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Published: Tuesday, January 22, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A cook's lesson: Never apologize

  • By Rose McAvoy

I hope this comes at no surprise, but not every meal in our house is "blog-worthy." Be that as it may they are usually healthy, filling, and tasty. This one was embarrassing...

I had a brilliant idea for a hearty pasta meal and it flopped, completely and utterly. The plan was to combine some spaghetti squash with cooked whole wheat linguini. The combination of noodles would be folded into a light and creamy carbonara sauce adorned with flaked smoked salmon. Sounds good right? I know I was looking forward to the first creamy bites! Except somewhere between concept and delivery, the execution turned ugly.

The first red flag was the salmon — this is also the most embarrassing part. I ruined a beautiful small piece of home-smoked salmon. I thought we needed more protein, so I picked up a can of Wild Sockeye to mix in. As soon as I popped the lid off the can I remembered why I don't use canned salmon. It's not the extra-fishy smell or the soft texture that puts me off, it's the bones. Small pin bones and bits of spine stay with the meat in the canning process. They turn soft enough to be eaten but still crunch between your teeth. Crunchy salmon makes me queasy. I got to work picking all the bones I could see out of the mushy pink fish but I couldn't get them all.

I hoped the rich creamy sauce would make up for the unappealing protein; it didn't. I had a recipe but, true to form, didn't follow it exactly. I am sure the water I used to temper the eggs was not hot enough; they didn't exactly scramble but they didn't thicken the sauce either. I also used a different cheese, which got a little lumpy. The sauce turned out watery and an unappetizing pink color.

When I finally put the finished dish on the table I couldn't even be bothered to clear away the random toys or take the salad out of the plastic box. Classy!

Later that same night, I picked up my current Edible Books book club read, Julia Child's My Life in France. In chapter 2, section II, she tells the story of serving her friend "the most vile eggs Florentine one could imagine." She says, "I made sure not to apologize for it. This was a rule of mine."

"I don't believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. When one's hostess starts in with self-deprecations such as "Oh, I don't know how to cook...," or "Poor little me...," or "This may taste awful...," it is so dreadful to have to reassure her that everything is delicious and fine, whether it is or not. Besides, such admissions only draw attention to one's shortcomings (or self-perceived shortcomings), and make the other person think, "Yes, you're right, this really is an awful meal!" Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed -- eh bien, tant pis! Usually one's cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, as my ersatz eggs Florentine surely were, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile -- and learn from her mistakes."

At dinner I knew the meal was not great. It was edible but no one considered a second helping. Scooping the remains into a leftover container did not fill me with excitement. I did not realize at the time I was following Julia Child's wisdom, but I did not apologize, and boy-oh-boy did I learn a few lessons.

Story tags » Cooking

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