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Last week, someone very close to me called me a “chef.” I was flabbergasted: sure, I write a food blog. And sure, I know my way around a vegan kitchen (I specify “vegan” because, for all of my talent with veggies, I wouldn’t know the first thing about cooking flesh!). I suppose I also have a knack for making food that’s healthy, yet tasty. But I associate the word “chef” with formal training of some sort, or with a particularly nuanced palate; I think of chefs as those rare people who can stare at a table of ingredients, Iron Chef style, and immediately envision a finished dish.

I’m not like that. I’m good at creating recipes, but that’s only because I’m a good student. When I learned how to cook, I went about mastering it as I would anything else: I studied. Hard. I bought dozens of cookbooks, and I practically memorized them all. I read up on measuring conversions, on flavor pairings, and on the health properties of nearly every vegetable. Today, when I throw a recipe together—seemingly with ease—it’s only because I spent years learning and re-learning other people’s inventions, and reaping the benefit of their wisdom. There’s a reason I worship at the altar of Isa Chandra Moskowitz, Susan Voisin, Ani Phyo, Deb Madison, Nava Atlas, and Anna Thomas: these women taught me how to cook, and I’d be nowhere without them.

There’s another thing: I mess up. Frequently. Readers of my blog might assume that the recipes I share are all first tries. Wrong! Sometimes I get it right the first time around, and sometimes I really don’t. If something’s a failure, I’ll just play around with it until it’s right—or, if that’s not in the stars, I’ll just abandon ship. Of course, you wouldn’t know that, because you click on CR and see only my finished products; you never see the spectacular flops that precede them. Believe me, though, they happen. And when they do, it’s always occasion for laughter, because there’s nothing funnier than a recipe that goes utterly, impossibly wrong.

Take the soup I made today, for example. I was so excited about it: faced with a bag of organic bell peppers, 2 avocados that were ready to use, and a pantry full of seaweed, I thought I’d make a red pepper and avocado soup, and I’d toss in some wakame. I knew that this recipe wouldn’t be for the faint of heart: raw soups really don’t please everyone, even though I happen to love them, and seaweed’s an acquired taste. For those people who are used to raw soup, though, and who love sea veggies, I reasoned that this recipe would be a surefire success: avocado, pepper, a sprinkle of wakame—what could go terribly wrong?

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As I was putting it all together, I noticed that I had some basil leftover from Rosie’s salad yesterday. Basil, red pepper—a natural combo, right? I decided to throw some of that into the mix, along with lemon and salt for acid and seasoning.

I should have been worried as soon as I saw the color:

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Yeah. Not the best. Now, I like my fair share of weirdly green tinted raw food, but this just felt…wrong. It was too muddy, too course looking, even though I’d kept it blending on high in my Vitamix for over three minutes. Then I tasted it.

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Terrible. I mean, just awful. What seemed like an awesome idea a few minutes earlier—pepper, avocado, seaweed, fresh herbs—suddenly seemed like lunacy. Basil and wakame?! What was I thinking?

Fortunately, a giant salad had been made as a side dish:

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And it was hearty enough to hold me to dinner—or at least, until a good afternoon snack.

And the soup? Into the sink, I’m afraid. I try to conserve food as best I can: I use my juice pulp in crackers and burgers, I keep veggies well cared for and ventilated, so that they don’t rot prematurely; I only buy as much produce as I’ll use, and I use up leftovers dutifully. But I just can’t bring myself to eat food that tastes lousy. In fact, I’m pretty adamant about only eating food that tastes great to me: if something in a restaurant is only so so, I’ll probably eat the bare minimum and make something I really like when I get home. If I mess a recipe up, it’s not at all unusual for me to toss it and immediately start over. And I’ll gladly go through all sorts of geographic and scheduling inconveniences to find food that suits me, rather than grabbing something mediocre to eat on the go.

Perhaps I take this insistence on only eating delicious food a little too far. And if you’re thinking that it may be related to my ED history, I think you’re right: I spent many years without the enjoyment of food, and now that I do love it, I can’t help but insist on making every meal pleasurable. I’m not a lunatic: if I’m traveling or in company and I can’t get the food I want, I’ll make do. But I don’t force myself to eat recipes that I know I need improvement. Which means that my red pepper and avocado soup is going to go through a few more iterations before I post it on the blog. By the time I do, I’ll be able to offer you guys a money-back guarantee that it’s not, um, heinous.

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Gena vs. The Bell Pepper

There’s an important take home message in today’s post. One of the major anxieties that deters people from leading a healthy lifestyle is fear of cooking—or rather, fear of failing at cooking. I’ve had many clients confess that they just “don’t know how to cook” or that they “can’t cook” to save their lives. These clients often assume that cooking is some sort of God given talent, like being a piano prodigy or a math genius: either you’ve got it, or you don’t. That’s simply untrue: sure, there is such a thing as true greatness in the culinary arts, and I think the “chefs” of the world probably have it. But there’s also such a thing as being an experienced, able, and creative home cook, and that has very little to do with innate talent. It is a learned skill set, and even after you learn it, you’ll have failures and successes; recipes that amaze, and recipes that disappoint. It’s all part of the fun.

So, dear readers, remember this: you guys see about 2/3 of the recipes I make. The other 1/3 are filed away in the great “recipe fail” bin. Maybe I’ll make a point of showing you some of these, and even blogging about the steps I take to fix them: if nothing else, it should teach us all a thing or two about what to do when a recipe goes wrong. Right?

What are some of your most memorable food flops? Did you manage to fix them?


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