07 May 2008

Food Rut

I must admit, I've hit a bit of a food rut lately. I still manage great meals some of the time, and decent meals another chunk of the time, but there have been a lot of duds. For me, food is a strongly emotional experience, and having a cooking failure really puts me in a depressed funk. The more it happens, the more I start to wonder "am I really a good cook?" "Am I kidding myself?" Today I set out to make Turkish delight in hopes of redeeming myself to my Turkish class after a mediocre red velvet offering earlier in the semester. I waited and waited, but the syrup just didn't reach the right temperature. My kitchen, however, was getting hotter and hotter, and the minutes that I needed to be studying kept ticking away... I just lost it and chucked the whole thing, meaning lost food, extra dishes, and nothing to show for it.

I don't think there really is one thing that can be identified as "a good cook." I think some people are reliable cooks, some people make impressive things, some people are great at improvising, some can follow recipes, some are well-trained, some have a well-stocked kitchen. Me? I love food. I am very passionate about food, and always has been. I think this helps. I have some food knowledge, because I pay attention to food and enjoyed watching cooking shows and sifting through cookbooks as a child. I have had some great successes, and made fantastic-looking things that impressed my parents and boosted my ego. I've also had flops. I remember that infamous cake made with the neighbourhood children when I was about ten, featuring peaks and valleys because I was too impatient with the egg whites, a horrible baking soda taste, pink and blue streaks, and a violent shade of purple "frosting" that didn't thicken and tasted like toothpaste due to enthusiasm with the peppermint extract.

The thing is, I really do need to stop losing money, time, and happiness on major food disasters. But I don't want to stop trying new things, and I love this blog. I think I just need to slow down, and take a step back. So I have a few goals for the future:

1) Keep it simple. Though I'd like to continue to do something fun and impressive once every couple of months, I think I have a bad habit of forgetting that simple food really can be great food. I tend to make recipes that are difficult, time consuming, and take a lot of dishes. Often they're expensive, and not very large. I then end up eating crap for the next week because I don't want to do the dishes so that I can cook again.

2) Learn basics first. I really do need to get some Alton Brown books or something. I think part of the problem is that I don't have much of an intuitive knack or any formal training and so when I see a recipe, I don't know that something is horribly wrong. Today, I really didn't know how I was supposed to use my candy thermometer, how long to expect it to take for the temperature to rise, if I needed to raise the heat, etc etc. I've had a lot of failures with simple syrup, so I think maybe I just need to master the idea of it before breaking out the recipes.

3) Don't take on too much. Most of the time, when I'm cooking something special, I have a deadline. Either it's a foodie event, or it's something like the class Turkish party. I feel like I need to make something specific and I don't really have time to go to the grocery store. Sometimes, I need to just say no. I'm coming to terms with the fact that as much as I want to do Blog Party this month and make cute little linked girl symbol cookies with witch hats for the Buffy theme, this is the busiest month of the year and there just isn't time.

4) Look for recommendations. I keep all my recipes in one big fat file, and I do mark the source, but I think it would be smart to also mark recipes that really, really worked for a blogger or cookbook author. What I need is confidence-building recipes that I know will work. Family recipes would probably be smart, too. I never make a recipe twice, and while there isn't necessarily anything wrong with that, I think sometimes old favourites are old favourites for a reason.

5) Pay attention. I tend to fly into food a little recklessly. I miss things like the fact that an ingredient is completely out of season, or I insist on buying a super-expensive ingredient because the recipe says so, rather than considering a different recipe. I don't read ahead to see how much time something's going to take, or think about how long I'm going to have to run a hot appliance in summer (my A/C is a window unit in my bedroom, and there's no air flow from there to the kitchen, which has nice bright sunshiney east-facing windows).

Maybe I'll pay attention to my own recommendations. Maybe I won't. It feels good to write them down, anyway.


kat said...

I'm sorry to hear that things haven't been coming together for you. I'm not sure if you'll be glad to hear that it certainly wasn't evident from your blogging that that was the case.

Most times my enthusiasm far outscales my ability when it comes to cooking. I've tried making ^&*#$%^ chappati's about 6 times and those darn things still won't puff!

I think your goals seem very logical and achievable. On the other hand you also need to give yourself permission to just go off the deep end every once in a while. Try it, screw it up- makes some notes on what might have gone wrong and then let it go. Oh, and a nice strong Vodka/tonic makes those dirty dishes seem not so important.

Carver said...

I think your recommendations to yourself sound good. I think all good cooks have some disasters along the way. As you know, I gave up on being able to make a pretty desert but even my experimental main courses that usually work now, didn't always work when I first started along that vein. You're certainly a more ambitious cook than I am. As a result you do come up with some "pièce de résistance' type dishes. Sorry, I had to throw that in to "mon petite chu" (I hope I got that right). One thing I'll never do is cook from cook books that aren't in my native language so it impresses me a lot that you can do that. Love, Mom

LisaRene said...

I assure you we all have disasters and disappointments. Remember that food bloggers are here to help and share. If you see a recipe on a blog you would like to try, post a comment asking questions regarding the preparation and outcome. Most bloggers enjoy being asked questions and will happily respond to you.

Also, a lot of us are more experienced (read older) and have simply had many more years to experiment in the kitchen :)

I'll look forward to see what simple delicacy you cook up next!