I cooked dinner tonight. It wasn't good.
I cook dinner pretty frequently; usually it's good. I enjoy cooking, and admittedly, part of the reason why is because I think I'm good at it. I came into the kitchen tonight with this little swagger in my step, my cooking ego and perceived abilities flying high following my boyfriend's recent "You've been killing it in the kitchen" comments.
Armed with fresh ingredients from Reno's Trader Joe's (further fueling my overconfidence), I set out to cook pork cutlets topped with Roma tomatoes on a bed of sauteed onions, with brown rice and wilted spinach. Easy, right?
I called my mother for her recipe; I have the warmest, fuzziest, round-stomach-rubbing memories of her pork chops. (The astute reader will notice the discrepancy between my mother's chops and my cutlets.) She talked me through the whole process, from the browning of the pork to onion-then-pork-then-tomato layering with chicken broth to keep the onions from burning.
At this moment, I thought, this recipe isn't too involved. I could even go jump in the shower while they simmer. At least I had the sense to stay at the stove, though now I wonder if it would have made any difference.
The fact of the matter was: I wasn't working from a recipe, but rather a phone conversation, and a scatterbrained conversation to boot. She said to leave the pork to simmer on the onions with the broth for AROUND AN HOUR. That the directions on the pork suggested mere minutes of cooking time, no matter. I was half watching Jeopardy and my mom was driving through 101-85-280 traffic in the Bay Area. We were distracted and I was confident. How could I possibly mess this one up?
Of course, I over-cooked the pork. Pork chops are thick cuts of meat, while cutlets are thin, little cutie pie slices. This mistake was not a question of a few minutes, but rather a quarter of an hour. I knew the pork was overcooked when I went to test its doneness with a slice to the center of one of the cutlets: I could barely get the knife in there, the pork was so rubbery. I might as well have tried to slice cowboy boots with a butter knife.
My loving boyfriend, ready for the meal of century given how wonderful the kitchen smelled with the sauteed onions, was honest. He said it was just OK. He told me it was a lovely home-cooked meal, but it was OK.
We agreed immediately that they were overcooked, and suddenly I felt like a failure. Why is it that a simple dinner- let's be real, I'm not cooking complicated creations yet- can take the wind out of my sails like that? What will happen when I'm really a chef and I get a shitty review? Is my skin thick enough for this shit?
As we finished dinner, we diplomatically characterized the meal as "not my best, but not my worst," which is true, because I once drunkenly spread peanut butter on the outside of a cheddar cheese quesadilla, and that, surely, is my worst.
But how else am I going to learn as a cook? This process of anticipation and subsequent disillusionment with a failed meal is valuable in that I never want to repeat the feeling. That I will repeat this experience is a given. However, if botching a dinner serves as motivation to become a better cook, I'll take it.