I think I’ve mentioned that cooking has been unpredictable this year.
Sure, I’ve made dishes that were successful (as in, I liked the way they tasted, the recipes turned out more than once, they weren’t too laborious to make).
But this has also been a year of recipe fails. I can’t remember the last time since I taught myself how to cook in my twenties that I’ve had so many culinary flops. Sometimes things haven’t worked out technically: odd texture, wrong cooking time, too dense or too runny. And some recipes have just tasted lousy.
I usually finish or find a way to repurpose the things I make, in order to avoid food waste. But I’ve made dozens of recipes this year that I can comfortably file under “never again.”
It could be the pandemic and the strange, subtle ways that it’s affecting everyone’s productivity and focus. Or maybe I’ve been so focused on cake baking and reheating Gardein meatballs in quarantine that I’ve lost my touch in the kitchen.
Either way, I had another two recipe fails this week. Each one of them made me so annoyed, so frustrated, so resentful of the money I’d spent on ingredients, the time I’d devoted to cooking, and the fact that I had a bunch of leftovers on my hands that I didn’t really want to eat.
As I nursed my exasperation about the second flop, I had an important realization: I’d never have known why my recipe idea was doomed to fail if I hadn’t tried making it. This was true of my recipe disaster earlier in the week as well. I identified its flaws only through cooking it once and witnessing its nonsuccess.
This reminded me of the time a doctor told me that he always applauded residents who decided to switch specialties early in training. “Great,” he’d apparently say to them. “You wouldn’t have known if you didn’t try.”
This is part of what I told myself after I didn’t go to medical school, speaking of doctors. A little different in the sense that my desire to practice medicine didn’t change when I got rejected. But my confidence that I was cut out for the training and lifestyle did change. It had been shaken even before I got my last rejection letter.
I still think about the things I’d have loved about practicing medicine sometimes. But I’m able to experience nearly all of them as a dietitian, along with a creative life that I couldn’t have sustained through medical school and residency.
I’d never have known any of this without doing my post-bacc, struggling like crazy, and coming to the end of my road with the process.
That’s the thing about perceived failures, false starts, and disasters big and small. It’s very easy to identify what went wrong and dwell on what we didn’t obtain, achieve, or experience. It’s less common for people—myself included—to take note of the knowledge we gained as a result of something going awry.
It’s so hard to be thankful for jobs that aren’t a good fit, relationships that don’t work out, creative projects that fall flat, and yes, recipe disasters. But they’re all purposeful. Just as positive experiences reinforce what we want or show us where to direct our energy, “failures” show us what isn’t meant to be.
I’ve been cooking for a while, and it really shouldn’t come as a shock to me that I learn something when recipes don’t work out. I got the message this week, though. I have no idea how many burnt, salty, oddly textured, dense, bland, or totally nonsensical recipes are in my future in 2021. But I hope I’ll be able to embrace each one of them for teaching me something. About cooking, of course, but about accepting the journey, too.
Happy Sunday, friends. Here are some recipes and reads.
Kelly’s deep dish, Chicago-style pizza would really hit the spot on this wintery weekend!
Aimee’s vegan sausage and vegetable tray bake looks excellent—and so does her new cookbook.
Not a new recipe, but I recently pinned Erin’s crispy buffalo cauliflower salad to make ASAP.
St. Patrick’s Day is over a month away. Too early to be thinking about Irish soda bread scones?
With Valentine’s Day next Sunday, it’s definitely not too early to be gazing longingly at Anthea’s stunning strawberry cupcakes!
1. I paused before linking to Peter Brannen’s reporting on grave dangers that climate change models may have missed, mostly because I’m overwhelmed with worry for the world lately as it is. But I think it’s important.
2. What is it about the vegan Caesar? (Taste asks.)
3. While we’re on the topic of food news, a vegan restaurant has been awarded a Michelin star in France for the first time, according to the New York Times.
4. I haven’t yet gotten through the whole article, but I’m learning a lot—and feeling surprisingly riveted—from USA Today‘s long-form piece on Moderna’s Covid vaccine development.
5. I enjoyed Meghan McCarron’s piece on adopting a (medically prescribed) soft food diet after burning her esophagus this year. It made me think back to my longterm care rotation during my clinical internship, when I had flash cards to help me memorize the four levels of dysphagia diets.
But aside from that, McCarron powerfully touches appetite, hunger, self-denial, and self-care—all through a few succinct paragraphs about ice cream for dinner.
As always, I wish you peace on this Sunday night.
Happy Sunday! I hope everyone has had a nice weekend so far. Mine involves a combination of work, study, and play — work for clients, studying in the form of my first few forays into preparing for final exams, and play in the form of getting my Christmas tree up. The arrival of a tree always seems to make the holiday season feel real, and I’m so happy to have it. As you’ll see tomorrow and on Tuesday, there have been plenty of fragrant…
Happy Sunday, everyone, and thanks for your kind words on Friday. I made it to New Hampshire and back, and today I’m catching up on work and enjoying a break in the heat. I’m also enjoying the following recipes and reads. Susan’s perfect summer dinner salad looks, well, perfect! What a gorgeous creation. Speaking of salads, I love this marinated hearts of palm and avocado salad from 86 Lemons. Kale falafel? This one’s new to me. Delightful idea (and beautiful, colorful execution) from Shannon…
I’ve been busy preparing for my annual holiday cookie baking marathon, so my vegan meal prep this weekend was abridged. I made a batch of the pasta e ceci from The Vegan Week, and that’s it so far. Fortunately, I have some leftover odds and ends to work with. Those include some tasty roasted cabbage that I’ll be sharing the recipe for soon, cooked brown rice, and a batch of my turmeric tahini dressing. So far, so good. I wanted to make some…
“When you don’t know what to do or how to move forward, stand still.” This is a piece of advice that my mother gave me during my post-bacc years. That time in my life was marked by a lot of indecision and agonized choices–most often, the choice of whether or not to keep going with my program for another semester or not. I’d receive yet another poor score or a discouraging comment or simply be hit with a spell of burnout, and I’d doubt what…
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Glad to discover your blog – and totally agree, failures serve a purpose too, though we can often only see that in retrospect. So excited about a vegan resto getting a Michelin star! Hope to try it someday!
I wonder if your recipe fails are not really fails, but just the fact that things just don’t taste good when we’re carrying around so much grief, anxiety and loneliness. Bet some of those fails might have tasted okay if you were eating them with friends around the table.
Hi Gena, you’re not alone in the quarantine recipe fails… Maybe it’s down to a general feeling of being out of synch, it affects everything. Or the pressure to be more productive and creative during our time at home? I’m not sure, but it’s not just you!
And thank you so much for sharing my Veggie Sausage Traybake recipe! I’ve got my eye on those Irish Soda Scones too…
Thank you for this, Gena. Love you xoxo