People often think that as a food blogger and eager eater I must be an awesome cook. Truth is my cooking adventures seem to flop as often as succeed; I’m more kitchen klutz than Master Chef. I burn things (pots, proteins, and appendages included), get nauseated at the sight (or smell) of raw meat, and I scrambled the shit out of my spaghetti carbonara last week. Things just don’t always go according to plan when I’m in the kitchen, and that’s exactly what draws me in. With cooking, there’s risk and reward, and the opportunity to create something with my own hands titillates my brain (and my belly). So despite the burnt carnitas, undercooked scallops, or, in this case, mussels of questionable edibility, I keep on trying to learn.
My ultimate desire is to possess the ability to cook freely, without the aid of a recipe. I want to look at ingredients and understand them and innately know how to bring out the best of their flavors. I want freedom from recipe paralysis, a condition that has occurred, in my opinion, due to over saturation of recipes in the media. They are everywhere we look, and we’re all constantly bookmarking and tagging and pinning things to try later. Problem is, when later comes, we’ve got a bushelful of recipes and an empty tank of know-how. So, tonight, it’s grilled cheese for dinner, AGAIN. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
Cooking, just like life, is a learning process. We natural-born perfectionists often try to conceal our mishaps, sweep the crumbs under the rug, if you will. I know I do. For many of us, cooking is so much more than a chore or an obligation–it’s our time for creativity and spirituality and personal growth–and personal “success” in the kitchen should not (and cannot) be judged rigidly. Hiding our food faux pas is a repressive practice. This is not living. In the wise words of Anne Lamott, these “mistakes” are simply shitty first drafts. They can be tweaked, streamlined, or gussied up later. All that matters in this moment is that you showed up in the kitchen and gave it a shot.
A shot. That’s exactly what I did with these mussels: I gave them a shot. Though I’ve eaten my fair share of mussels, I’d never made them before. Of course I did my research: cleaning, debearding, sorting. I got it all down before I hit the grocery store. Perhaps, I should have changed my game plan when the man at the Harris Teeter meat counter proceeded to set aside expired bag after expired bag of mussels before settling on one that was “still good” (insert forced smile here). I made a shitty, but spicy, first draft of tomato sauce, plopped my clean, beard-free mussels on top, covered with a lid, and waited for the mussels to open. After ten minutes or so, about a quarter of the mussels were fully open, half were partially open, and the rest were pursed closed tighter than my grimacing lips. Maybe it was first-timer jitters or maybe something really was wrong with these mussels, but after eating a couple of the fully opened ones (while silently battling visions of self-inflected food poisoning), I called it quits.
I call this meal my shitty first draft of mussels with a spicy tomato sauce, and I choose to embrace it, and all its shittyness, at home and here on the ole blog.