I was going to write about some budgetary discoveries that have been helping me in the past two months, and which I plan to follow all year, but then I had another idea. The budget will have to come later, it turns out, because I cooked dinner tonight and realized there was an immediate topic which needed addressing.
You see, my dinner did not turn out quite right.
Everybody has cooking flubs, where the recipe doesn’t quite work for whatever reason, or the diners muscle their way through the dish out of politeness, even though it really isn’t good at all. I have actually had a fairly low percentage of these in the eight years or so that I’ve been cooking seriously, perhaps because I am not an innovative cook. I follow recipes quite faithfully the first time through, and only on the second or third try will I make adjustments.
I was beginning to feel sort of fail-proof, thanks to this low percentage of flubs. I’ve even served entirely new recipes at parties, just because I’m pretty confident that what I make will turn out reasonably well the first time through. (I realize this may sound insufferable, but I have to explain in order for my story to make sense!)
For Christmas this year, I received the marvelous and beautiful ‘Kitchen in France’ cookbook from Mimi Thorisson. I’ve been following her blog quite avidly for about two years now, and while I don’t use a lot of her recipes, just because the ingredients can be hard to come by, the ones I have used are now favorites (see Gratin of Asparagus with Cheese Béchamel…best asparagus preparation ever). I was making Sunday dinner for my family this week, so I decided to treat them to a wonderful dish from her collection of recipes: Mustard-Roasted Cornish Hens.
Smitten Kitchen, my favorite cooking blog because the directions always work, also had posted a new Key Lime Pie recipe. This is one of my absolute favorite desserts, so I knew it had to be the the last course of my dinner. Deb Perelman has mentioned in the past that she doesn’t like desserts to be TOO sweet (a concept I do not understand at all, since I’ve never met a dessert that was too sweet or too rich for me), but I decided to follow her recipe unaltered, and use the full amount of lime juice.
My dinner was practically received with applause, since it at least tasted delicious, but in fact it was kind of a mess.
I set the lovely little hen in its nest of roasted potatoes at my place; I cut into the thigh; I realized it was pink and stringy; I successfully resisted the urge to hit my head against the table. Instead, my family proved themselves to be good sports. We reset the oven at a higher temp and popped the four birds back in to roast for another quarter hour, while we staved off starvation with salad and potatoes. I’ve never had a roast bird not be done when I served it, so I admit to feeling a substantial amount of chagrin. I almost think there is a typo in the cookbook, since it called for a 350 degree oven – almost a hundred degrees below the usual temperature suggested for roasting.
The salad and potatoes were a hundred percent successful, and luckily the mustard rub for the Cornish hens was fabulous, so once they were actually done, everyone loved the food. It was nonetheless a definite lesson in humility when I first cut into the bird and found the underdone meat staring rudely back at me. That wasn’t the last lesson, either, because the crust for the pie stuck, crumbling the slices into delicious blobs, plus the full amount of juice was a bit too sharp (even for me, and I adore tart fruits and desserts).
So do I feel depressed over my (moderate) failure?
Not particularly. You see, I’ve had a few reversals of various kinds recently: no response for job applications; no results from writing contest submissions; some personal struggles; a dinner that wasn’t quite perfect – silly as the last may sound. I’ve been learning from such things that I come out of every such situation with a clearer picture of what I want. Yes, I may have messed up this time, but now I know what went wrong and what to do in order to fix it.
I talked in my new year’s post about wanting to live a mature life, rather than a haphazard one. I think that struggles and failures and trials can actually help someone achieve that goal, whether as a person or specifically as a writer. Granted, in the midst of the painful thing, it may be hard to suppose that in a month or two understanding and clarity will come, but every time I’ve discovered that’s exactly what happens. Even in the case of my dinner, next time I know to roast the birds at 425 degrees and to reduce the lime juice by two tablespoons. Sometimes it’s good to be forced to stop. One can reassess and learn, instead of traveling onward with the kind of over-confidence that can get a body in trouble!
So among my…not resolutions, but let’s call them hopes for the new year, is the determination that when things go wrong I will remain patient. I want to see what’s happening as a chance for human and artistic growth, not as a source of embarrassment and unhappiness. I doubt I’ll succeed every time, but at least I can try! I’d also love to hear any tips my readers might have for surviving the little difficulties and bumps in the road which life - and especially the writing life - throws our way.