Thursday, July 23, 2009

on culinary failure

This last week there was a lot of culinary failure happening. The least dramatic, I guess, was a botched carbonara sauce. I had always been kind of grossed out/ intrigued by carbonara-- the heart-attack-defying egg yolk and bacon combo, the salmonella thrill, but so delicious! So I fried up the bacon, Alex grated parmesan, I whisked the egg and plopped the hot pasta in with the bacon and cheese, tempered the egg with pasta water... and waited. No coagulation, a word about as unappetizing as the mess in front of me. A little heat and a lot of stirring later, my pasta looked like a meal. And it was delicious. But my stomach lurched. Was this really the way that you're supposed to make a carbonara sauce? Yes, my googling has advised me. All this time the pasta I've slurped down in restaurants looked like a vile, watery puddle of raw eggs just moments before? I guess so. Well, it's probably better for my health that I think spaghetti carbonara is nasty for the time being. But at least I tried. Good cooks didn't become good cooks without trial and error. And merely decent cooks like yours truly err a lot. Reason to stop cooking or reason to keep cooking?

Not just stomach-turning carbonara sauce, but snickerdoodle cookies baked in the middle of the night as a last-day-of-work send-off but found crumbled in their ziploc bag the next morning, unpresentable. Other types of failures, too... garlic scapes brought from a family friend's farm but left to rot in the fridge in favor of cheetos and ice cream, a renewed vow to eat less meat broken a few times, then forgotten. I guess one response to culinary setbacks is to throw up your hands. To eat "whatever." But as my allergic reactions have started to get much worse, and much more frequent, I can't really just mindlessly wolf down take out anymore. I feel about a million times better if I cook for myself instead of eating out, wondering if the chef has cooked my food in a pan that just fried shrimp, if the broccoli is cooked enough to prevent my mouth from breaking out in hives, if the salad dressing tastes funny because I am allergic to something in it or because I simply don't like it. Cooking for myself-- or better yet, with friends-- is no less than a symbol of agency, of courage, of thrift, and of the potential for food to be a pleasure instead of a terrifying game of Russian roulette. If it means some burnt pizzas, sunken bread, crumbled cookies along the way, so be it. It seems like an awfully small price to pay for nourishment.

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