Friday, August 27, 2010

Next Week

This week, after finishing the copy edits on my book and overnighting the manuscript to my editor in New York, I’ve had more time to cook. I thought that more time in the kitchen would mean more thought in my menus, more effort into my technique, and a whole lot more recipe success. I was wrong.

This week in the kitchen has been sub par.

I made a sweet potato and lentil curry, which was mushy and bland, and a spicy cabbage slaw with raisins and tomatoes that was both too sour and too sweet. I made a chicken dish stuffed with cilantro pesto and mozzarella cheese, which packed a punch with flavor, but emerged from the oven with a texture too soft and fine. I baked a flat loaf of cinnamon bread that rose improperly, either due to aged yeast or my own lack of patience, and sliced into doughy pieces not even I wanted to toast. I made a peach and apricot tart using a new crust recipe designed for a rougher, flakier bite. It was rough, all right. Yikes.

None of these dishes were colossal failures. Nothing hit the trash. I couldn’t pinpoint a forgotten ingredient or mistaken technique. The meals were colorful, and the kitchen often smelled divine. But each bite came with that tug of disappointment, the desire to apologize for it all.

Ever since I lost my sense of smell, five years ago almost to the day, I have struggled with trust in the kitchen. Can I operate at the stove without a full sense of smell? Without perceiving the entirety of flavor in the food I make? Can I cook for others when sometimes I feel that I can’t even cook for myself?

This hasn’t been much of an issue of late. It’s been a long time since I haven’t been able to smell something that those around me can. I’ve been training my nose and when acquaintances ask me if I’ve recovered, I always say yes. I feel good at the stove; I’ve had success at the table. But the failures, I’ve found, often come in spurts. And when they do, it’s hard not to let them get me down.

In the first draft of this post, I finished with a question: will my confidence ever fully return? I had Matt give it a read. He told me that I was being too harsh—on myself and on my food. “Bad weeks happen to everyone,” he said. “You just need to shrug it off and say, ‘Oh well.’ Next week will always be better.”

He’s right.

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