“I can’t help flying up on the wings of anticipation. It’s as glorious as soaring through a sunset… almost pays for the thud.” ― Anne Shirley
Have you ever made something on the fly, something new and creative that just popped into your head unbidden and then turned out to be phenomenally delicious? It’s like soaring. It feels like a moment of genius, like poetry, like artistic inspiration. That first bite can seem like a religious experience, and it’s all the better if there’s someone else around to fawn over your brilliance in that glorious moment.
When I crave fulfillment, I often head for the kitchen to create. This is nothing new for me; one of my favorite childhood activities was playing mad scientist in the kitchen. I didn’t get to do this terribly often because my mother, who was both on a budget and trying to teach me a life skill, usually made me follow a recipe. Occasionally, though, she would give me parameters regarding ingredients and quantities and let me have at it.
As an adult, I still test out hypothetically delicious situations in the kitchen. For example, this week I set out to make what I was certain would be a fabulous salad. I had already come up with a silly-in-an-ironic-sort-of-way name: Three Bean Fiesta Salad, which sounds like something you would order at Taco Bell but which is made entirely from scratch, which is why it is ironic. I planned to feature red, cannellini and green beans, marinated with lime juice, olive oil, and adobo sauce. Some fresh organic corn was dropped in my lap the day before, which only promised to add to the experience. I would post about it here, inspiring all sorts of strangers to try my recipe. “I can’t believe how simple, yet satisfying it is,” they would rave. “Is this really vegan?”
Three Bean Fiesta became Two Bean Fiesta when the entire pot of cannellini beans turned to a thick white paste before they were soft enough to eat. Two Bean Fiesta became Bean and Corn Fiesta when I realized I’d only bought enough green beans for the stir fry later in the week. Bean and Corn Fiesta Salad became Bean and Corn Fiesta Burritos when my husband came home and decided it didn’t seem like a cold dish (he was totally right). And before you know it, I was 9 years old, playing in the kitchen again.
Usually Mom’s expendable ingredients were things like flour and sugar and fat. This was before I discovered that baking is an exact science and that, for that reason, I am not very good at it. I had not yet learned to fear baked goods, so that’s what I most often tried to make, but I occasionally attempted other things. My bizarre concoctions were frequently complete flops. I remember particularly well some banana-peanut butter cookies that tasted strangely rotten, and an ice cream maker-less attempt at blueberry ice cream that ended up as frozen purple milk.
I had expected that salad to be fantastic. Why? Because I’ve made lots of fantastic things in my life. I’ve got an excellent palate, and my husband, who is a classically trained chef, raves about my food on a regular basis. I fear neither global cuisine, nor home cheese-making, nor deseeding hot chiles. I am a real cook!
The truth is that when you cook on the fly, there’s a lot of trial and error between each perfect bite. I’ve spent the last few days attempting religious experience and accomplishing purple milk. But I’ve remembered something else about those childhood culinary failures. No matter how a concoction turned out, I still wanted to make more things. I kept trying. I was striving for that moment of genius.
In honesty, not every moment is creative. If I’m going to write about my culinary triumphs, I think maybe it’s important to write about my culinary failures, too. To admit that I don’t always feel brilliant. To appreciate the mundane for the way it allows me to experience elation at my own creativity. To acknowledge mistakes as a necessary part of the process that leads to moments of genius.