Food bloggers can make it look so easy. Great photography and lots of editing can present the yummiest, most perfectly-highlighted, mouth-watering dishes right there on your computer screen. It all looks so delicious and simple to do. I guess the same can be said about everything in today’s social media world. Don’t we usually only see the best Christmas photo of our friends’ children and not the crazy outtakes? The lovely-dovey selfie of a couple, who may have just had a terrible fight that morning? The photo album of a family’s gorgeous vacation shots, all without reveal of the tension of a road trip and sibling rivalry along the way?
I personally enjoy seeing the “positives” of someone’s life, even if it may have taken a few outtakes to get there. For me, it sure beats negativity, which can be so abundant in today’s quick-typing world. And as for food blogging, it’s obviously more appealing to show the beautiful, finished result rather than the mess and murk of the mistakes that may have come beforehand. But as a food blogger, it’s important for me to be real about how things go in the kitchen, because I would never want to isolate people or make readers feel like they could not attempt a recipe if it looks too intimidating or arduously nice-looking. Luckily, I don’t have the best camera, so I think my photos looks pretty mundane if you ask me! But it goes beyond that. It’s also about being down-to-earth about how mistakes, flops, and messes are a normal part of cooking.
These are some of the realities about what happens all too often in my own kitchen:
• I am a HUGE klutz, in life and certainly as a cook. And in the stupidest ways! No, seriously....I have dropped a knife directly onto my foot (blade pointed down), I cut my arm badly with kitchen shears by opening a bag of potato chips, and I’ve had a million and one burns and scars just from being clumsy while cooking. We all gets some burns here and there, but mine are just senseless and avoidable. Once I foolishly checked on a casserole in the oven without mitts on, touched the top of the heating element with both thumbs and seared the skin practically off. I’ve rubbed my eyes directly after touching the seeds of jalapenos and there seriously isn’t a week that goes by where you won’t hear a glass breaking somewhere in the kitchen. And the worst of all, a few years ago, I had to go to the ER for the worst corneal abrasion the doctor had ever seen because of a....Ziploc bag. I was spinning and bagging lettuce at the time, and well, as any clumsy person will agree to, sometimes you just don’t have an answer as to how exactly you hurt yourself with that random object!
• I spill things. A lot of things. All the time. In disastrously messy ways. That take forever to clean up. I hear my husband saying, “what happened?” from the other room. A lot.
• I’m awful at baking. Simply awful! I’m getting better, and I enjoy doing it, but I just don’t have the knack for certain skills involved with it. I’m too impatient for it. I can’t seem to let a cake bake without opening the oven door to check things, and I can NEVER let a baked good rest and cool off long enough, which, I’ve learned, will result in a crumbled mess every time. My baked goods are....unattractive, to say the least.
• I start off very neat while cooking, but by the end, the kitchen is a horror show of strewn-about items and pots and pans. Dirty dishes are everywhere, bits of food are scattered about in every nook, and the sink is overflowing with way too many tools for the job. It’s like a culinary tornado spun its way through the room.
• Like anyone, I’ve had my share of utterly failed dishes that wound up being completely inedible. We still shudder at the “cigarette-tasting shrimp” dinner I made one night 15 years ago. And just last week, we sat down to a lemon linguine I was looking forward to but the whole thing was so bitter and disgusting, it was unpalatable. I tried to doctor it up with sugar and diluting it with pasta water, but I only made it worse. As much as I hate to waste food, sometimes you’ve just got to dump your failed creation in the garbage and head out to Wendy’s for dinner, which is exactly what we did.
As much as blunders in the kitchen can be frustrating, mistakes are a wonderful opportunity to learn, cultivate skills, and teach our children about overcoming disappointment and failure. Error breeds creativity and innovativeness, as we work to figure out what might work better. It can help us remember that anything truly worth learning takes some time, patience, and trial and error along the way. We practice humility as we dump that unrisen ball of dough into the trash when we thought we knew how to make bread from scratch. We can learn to face our fears in the kitchen. After all, making a beef Wellington no longer seems overwhelming once we’ve dropped the entire dish of our first attempt onto the floor. Once we see that kitchen slip-ups aren’t the end of the world, we learn to loosen up. They’ve certainly helped my very structured self to be more spontaneous! Finally, mistakes can truly breathe real life into the kitchen and make family memories, much more so than if everything was always perfect.
And most importantly, they teach perseverance. When we’ve failed at a soufflé or a stir fry dish or anything else in life, are we going to give up and never try again, or shrug it off and keep going? When we have the resolve to be persistent, beautiful and delicious things can indeed happen. It’s a lesson we all could use a refresher on every once in awhile.
Many years ago I was making a special chocolate mousse cake for company. The recipe called for tons of ingredients and had many tricky steps. I baked everything perfectly and watched patiently as it baked slowly in the oven. But then, my old rashness got the best of me, and I did not allow the cake to cool completely before trying to free it from the springform pan (and mousse is not flexible on this)! Suddenly, the entire cake ripped, sank, and sort of exploded right onto the glass oven top in a big brown heap. It was all over. It could not be rescued. And in one of my most pathetic moments ever, I took to the chocolate heap with a fork, crying and nibbling at the scattered remains like a sad vulture. I haven’t tried to attempt that cake again in all this time, but, determined to learn from my mistakes, I recently dusted off the old recipe and got to work.
I took the finished cake out of the oven like I was rescuing a fallen bird's egg and let it cool completely without messing with it. And it came out of the pan! It wasn’t perfect, but....I did it, and it was delicious. And this time around, I didn’t have to scrape it off the stove to have a bite. ;)
Do you have a memorable cooking disaster? I’d love for you to share the story!