Failing to See
As a child, I spent a lot of time in my grandma’s kitchen. A mixture of white and that burnt orange ubiquitous in the seventies, it contained the standard kitchen appliances, a narrow pantry full of jars containing not just flour and sugar but all that great junk food I couldn’t eat at home, and a table to seat four. Behind the door were the pencil marks on the wall indicating how tall my cousin and I were at various stages of our childhood. Two windows opened up onto the long narrow lot the house was situated on, the view to the humongous garden blocked by the garage and car port. If you looked at the walls instead of gazing outside, there was a sign that read “Even my failures are edible.”
The plan Sunday night was to throw together a bunch of vegetables, ditalini (“little thimbles”) pasta, and water in a big pot and call it dinner. It was finally time do something with the carrots and leeks bought with good intentions. I also thought we could make thrifty use of the sad looking remnants of a head of Savoy cabbage, a sprouting red onion, and a wee red cabbage that was too small to play a serious role in anything, even a ferment. In the soup bowl, the vegetables looked so crowded. I had envisioned distinct leek and carrot coins in a wholesome, herby broth. The Savoy cabbage, however, had swollen up with pride, hogging all the space yet remaining maddeningly al dente. The red cabbage had slyly cast a rubious sheen on the concoction. I sipped the quite flavorful, nutritious broth and avoided the bulky mass of cabbage. Not what I had hoped to eat for dinner, this “failure” was nonetheless tasty.
After the soup had cooled down, I set out to deal with the leftovers. Most of the broth had been absorbed by the vegetables and the red cabbage had turned a bluish-purple thanks to its anthocyanins. The blue hue was stronger in person than in the picture above. Though I was really impressed that such a color could come from real food and not artificial food coloring, the leftovers still looked unappetizing. I was a bit worried about how to salvage the soup. It didn’t seem right to throw away something that healthy and of such great volume. The handy thing about soups is that they can be puréed, so the next incarnation of the soup looked like this:
TC commented on how it reminded him of the biowaste used to make biogas for power generation. I thought it just looked like bean soup or refried beans. Picky me opted for polenta Monday night, but TC ate the biosoup and said it was delicious.
To what extent is it meaningful to attach the word “failure” to something we have cooked? It makes sense to talk about failure if we burn something beyond repair, rendering it inedible, but do we fail if we attempt to create a dish that tastes just like our memory of it or that matches an ideal or projection and don’t arrive at this goal? I don’t think so. Our society has conditioned us to see so much in dualistic terms. It’s either black or white, a success or a failure. Something is judged to be a success when specific expectations are met and a failure when they are not.
What if we take a more experimental approach to creating in the kitchen? What if we throw some ingredients together and see what happens, observing the results and our sensations in response to them? What if we even set out to cook without any expectations beyond producing something edible? Perhaps the real issue is an inability to look at a situation from several different angles and respond creatively to whatever lands on your plate.