An alternate title for this post is: Kate vs. the Pan of Half-Roasted Beets
When people tell me that I am a “born cook”, I think of these types of stories, of which I have many, and try to deny it. “You’re just a natural!”, they say. Yes, a natural mess-maker. I can create more dishes than a catering party of 12. Yes, a natural mistake-maker. I’ve forgotten baking soda, not clearly understood the difference when measuring dried and fresh herbs, or failed to read or remember some crucial ingredient or step in a recipe. I’ve made many a mediocre meal, been totally baffled by caramel sauce, and been afraid to even attempt poaching an egg.
One thing I have never been afraid of, though, is trying something new in the kitchen. That I can’t explain. I love to create and explore, and I somehow seek out new twists or techniques without even thinking about it. But any skill I have, any lessons I’ve learned on my own? They’ve come from experience.
And do you know what experience is in the kitchen? Screwing up. A lot. All the time. And coming back to the table, literally and figuratively, after each mistake.
Like learning a foreign language, mistakes are opportunities for the greatest lessons in cooking. The only real mistake is to give up after making a mistake or failing to admit you made one in the first place. I don’t always like to say I’ve shattered glass pans (twice now!), messed up something as easy as banana bread three times in a row, or made terrible, unattractive, soggy casseroles. But I’ve learned, I’ve learned so much from it, more than any cooking show or recipe book could have taught me. Mistakes also have the added benefit of injecting humility into your life.
The best part of it is that mistakes can be remedied. Either you learn simple tricks to mend your errored ways, or you are reminded of the common knowledge that you are sometimes too busy to remember adequately (ahem put a cooling rack between that damn pan and the stovetop surface!).
Here is another opportunity for me to wax lyrical about how much I love An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. There is an ENTIRE CHAPTER of recipes for what to do when you burn food, undercook it, oversalt it, or just plain screw up somehow. The recipes are so tempting I want to burn some eggplant just to try out a few! So you don’t have to be afraid of making a mistake or wasting food when you start cooking, because you can get this book and fall back on delectable solutions. So much of TE’s writing aligns with my philosophy on food: it can be hodgepodge and simple; homemade is the best way to enjoy food AND it can be efficient; and sustainably raised meat, dairy, and produce is the most wholesome for your mind, body, and soul as well as the planet. Yet there is nothing pretentious about this book at all; it is as real as if your beloved aunt were sharing her best cooking secrets with you and comforting you when things didn’t go well the first time around.
You’ve got to keep coming back for second helpings of wisdom, even after the first taste may have made you bitter about a certain mistake. Don’t let a fear of doing the wrong thing, ruining food, not living up to the expectations of others, or whatever other anxiety you have about cooking stop you from trying. Failure is growth. You’ll become a better cook each time you make a mistake.
Heaven knows I have.
Food for Thought #2: Don’t Let Your Brain Beat Down Your Heart
More “learning experiences” are in my post Kitchen Failures.