Saturday, October 31, 2009

Take Risks, But Take Advice Too

My mom is a fabulous cook. I mean really, just stellar. Everything she makes is delicious, and her dinners are these beautiful spreads of food that rarely all fit on the table.
I remember one year when we were making pies for Thanksgiving and the dough wasn't quite right. Something about the way my mom just knew exactly how to fix it made me start to think about how many things I didn't know - not just about cooking, but about everything that I was going to need to learn in my life. It was kind of an overwhelming feeling, standing there with flour on my hands, wondering how I would ever figure everything out.
To continue the cooking metaphor for life: here in Indiana I'm in a dinner group, so I only have to cook once every two weeks, but when I do, I always want it to be really good. And it's funny, because I find myself using some of my mom's recipes, but also trying new recipes that I've never tasted before just because they look good. I don't always know how to fix things, but it does seem like they usually turn out somehow, and sometimes it's really good, if I do say so myself. (I'm getting to it. Don't worry.)
I've been thinking about the difference between the timid pie-maker of a few years ago and this new person who decides that tackling chicken tikka masala and pumpkin rolls is a good idea, even if it totally flops, and here are my conclusions:
  1. When you need to do it and you decide it's going to work, it usually does. Sometimes I'm sure I'm going to end up with something horrid on my hands, but it always seems like everything is okay at the end, even if the potatoes are ten minutes behind the pork chops. The trick is to assume you can do it and then just do it. But . . .
  2. . . . it's always okay to ask for advice while you're trying to figure it out. Most of my recipes are on my computer because my mom emailed them to me, or they're on the internet because I found them on some cooking blog. This means that early on I started IMing my mom while I was cooking to see if she thought things would work. Sometimes she steers me back on course and sometimes she just gives me some affirmations and moral support, but it's always helpful to get her feedback while I try to make things work. (This is especially true of the times when I don't actually have a recipe, just a vague idea of what's supposed to go in it. She's like an interactive recipe.)
The take-away: There are lots of things we do that we've never done before, and sometimes it seems like we'll never have it as together as the people around us. There's too much to learn! How do we pick up all of those rules about not covering the broccoli because it keeps it from turning yellow? (Not to mention, you know, how do I pay my taxes and how do I live on my own or deal with apartment managers or maybe someday take care of a baby?) And do we really have to go through a disaster every time to learn them all? No. I think the key to success in whatever you're doing is two-fold.
First, be confident and assume that you will figure it out and that any disasters will be fixable.
Second, avoid many disasters by not being afraid to ask for advice.
It's a strange combination that sounds like cocky confidence coupled with timid humility, but I like to think of it as something more like resourcefulness. Solutions will present themselves to you and you will figure it out. But if you're smart enough to realize that your resources can include spending time on the phone with your mom, your dad, your sister or your friend, either to get advice or to give your confidence a boost, the first try might skip dry, burned or too salty and go straight to tasting deliciously sophisticated. (Or it might not, but either way you tried.)


Elise said...

You just posted about Emersonian Self Reliance. Man is that one a monster combination. I love your posts. And I'll get that guest post to you sometime. It might be during Christmas break but I think I'll be able to breathe at that point.

DR Gunderson Family said...

What exacly is a dinner group? not having to cook something up every night sounds very appealing, maybe i can get one started up where i live!

Meg said...

Oh, it's awesome. There are 8 of us and we all have a night when we cook Monday through Thursday. So I only have to cook once every two weeks, but I cook for eight people - which means I'm more likely to try fun things and not just eat Ramen noodles. It's the best idea ever.