I have one recurring nightmare, and it’s this: I’m in some kind of performance, either a dance or piano recital, usually. It’s the night of the performance, and I realize that I don’t know the dance or the musical piece. So I’m on stage, with everyone watching, and I have to make it up as I go along, watching the other dancers for queues, or literally making up the music on the spot. It might not sound like a nightmare to you, but as a classically trained musician and dancer who practiced hours and hours for each performance, it’s truly horrible. The feeling of being unprepared and “faking it” in front of a live audience gives me a pit in my stomach even thinking about it.
In part, this is how I felt in our early days of learning to cook. We really had no idea what we were doing, but we had friends or family over and attempted ambitious meal plans. When they showed up and we were still trying to put everything together and entertain at the same time, I felt a similar feeling: I really had no idea what I was doing, and having an “audience” while I was faking my way through it made it even worse.
Now, years later, I look back and remember that feeling. I realize now I felt so uncomfortable because I had no practice, no experience under my belt. I felt like we were making it up as we went along because we were. But now, after years of failing miserably and learning from those failures and trying new things and understanding how to time recipes so that you’re not still making them an hour after your guests arrive or setting them on fire before you try to serve them (yes, it happened!), we’re finally starting to feel some confidence.
Now, we can do things like make a corn chowder inspired by a $1 bag of end-of-season corn from the farmer’s market. We can look at recipes from around the web and cookbooks, synthesize the various ways to make a chowder, and create a version based on our preferences and what we have on hand. We can whip it up knowing there’s a distinct possibility that it might be a total flop, but know that’s ok. And we can be equally excited when it actually tastes like what we were hoping to do.
In many ways, we’re still making it up as we go along, just like my dream. But we’re finally learning to trust ourselves, take risks, and not fear the outcomes. And now, more often than not, the good surprises are more frequent than the bad.
- 1 yellow onion
- ½ red bell pepper
- 3 carrots
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 pound red skinned potatoes
- 6 ears corn
- 1 can white beans
- A few sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 bay leaf
- 6 cups milk
- ¼ cup cornmeal or masa
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- Fresh ground pepper
- Dice the yellow onion and half of a red pepper. Peel and dice three carrots. Mince two cloves garlic. Dice the potatoes. Cut the corn off the cob (if possible, use a bundt pan: place the corn cob in the center ring and cut the corn down into the pan). Save the cobs. Drain and rinse the white beans; set aside. Remove the leaves of thyme and set aside.
- In a large pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Saute the onion and bay leaf 4 minutes, until soft. Add the carrots, red pepper, and garlic, and saute for 4 minutes. Add corn, corn cobs, potatoes, and 6 cups milk. Bring to a boil. Then simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Remove the corn cobs and bay leaf. In a small bowl, mix cornmeal or masa with ¼ cup (or a bit more) water, then add to pot. Add 2 teaspoons kosher salt, white beans, and fresh thyme. Heat through for about 5 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and the soup is thickened a bit (mash down lumps of cornmeal if any occur).