Thursday, March 13, 2008


man. this is hard.

Last night I made tomato, corn and garbanzo bean soup. It was... not good. It had a peculiar and very unpleasant flavor to it. I also made irish soda bread, but messed up the recipe by leaving out the oats. Can you say oops?

William's comment: "Weeeell, the garbanzo beans are good. And the bread is delicious!" (It wasn't. It is okay, but it is not delicious.)

As for the soup, I blame the stuff from the cans. I kept it simple and quick, grabbing and adapting a random quick soup recipe from Joy of Cooking. I sauteed onions and garlic, then added condensed tomato soup, milk, cream-style corn and garbanzo beans. Why did I have tomato soup? Annie bought it. Why did I have cream-style corn? Well, it was on sale. What can I say.

So my theory is that the soup, having unpleasantries like corn syrup and too much salt, and the corn, having corn starch and other seemingly unnecessary ingredients, introduced a not-delicious-ness to the soup. Because I know there was nothing wrong with the onions, garlic, and garbanzo beans, and the only spices I added were a little bit of curry powder. I really don't know how even I could mess that up so badly. The wrongness lay somewhere in a strange sweetness... yeah. I've thought about it. I blame the tomato soup. Unfair of me? Perhaps. But there you go.

Wow. It was really not good, though. Ugh. I don't want to talk about it.

All the same, it seemed like it might have been trying for something positive. I might try the same thing again, except making my own tomato soup and using frozen, un-creamed, un-canned, un-additivized corn. Additivized. That's right. Anyway. Maybe I'll try again a long time from now, when this trauma is gone from my memory.

Tonight? Tonight I made tempura. I was going to make beer-battered vegetables, but the beer I grabbed from Andrew's house turned out to be barbecue sauce. In a seemingly-unopened beer bottle. WTF? I called him to complain, and he just shrugged it off and said he can't explain his roommates. Whatever.

So I ended up making tempura with water instead, and it was profoundly uninspiring. Squash, zucchini, onions and tofu, deep-fried and pretty much tasteless. Also: not crunchy. Is tempura supposed to be crunchy? I don't know. I can't remember ever having it. I sort of expected it to be, but it was almost limp, instead. And did I mention flavorless? I put curry powder and ginger in the batter, but believe me. You couldn't tell.

And I tried to make a dipping sauce, using soy sauce, red crushed peppers, lime juice, honey... I was doing okay until I added some vinegar. Have I mentioned that I don't know what the hell I'm doing? It was DREADFUL. I had to stop and start over again -- soy sauce, red crushed peppers, lime juice, STOP. It was uninspiring, too, but at least it wasn't dreadful. (And we are apparently out of fresh ginger, or I would have used that -- I couldn't find it in the fridge).

In short? NOT a success.

William's comment: "Well, it's better than last night's dinner."

It makes me want to cry. Well, not really. It makes me want to throw my hands up in despair and look angrily at something. Also? I have a splatter burn on my forehead. I hope it doesn't turn into an angry red mark. I have three zits that are just starting to go away. Come on. Cut me some slack, face.

Anyway. I want to throw up my hands in despair. How does one get good at cooking, anyway? I know how you become a chef -- culinary school. But I don't want to be a chef right now. I just want to be a kick-ass cook. And so I read about cooking and think about cooking and I try new things, and I try really hard, and... and it makes me want to throw my hands up in despair. Because there are people who seem like they just excel effortlessly at this. Like everything they touch magically responds to the meal in their mind, while I'm left with a big and active imagination, with a perfect plate in my head and mediocrity on the table.

Maybe this is the world balancing out my test-taking skills, gently teaching me a lesson. Right at this moment I am frustrated enough that I would rather be a killer cook with a C-average. I have priorities. And I am hungry.

I really, really want to be good at this. I want to cook foods that make eyes widen, smiles erupt, hearts feel warmer. I want to cook food that can adequately express my love for my favorite people. I want my food to fill bellies and warm hearts and comfort souls and blow minds. I want to make dishes people talk about for years, request again and again, remember fondly. Food is, in my mind, one of the best parts about living, and I want my food to be as good as the rest of my fantastic life is.

Mantra: It takes time. Keep trying. It takes practice. Keep going.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. "It takes time, keep trying..."

But I feel like it doesn't, not for everybody. I know people who are younger than me who are fantastic cooks. I know. I have eaten their food. So I don't even have my youth on my side, really. And I'm not lazy, and I'm not too busy, and I don't not care, and dammit, I am really trying here.

Maybe I am just doomed to make edible food (because I've been managing that, so far) and I will have to pay other people to make me the lovely and delightful things I really want to eat. This whole cooking-really-fantastic-food thing might just be a bad idea. Maybe I'm aiming too high. Maybe I should just give up.

Stop. Enter William:

"Camila, you can't expect to make things perfectly the first time. But I have every faith that you can make them perfectly the second or third time. So try again later!"

Breath deeply. Rinse. Repeat.

1 comment:

tom said...

You wrote in part (kind of): "I know people who are younger than me who are absolutely fantastic cooks."

I respond: I absolutely doubt it. Perhaps you mean younger in some odd way to refer to something other than chronological years. List all the things you have made successfully, and then see who you know who is younger in years who can make all of them. They might have a specialty or two that they can do, but not the variety.