Top | — A Vegetable Ignoramus Expands Her Repertoire

Roma Tomatoes. Yes I Can, Can!

(post, Cristin Couzens)

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Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” and a major inspiration for this blog among other accolades, has been prolific of late.  In one New York Times Opinion piece, he home cooking is dead?  Are we content to watch cooking on TV, then go out to dinner to eat the spoils?

Many of us have been raised by a generation of parents who were bombarded with food industry propaganda touting the qualities of convenience food, and convincing them they were bad parents if they didn’t serve it to their kids.  Food preparation knowledge, formerly handed down from generation to generation, evaporated into the atmosphere like the carbon emissions from our wood-paneled station wagons. 

And here’s my theory on the current state of home cooking.  When we do start cooking, really cooking, we see the polished food shows and magazines that make it look so easy, and have expectations of quick success.  Then, when we find out just how challenging cooking can be, we get discouraged.

When you have no skills, I mean none (you mean there’s a right way to hold a knife?_), the cooking world might as well be the pole vault that my track coach tried to get me to spring over when I was in high school – an event requiring specialized tools that after one try at achieving lofty heights convinces you that you’re destined for failure without weeks if not months or years of practice.  And who has time for that.

My first recipe failure was on a third grade hiking trip with a small group from my elementary school, led by our principal.   With our external metal frame backpacks, bug spray, and potatoes wrapped in foil for the first nights’ campfire, we headed for Pico and Killington mountains in Vermont.  On the second day, after successfully summiting Pico and now poised at the lean-to base camp prior to our final push for the ascent of Killington, we had plans to prepare a feast of freeze dried delicacies.  With the crowning achievement being a lemon pudding with a graham cracker crust.  The principal had been building up this dessert, a tradition on these annual trips, all day. 

Somehow, I found myself in charge of the graham cracker crust.

I can’t remember exactly what my error was, only that it was one of those things where I was following the directions step by step, but didn’t read ahead to find out what was coming next.  The graham cracker crust was mush, unable to contain the lemon pudding, not resembling anything like a dessert.  I don’t think any of the kids really cared, but the principle was furious. 

At the suggestion of a friend, I started subscribing to Cooks Illustrated magazine, with recipes meticulously tested to arrive at the fail-safe.  It worked.  Finally, I had confidence that the resulting meal would even mildly resemble the promise that the accompanying picture held.  This made me happy and angry at the same time, realizing that the existence of Cooks Illustrated means that many recipes published in well-known cookbooks and magazines have not been tested, making our failures even more personal when we can’t understand what happened because we followed the steps perfectly, and all you have is an oily mess instead of a gratin.

We need to see someone making mistakes, making fun of themselves, and getting back up and trying again.   Failure isn’t a bad thing, it means you’re growing.  Although I’m not a fan of corporate cliché’s, one I do like is “failing forward.”  A phrase invented to help the muckity-mucks understand that people don’t always get it right the first time.  People need a safe environment in which they’re allowed, even encouraged, to fail.  Not one in which they play it safe because failure means losing their job.  Playing it safe leads to a life of mediocrity. Failing is how we achieve great things.

So with this lengthy and long-winded introduction, I give you my first experience canning all by myself, in hopes that it will encourage you to get out there and try it for yourself, if you haven’t already.   It wasn’t a failure…..but it could have gone better.

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