Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Learning Curves

In the early years of my marriage, I was too busy putting in long hours at Big Law to cook. On the rare event I did, the smallest things were major productions. Tomato soup that took three trips to the grocery store and required multiple re-readings of the recipe.

'Should the garlic be sliced or diced and does it matter?'

'What, exactly, is a rapid simmer?!?'

At that time, my husband did most of the cooking. It wasn't something that came naturally to him either. There was,  memorably, the time he prepared breaded veal and instead of flour it was breaded with powdered sugar.

"They're both white, powdery substances in canisters! How am I supposed to tell the difference?"

During those years we ate a lot of take-out. It was both easy and preferable to sugared veal.

Somewhere, in the year after Child #1 was born, I decided cooking was important. Like everything that catches my attention, I threw myself into this pursuit with a whole-hearted passion; purchasing a little wheelie bag for groceries and wandering the streets of Manhattan in search of good produce and better bread.

By the time we arrived in Portland I was in the formative stages of a dinner party obsession.

It started small. I'd have one family over and cook something from a trusted source. Small soon morphed into complicated calculations about how many people I could squeeze around the dining room table, menus pulled from the pages of Bon Appetit and days spent creating seasonally-themed table settings.

Like anything else, it was a learning curve. What felt exciting and overwhelming soon turned into the routine. I was able to put together a dinner party for twelve, themed table décor and kitchen-tested menu with the same amount of thought that used to go into that starter tomato soup recipe.

Predictably, as soon as they became easy, my passion for big, fancy dinner parties dimmed. Which isn't to say I don't still enjoy cooking and entertaining, but experience has made me simultaneously more experimental and casual.

Guests to my home might get some kind of seafood dish I've decided to recreate after trying it once at a restaurant or a homey lentil soup. I think it's the kind of entertaining that comes out of the confidence borne from all those hours in the kitchen and a track record of many successful dinner parties.

I was thinking about my culinary arc this week because a writer friend of mine was plagued by the kind of self-doubt all creative people experience from time-to-time.

Those slightly awkward, self-conscious dinner parties where I desperately wanted everything to be perfect, the outright failures scraped into the trash and the reasonably good, if not memorable meals were all part of the learning curve that led to my current place of kitchen confidence.

Simple fare or Gourmet magazine, now it doesn't really matter because my time spent in the kitchen has given me the gift of knowing it's all going to be good...and even if it isn't, there's always take-out.

Comfortable confidence borne from years of success, failure and everything in between. It's a great place to be. And it's absolutely the curve I'm still negotiating when it comes to the tricky business of stringing words together and creating books.

The good news is the kitchen has taught me that place exists. With enough practice, I'm certain I'll meet all my writer friends at that mythical place which is the roller coaster-top of the writing learning curve.


Connie J Jasperson said...

I have often thought of writing as a form of cooking--except i don't get fat from tasting it too much! And self-confidence really is the big stumbling block to all things creative, be it cooking, writing acting, or karaoke. (Well, a snoot-full of Kahlua helps a lot with karaoke!)

Beylit said...

I really like this analogy. It hits really hits home.

Weaver said...

"Comfortable confidence borne from years of success, failure and everything in between. It's a great place to be."

Yeah. I hope the day will come when I get there. If I live long enough. lol

Joanne Noragon said...

I could not have made this analogy and now must borrow it to encourage my dear friend who also learned to throw a swell party while simultaneously maintaining her career in medicine. Now she is retired and starting anew with charity work. I must tell her to play to her strengths. Organizing!

A Beer for the Shower said...

As a writer and a guy who prides himself on his cooking I know this all too well. You can take classes and read all kinds of books, but the only thing that's going to make you better is lots of practice.

Rachel Schieffelbein said...

I enjoy baking more than cooking, but I'd like to get more into that, too. :)
Wonderful analogy. :)

T. L. Cooper said...

I've been cooking since elementary school!I love it! I bake when my writing falters! I find baking frees my mind to work through my creative blocks and cooking allows me to tap into my creativity. I love to experiment with new recipes. I've recently even started writing my own recipes. I'm so glad you found the joys of cooking and the confidence to fail at it and move on!!

PK HREZO said...

Great point, Joanna. If only we could realize it while we're in the midst of those We need all those mistakes and travesties to give us the confidence we feel when we do get it right. It's an earned experience.

jaybird said...

Oh I love this post! What a great analogy too. Honestly, I couldn't cook a thing (and didn't really care to either) when the Husband and I first got married. We used to have a "rule" whoever came home first had to cook. Funny thing about that, I was working in Marketing/Public Relations and putting in no less than 10-15 hour days. LOL It was pretty much a given The Husband was gonna have to cook. Fast forward twelve years: I can hold my own in the kitchen but thankfully (rarely) have to. I have a daughter who is amazing and wants to cook almost every night and cater any dinner party/holiday we host. Her passion is cooking and she blows us all away with her culinary creations. I conceded long ago to her expertise. I have no desire to compete with that!! All I do is pour the wine and count my many blessings. :)

Unknown said...

If only getting read was as easy as getting eaten.
--Well, you know what I mean.
~Just Jill

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Great analogy. Especially as I'm about to tackle something new. And while I don't do gourmet, I've always enjoyed cooking.