I have been experiencing a lot of kitchen failures lately, including a rather large pot of boiled rose hips and old quince that was supposed to turn into rose hip jelly but instead ended up a rather sad, watery, flavorless mess. There were several other inedible experiments as well, a real losing streak of which I will spare you the awful details. But the great thing about being a cook is that even if you've lost your mojo, you still have to cook because you still have to eat. You can't just toss your hair and say 'oh, I think I'll move on to buying antique motorcycles and fixing them up in my backyard now' because the next day you have to get up and at the very least make toast. (I'm sure you're aware that toast is fraught with potential failure.) You have to keep cooking even though you cannot. And we all know what happens when you keep at it: eventually you round the bend, something shifts, and it gets better. Cooking doesn't let you be a quitter.
I know in these modern times one could potentially stop cooking and live entirely on takeaway and bodega salad bars. Or one could find a kitchen hottie to fall in love with so that one could hang out in the living room, mixing the before dinner cocktails and micromanaging the playlist for that evening. For a variety of reasons, neither of these options were available to me during my rough patch, so I had to just keep at it. Day after day I scorched and under-spiced and mismeasured. I made poor decisions around ingredient substitutions. I used expired yeast to disastrous results and left perishables out on the counter for far too long.
I started to wonder if all was lost when one day last week, kind of out of the blue, I made a pretty decent omelet. It was creamy in the middle with a nice firm (but not rubbery) outer layer. It had just the right amount of salt and pepper and it rolled out of my pan in a balletic three fold maneuver that made me gasp. It tasted really good, too. I was back!
It's no fun to suck at something, so it's no wonder that we would rather give up than struggle though a difficult period. In this time of wealth and wonder, there is always something else to flit over to if ineptitude or boredom leave us unsatisfied. But I'm happy I was forced to stay in my kitchen and cook though my rough patch. In the process, I learned a lot about my ideas about perfection and how harshly I judge myself, and that inspiration is indeed the best form of discipline. I learned a lot about why I do what I do and how much it means to me that I do it.
When things were smooth sailing, I didn't have to grapple with these more ornery aspects of my character. I didn't have to come face to face with demon of my inner judge and learn how to wrestle her down. I was struggling and what I learned was when there is struggling, kindness and patience are the best response. And to keep with it.
So even though there was some lousy eating going on, My Time of Endless Failures was actually quite good for me. And while I can perhaps take a breath and relax for the time being, the truth is failure is a constant. I will no doubt put too much baking powder in the scones next week or choose the wrong kind of apple for pie. Hopefully, I will be able to shrug it off, wipe down the counter and start again. Because it's all good, even (especially) when its not.
Related: Weekend Meditation: Whoops!
(Image: Dana Velden)