Food for Thought: When you are afraid to make mistakes

I’m introducing a new theme for posts, in addition to regular recipes and Green Tips. Food is so much more than just a substance to fill our bellies. Food should nourish us – our health, our relationships with other people, and most importantly our relationship with ourselves. I believe food is the best medicine for healing all our physical troubles. But a large part of health is also mental and emotional health, and I think these also have strong connections to our ideas about food and the way we interact with it. So each Sunday I’ll be posting some thoughts that have been tumbling around in my brain throughout the week. Please share your thoughts as well, so we can feast on a meal of ideas together.
An alternate title for this post is: Kate vs. the Pan of Half-Roasted Beets
“No rules apply to beets. Beets have their own way of cooking and their own way of being.” Tamar E. AdlerAn Everlasting Meal
Almost two months ago now, I posted a slightly cryptic Green Tip regarding a rough day involving too many duck eggs and a disastrous pan of roasted beets. It was meant to be a simple thing – I was roasting some squash for dinner that evening, and I thought I would throw in some beets that were looking a bit peaky to use in salads throughout the week. As usual when I have spare time and access to a large pantry, I ended up making a larger meal then I thought and not feeling very well whilst doing it. My stomach was crashing and dragging me down from an overly rich lunch of duck egg salad, and then disaster struck. Harried, brain-foggy, and just plain not thinking, I set a pan of half-roasted beets onto my mom’s induction stovetop and POW – beautiful blue roasting pan shatters instantly. There was no air to circulate underneath the pan while I added some tepid water to the drying beets, and the change in temperature was no match for Beautiful Blue. That was my favorite roasting pan too.So glass shards were everywhere, including a few shards in a nearby cast-iron pan of roasted cauliflower. Beet juice was dripping down from the stovetop onto the floor like blood running from a murdered corpse. Indeed, I had murdered that poor pan. I was in the middle of it all – great piles of squash guts and dirty cooking boards, half-thawed fish waiting to be wrapped in bacon, and now a pan of roasted vegetables that had to be meticulously inspected to insure I didn’t really kill anyone at dinner if they swallowed a sliver of the remains of Beautiful Blue.My stomach hurt. I had jet lag. My messy kitchen project seemed a bit too much – and I just wanted to give up. Call it quits, bust out the cereal and almond milk and leave it at that. But I didn’t. I knew, somehow, that I had to soldier through the mess and the stomachache and chow down on something more nourishing than processed cereal. So I laughed, even though I was mad at myself for shattering a pan. I danced to music on the radio, even though my tired body wanted nothing to do with it. I convinced myself that I was going to cheerfully finish this meal, and I did. In fact, it was a rousing success. The fish disappeared under my brothers’ eager forks, the mountains of squash made great leftovers, and the beets were relocated to another pan and finished the next morning. I couldn’t quite muster the gumption to look at them any more that night.

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!).

they lived to fight another day – and so did I

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.

glass-free. win.

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.

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Food for Thought #2: Don’t Let Your Brain Beat Down Your Heart

More “learning experiences” are in my post Kitchen Failures.