“Please don’t confront me with my failures,” sang Nico. “I have not forgotten them.” I can sympathize. Said failures are particularly difficult to forget when they sit glowering at you from your refrigerator. I have often pitied noncooks who will never know the gratification of perfecting a recipe or the sense of achievement that comes from transforming disparate ingredients into something nourishing and pleasurable. But by the same token, these people will never know the heartbreak of a recipe gone wrong.
In her classic essay collection More Home Cooking, Laurie Colwin writes of attempting to make a custard in an inadequately equipped rental-house kitchen. When the mixture curdled, “I remember flinging the pot into the sink and flouncing out of the house in tears, which I wept bitterly in a pine wood surrounded by clavaria and Indian pipes.”
My mother recalls a similar incident from her childhood in Palo Alto. Her own mother, never the most confident of cooks, somehow screwed up a lemon-meringue pie (there are many components to screw up) and, most uncharacteristically, hurled the misshapen pie out the window in a fit of tearful frustration. To this day, says my mother, the memory of rushing out into the yard and gobbling down the offending pastry off the grass with her father and brother remains one of the most thrilling of her early life.
To the noncook, these reactions probably seem excessive. But anyone who has gone through the process of inspiration, planning, shopping, and cooking understands the sense of total emptiness that accompanies such disappointments. After all, if cooking and feeding are the ultimate in social bonding and expressions of love—and we’re constantly being told such things—then these failures strike at something deep. Read More