See that picture above? That's the beginning of what would end up being several jars of marmalade that my friend Serena and I made a few weeks ago. We both had very little experience in making marmalade but Serena has a real pioneering spirit, so we just dove right in. Or actually, she dove right in and I followed. Inspired by the limes that were ripening on a tree right outside my front door, she brought some of her own homegrown meyer lemons and suggested lemon-lime for our marmalade's flavor. Yes! And so we set off on the somewhat risky but infinitely rewarding path of figuring out how it was done.
Serena is no stranger to adventure and the kitchen arts. She has written a series of eco-themed guide books, has a blog about her kitchen adventures, and is starting a new tour company. She made the perfect companion for an afternoon (err... make that two days) of exploring and experimenting in the kitchen. See the pink peppercorns in our marmalade, below? It's that kind of 'hey, let's try this!' spirit that made our time together so great. It was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun.
My time with Serena got me to thinking about bring a sense of adventure and taking risks in the kitchen. When I say risks, I don't mean messing around with food safety practices. I mean veering off of a recipe halfway though or trying an ingredient that's way outside of your comfort zone. Risky as in weening yourself from recipes altogether and cooking by feel and instinct, and discovering that you probably know a lot more than what you give yourself credit for. What would happen if you don't always play it safe in the kitchen?
When we take risks, we step into the unknown and make ourselves more vulnerable to the unpredictable nature of existence. While this unpredictability is a challenge, it is also a place of tremendous growth and creativity. It's what makes our lives more interesting and is a key ingredient to a more fully engaged life. After all, 'she played it safe and then she died' is not what most of us want written on our tombstones.
We often just need a few successes to gain the confidence it takes to allow ourselves to venture into the unknown. I actually recommend that you play it safe with your first encounter into risky behavior by starting small. If you slavishly follow recipes and want to be less dependent on them, start by making a very familiar dish without the recipe - you may surprise yourself with what you know. Or if you have a list of forbidden foods, choose one of the not-too-scary sounding ones to try first. Soon you will be ready for such adventures as cutting up a whole chicken. (Try using this video and just dive in!)
Of course, taking risks by definition means we're going to encounter failure, or what we think of as failure. Our lemon-lime marmalade needed to be cooked down in several batches and not all of those batches were perfect. Some of them didn't set up very well but that doesn't mean they got pitched in the garbage. Serena took a few jars home and discovered that it made a terrific glaze for roasted chicken. I mixed a few spoonfuls into a glass of sparkling water for a refreshing lemonade. And we're both convinced there's a cocktail in there somewhere.
Risk taking is messy. It rarely offers a straight line from beginning to end and often leaves a few discarded piles of rubble in its wake. In our case with the lemon-lime experiment, this was literally true. I am still encountering the odd, marmalade-encusted spoon in the back of my freezer and there was a brief but stressful ant invasion when I didn't catch all the miscellaneous spills and dribbles. But instead of making me upset, these bits of marmalade madness made me smile, reminding me of the thrill of discovery and the sweet, sticky, wild adventure it is to go for broke and try something new.
And when I die, tell them to write 'she made marmalade' on my tombstone. Not everyone will understand, but those who do are my true people.
Related: DIY Earl Grey Tea which also features a great idea from Serena to make Earl Grey tea using bergamot peels.
(Image: Dana Velden)