Weekend Meditation

My (Occasionally) Half-Assed Kitchen

published Feb 9, 2014
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(Image credit: Dana Velden)

I admit that I sometimes I do things kind of half-assed in the kitchen. I’ll throw flowers into a vase without first trimming the stems or fail to thoroughly read a recipe before beginning to make it. I’ll not brown the meat enough for the stew or not measure carefully when careful measuring is called for. The results, while not disasters, are often not as good as they could be. They’re not bad, but they’re not perfect. They’re, well, they’re kind of half-assed.

Is this OK?

I’m not this way all of the time. I have a decent streak of Martha (and my mother) running through me. Evidence: If you visit my kitchen, you’ll find my cast iron and carbon steel pans clean and oiled. Wander around some more and you’ll see my plates stacked neatly by size and color and find my spices arranged with care.

But you may also step on that slightly sticky spot where I didn’t mop up a spill thoroughly. (Sorry.) And did you notice that I did not say that my spices are arranged alphabetically?

My feelings about this are mixed. On one hand, I’m a big fan of care and attention in the kitchen. I think we show our love and humanity when we care for things, be it a fellow human being, a beloved pet, or that amazing cast iron skillet. Taking time and focusing on the task at hand and tending to the many small details that cooking requires are true kitchen practices that I both promote and admire.

On the other hand, we can tighten up too much around this caretaking and turn it into a kind of anxious and neurotic perfectionism. Sometimes, when I’m a little half-assed, a little more casual or messy or disorganized, I feel like I’m liberating myself from the constraints of perfectionism, throwing some punk rock and FU into the mix. I feel more creative when I allow things to get a little messy, like I’m inviting in exciting possibilities just slightly out of my control.

I dunno. Whatever it is, it’s been like that for me since childhood and over the years I’ve taken a two-pronged approach to dealing with it: acceptance and improvement. With acceptance, I lay a steady foundation so that I can see clearly about what’s working and what’s not. I can say, OK. This is just how I am — occasionally imprecise and disorganized, occasionally focused and careful. Now, how’s that going?

In the end, I guess its all about balance. Somewhere between neurotic perfection and I-don’t-care is a place where we tend to the things of our lives with care and respect, not clinging to the attachment of perfection, not falling into the hell of indifference and disrespect.

Life is a lot about learning this kind of balance. It’s trial and error and discovery. It’s holding the possibility for improvement on the steady foundation of acceptance. It’s paying attention to our strengths and foibles with an equal dose of love and kindness, so we can clear-eyed and sensible when it comes to knowing when to measure carefully and when it’s OK to be a little half-assed about it.

“You’re perfect just as you are. And you can use a little improvement.” — Shunryu Suzuki Roshi