Sunday, July 06, 2008

Inventive Fear


Last Sunday I served a roasted corn on the cob. There were two different recipes – one called for Ancho Chile powder – the other didn’t. Once called for lime juice – the other didn’t. Neither called for Queso Fresca – yet that’s what I wanted.

So I made up a butter dip incorporating all the things I wanted. It turned out good enough both dinner guests asked for the recipe.

Yesterday, I grilled pork chops. I wanted a wild rice side dish to go with them. With CRANBERRIES. Do you think there’s a recipe like that on Cooking Light or Epicurious? NOOoooo – Of course not. I knew before I started, because I’ve searched before. Yet time and time again I find myself wishing I had a wild rice pilaf dish with chewy cranberries nestled among the nutty grains.

So last night I made one up – using a wild rice STUFFING recipe as a guide.

It turned out so good, I wish there’d been someone around to share it with me. Plus – seeing the leftovers, my mind couldn’t help but think how good they’d be mixed with chopped grilled chicken breast and a light vinegar dressing as a salad. So the leftovers are in the freezer. (See? That’s how you cook great food for one.)

The other day at Trader Joe’s I’d purchased some small whole wheat Pita Pockets, which I’d been planning to use for sandwiches. Today after church, I stopped by the store to buy potatoes for the Potato Salad I’ll take to a fried chicken dinner at a friend’s house tonight.

It was lunchtime, and I knew I needed to make something simple when I got done shopping for lunch. I decided I’d have chicken salad. I didn’t have time to grill the chicken, so I totally broke down and bought canned white meat chicken. (Please do not discuss this at length. It makes me VERY nervous to contemplate ANY type of canned meat – and so far, this is the only one I’m willing to risk. Even TUNA, unless it’s Italian in olive oil, is suspect to me.)

Did I make a traditional chicken salad? NO. For some reason – I just can’t bear the idea of mayonnaise based dressing (a recent trend, as I DO like mayo, I just don’t want it in/on my salads these days.) Knowing no mayonnaise was the first departure from a “traditional” chicken salad I wondered, “What else are you going to do?” I knew there was lovely fresh basil and mint to steal from Grace’s Garden (the best neighbor on the whole planet), and I had watercress and grapes leftover from my Red/White/Blue Salad for the Fourth of July BBQ to use up. I chopped up the mint, made a chiffonade of the basil, quartered the grapes and diced a little red onion to the chicken. “Now, what to bind it all together?” I asked myself.

“Balsamic Vinegar and Olive oil,” was the answer that returned. I poured both into a small container, vigorously shook them until they emulsified and enlivened with it with some sea-salt and cracked black pepper. It tasted great – but not PERFECT. However stuffing the watercress into the pita pocket – then packing in the chicken salad solved my dilemma. Within minutes I was chomping away with satisfaction wishing all of YOU were here to join me.


If you’re a regular reader (or even if not), you can tell I love cooking and feel fairly confident in the kitchen. In September I’ll be attending a “Tomato Taste Test” in Philadelphia with friends.

I am so excited, I tell EVERYONE about this upcoming trip. Even if they don’t like me – or care about cooking, I tell them, “OMG I’m going to Philly. My friend is growing 7 different varieties of tomatoes and we’re going to taste/cook ALL OF THEM!”

I’m not afraid of going to Philly. I’m not afraid to eat tomatoes (although truth be known, I don’t like them a whole lot.) … what’s scared me is this missive that I received about the weekend.

I am thinking that since we will focus on fresh tomatoes & herbs, that the general cooking style will be Italian/Greek.... Fresh fish, Meat, Veggies, Olive Oil, and fresh produce. Everything fresh and light...... whatever we can pick and the freshest ingredients we can find at the market that day.”

Nothing frightening in that part. In fact, it lines up perfectly with my cooking ethics. But here’s where it gets scary. He goes on to say,

There will be NO RECIPES.... that is the number one rule.... we will cook what is available.”

I almost had cardiac arrest.

“NO RECIPES??!! I can’t cook without a recipe! What is he thinking??? I’ll totally screw up – the food will taste like shit.”

On and on, my OVER-INVENTIVE mind trudged ‘round and ‘round my cranium.


It was like an earworm playing before I went to bed and when I woke up.


During church, at the Praise & Prayer section, I wanted to stand up and proclaim, “Holy GOD! He wants me to cook WITHOUT A RECIPE! Please dear Lord, save me in my hour of need.”

Then I went by Grace’s to steal those herbs for the chicken salad. She came out of the house to return the Ancho Chile Powder she’d borrowed to make the grilled 4th of July corn.

“It was the hit of the party.” she told me. “Everyone wanted to know where I got the recipe from. I said, ‘Mit is the Medlin Street Chef’d Cuisine.’ Everything comes from her.”

As she helped me pinch the Basil off she said, “What are you going to use this for?” I told her my plan for the chicken salad.

“You are so inventive! How DO you come up with all these ideas? she said. I could NEVER cook without a recipe.”

I started to say, “Me too.”

Then I thought about it.

Fear is silly isn’t? And irrational.

I cook ALL THE TIME without recipes. I just think of tastes that go good together. Textures that complement. Colors that contrast – and “blamo” I have a recipe.

Clearly I CAN and DO cook successfully without recipes.

As I contemplated this revelation (and deliverance from God) I wondered. “What else in my life ‘CAN I do?’ … ‘Do I do?’ that I don’t recognize as being a skill?”

“What fears hold me back from moving forward? Completely UNREALISTIC FEARS. Fears that I prove wrong EVERY DAY??”

It’s scary to think about isn’t it? Fear holding you back from succeeding, when you’re already doing the very thing you’re afraid of!

I’ve decided I need to develop a litmus test for fear - I’m not sure how to go about administering it – but clearly it’s needed if I want to keep moving forward, and onward, in my life and with my dreams.

What fears are holding you back?

Are they realistic?

Or are they like mine?

Unfounded yet fermenting?


I H8 24 said...

Fear of not being able to do something after you have taught it to me!! (Even though you are the best teacher in the business!!!)

The Purple Panda said...

I've just gotten into cooking the last couple of years myself -- before then I had no interest at all, didn't even like to do it. I'm not sure what changed, but having a well-equipped kitchen (and food Network) certainly helped quite a bit. I'm not sure I'm at the level of "confident" yet -- I am moreso w/ baking than anything else. But it's a theme that's been showing up all over the place in my writing as of late, as is fear. It seems to me that you've resolved yours, which is totally cool.

Me? I make an awesome PB&J w/out the recipe, but that's about it... haha!

Have fun in Philly, though! (Would scare the crap out of me!)

mamie said...

Of course, since the name of my blog is "Can I Do It?" you know that my whole life these days is standing on the figurative edge of the high dive about to pee in my bathing suit saying, "Go for it - at least in the water nobody will know you pissed all over yourself." Let's go forth in boldness!! (God - the word verification on this thing gets longer and harder to read every time I post, but I CAN DO IT!)

Anonymous said...

My fears...oh this is an easy one!

1) Not being accepted by others.
2) Not realizing my own potential.
3) Not succeeding in life.

There is one simple explanation for each of these fears. I have low self esteem. Well, actually, I do like who I am. I think I'm great in fact. I just don't think I'm good enough for the rest of the world. If it's just me, I feel at ease and fine with myself. As soon as I step out into the world, I hold my breath, and I'm constantly on alert, for fear of doing or saying something that will make someone out there laugh, point, shout, etc. It's a unhealthy combo of low self esteem and social anxiety disorder. I hate it!

MitMoi said...

TIG - I think you're great too! And I want to stomp the b'Jesus out of everyone who has even insinuated other wise. That is ONE of the cool things about getting older. It gets easier to look people in the face and go, "Well, if you don't like me, then you're S-T-U-P-I-D. Pffft!" and go on your merry way. Sending you extra <3.

PP, I bet you make divine PP&J's. We'll trade sometime. I'll cook, you can critique the grammatical/punctuation free mess I call writing.

Mamie Isn't it funny? I see others around me all the time. I admire their strength, boldness, sense of self - and belief in themselves - and wish I could get there too. But you!?!? No way! I had no idea you were peeing in the pool! You are someone I admire. Now even more that I know you're afraid of the high-dive too!

I H8 24 ... you do superbly - and it has NOTHING to do with your teacher, and everything to do with your smarts and tenacity. NO ONE was going to keep you from learning that program. You proved everyone (who didn't matter) wrong. You are one of my shining stars!

G Liz said...

Looks like I might have found my road trip companion after all!!!