Food and Losing Battles

From the title of this post, you might expect it to be about battles with food, and that is correct, but not battles in the “why can’t I diet” sense. Because, as we all know, I don’t view the eating of food as a battle. I eat what I want, when I want it, in the amount that I want.

No, when I talk about losing battles with food, I mean literal losing battles, as in foods which I have tried to cook and failed at. I think we all have tales of spectacular cooking failures; the roast that just didn’t work, the chicken that tasted weird because it was just…off, the salad that wilted because it got left in the sun. Those are accidents and they happen to anyone, and it’s not any sort of failing on the part of the cook, usually.

But there are a few foods which I just cannot cook, despite my best efforts. And it makes me really sad, because for the most part, these are foods I really like and want to be able to eat. It’s a source of sadness to me that I can’t seem to make them.

It starts with eating a successfully cooked version prepared by someone else, which piques my interest and titillates my appetite. I get a recipe. I try it. It doesn’t work out. I try it a few more times, tweaking details to try and capture that quality that made it appeal to me in the first place. I try other recipes. It just doesn’t come out right.

So I seek instruction. I get someone whom I know can make this dish to show me, step by step. It seems so simple. I try again. It doesn’t come out. I get the person to watch me. Ou says I’m doing everything right and I think at last, success, and then I take the first bite and no. Or I pull it out of the oven and it’s a disaster. I just…can’t…make it.

Take snickerdoodles. I LOVE snickerdoodles. Because I love cinnamon, sugar, and cookies. I have tried making snickerdoodles from innumerable recipes, and every time they flatten out into the pan and turn into a disgusting mass which ends up in the garbage. Puff, in San Francisco, used to make delectable snickerdoodles. I’ve tried her recipe. My snickerdoodles are not delectable.

So I developed what I call the fakerdoodle, which is a cookie akin to the snickerdoodle in some ways, but which I can actually make. It’s not quite the same, but it’s closeish. Because I’ve wasted too many batches of dough to try making snickerdoodles again. I just accept that I can’t do it, no matter how hard I try. Maybe I’m overthinking it or something. I’ve even read up about the chemistry behind the snickerdoodle, in the hopes that this information would prove to be the key to unlock the mystery, but no.

Indian food is another thing I struggle with. I love Indian food with a deep and abiding intensity. I cannot make it. Not from any recipe, not under the tutelage of accomplished Indian cooks, not with any prepackaged mix. Every time I make Indian food the results are nothing short of horrific. There’s some missing element which I just can’t incorporate, and it’s infuriating, because I would eat Indian food all the time if I could.

There are some foods which have a learning curve, and once I got over that curve, everything turned out all right. The first beef stew I made, for example, was definitely lacking in deliciousness. But I learned from the experience, consulted some sources, tried again a few months later, and ended up with something quite good. Once I understood how to do it, I could start branching out and playing with different ingredients and settings. It just took that one failed try to get over the hump, as it were.

I don’t mind foods with a learning curve. In fact, I find it kind of fun to experiment with foods in the beginning, to try and salvage a recipe gone awry or to retrace my steps so that I can explore how I went wrong, and how I can avoid it in the future. With practice, I can start to disregard portions of the recipe which are not as critical and I can start to make predictions about how the food is going to behave so that I can play with it.

But foods which I just can’t make frustrate me. I try to fit the pieces of the puzzle together and I come away emptyhanded because I am doing everything right. It should work and it’s just not. There’s not really any fun in that, now is there? And I can’t figure out why this happens with some foods and not others, what it is about particular recipes or cooking styles which just defeats me.

I normally like a challenge, and I always say that I am game to try pretty much anything three times. Once to get used to it, twice to explore it, three times to confirm that I really do or don’t like it. I can’t even count the number of times I have made snickerdoodles, following the recipe, optimistically sliding the pan into the oven, and then pulling it out again to see that, once again, the cookies have run together into a spongy, foul smelling mass which I will have to scrape off the bottom of the cookie sheet and throw away because it tastes so revolting.

It’s like the fates are mocking me. “No snickerdoodles for you,” they say.

2 Replies to “Food and Losing Battles”

  1. Here, I will share with y’all the story of my cake disaster:

    I made a cake once, completely from scratch. Including icing. Except I did not understand the distinction between confectioner’s sugar and granulated sugar and made the icing with the latter. I had made a not completely awful chocolate cake iced with chocolate tile grout. Totally inedible.

    I am a terrible baker. Cooking non-pastry stuff–where the measurements don’t matter so much and there’s more tolerance for my eh that’s about right and there is never any such thing as too much garlic sensibilities–works out better.

  2. There is no such thing as too much garlic. Om nom nom!

    (I am really bad at cookies. I’ve pretty much accepted this and just bake breads and cakes instead, which I am actually good at. Fried wontons were easier than I expected, though, especially as I’d never deep-fried before!)

    My main cooking problem is quantity. If I’m the only one who’s going to be eating something, it’s a bit of a problem if there’s TWO GALLONS of it. This is why I don’t make soup anymore – you can’t really scale down a can of beans.

Comments are closed.