No cocktail, though!

    • That’s so cool. Alison! Thanks for the link. It looks like yours turned out well. I’ll have to try them with beer bread.

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