I cannot count the number of people I meet who are in awe by the things I make in my kitchen.
“You should teach classes,” some say.
“I could never do that,” others declare. (No, I'm sure your kitchen would be much less messy than mine!)
To these remarks, I find myself inwardly chuckling, thinking of my roots. As a teen I loved to prepare food – I would throw a slab of butter (the only health food in this tale) and a handful of marshmallows in a large bowl and microwave on high for a minute or so. Then I would pour the Rice Crispies into the pool of chemical sweetness until I had reach the desired consistency. Taking a utensil in hand I would afix myself to the TV for some Roseanne Barr and devour my creation. Other times I would empty the contents of a Mrs. T's Pierogi box (for those of you in the dark, a pierogi is a pasta pocket filled with mashed potatoes – in this case as fake and processed as they come) onto a plate, microwave on high, and smother with butter and fat-free sour cream. Yes, quite the chef.
If you've been reading my blog, you will know that I've recently listened to Joel Salatin's Folks, This Ain't Normal on my daily drives in and around Los Angeles. One of my favorite quotes of the book is the title of this post – “If It's Worth Doing, It's Worth Doing Poorly First.” Here's why…
As Salatin points out, the classic saying, “If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right,” can often lead us astray. Take cooking, for example.
As you can probably see, when I first set out on my own I could barely open a can, let alone prepare a meal with any nutritional merit. But the thrill of new-found independence had me motivated.
I was a junior in college living off campus in West Philadelphia. My mother had armed me with an electric rice cooker and a massive sack of white rice (lest I call her again to complain about starving). There was a tiny fruit and vegetable stand perched on the corner on my walk from class back to my house, and I remember the first time I purchased a small head of broccoli and two ears of corn. I brought them home and somehow managed to steam them both, cook some rice (with my mother's coaching), and add some butter, salt and pepper. I sat on my front porch eating my food, thinking that I had turned out a Cordon Bleu masterpiece.
What followed was years of flops and accidental successes. Still in college, with spaghetti sauce in mind, a friend and I would hit the veggie stand on Friday evenings and chop up so many veggies that when we finally dumped a jar of pasta sauce over them in a massive pot there was no more room for pasta. We doused our creation with (powdered) parmesan cheese and gobbled down. Later, as a vegetarian, I experimented with ‘meat' loaf from texturized vegetable protein and plenty of tofu dishes in the name of good health.
My husband loves to recant the memory of the first meal I ever made for him about eight years ago – lamb chops, tasteless and rubbery. Luckily I made up for it with neighborhood breakfast burritos (he lived in the apartment upstairs) and some decent meals since.
These days I can roast a chicken, make magic with a slow cooker or dehydrator, and saute up most things in a pan. That's not to say I don't burn things, over season, or turn out stringy yogurt or mushy sauerkraut on occasion. And I still find the precision and chemistry of baking intimidating, and prefer to stick with less ruinable dishes.
The point is, perfection is not a worthy goal when you are trying to turn out good food. Save perfection for the cooking channel where food is treated like a spectacular feat with perfectly dressed plates and immaculate countertop surfaces. While pretty is nice, I prefer food that is nourishing and yummy like a grandma's hug. Food like this doesn't come from culinary classes, it comes from years of trial and error – rubbery lamb chops and rice crispy treats in a bowl – as you gradually become the master of your own kitchen and your own nourishment.
I write this post not just for those who are intimidated by their kitchens, but as a reminder that the mantra “try and try again” applies to more that just preparing food.
One of my current classrooms: the garden experiment – my family's first attempt at growing food.
My confession: I killed my delicate little seedlings planted with the promise of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes in rich reds, yellows, and purples, fragrant basil, and bright marigolds.
How hard can it be to tend to a few flats of seeds? Well, as it turns out, the soil wasn't kept moist enough, and the tiny wisp-like sprouts shriveled in their egg cartons.
My frustrated voice of failure taunted me for even trying. “If you can't get it right, why even try?” It said. “You don't have time for this nonsense. Don't bother.”
On many notes, I agreed with my internal pessimist, until I remembered my rubbery lamb chops and this saying, “If It's Worth Doing, It's Worth Doing Poorly First.”
So with my head held high, I will try again. This time with a bunch of starts so I will have a better chance of a harvest in a few months. But I vow to plant some seeds again – next time with more moisture – so that perhaps in a decade or so, I may have learned the craft of growing my own food from seed.
What have you perfected by doing it poorly first?
Image Credit: Metor153