Taming of the spatula

A slow start to her culinary endeavors and a near kitchen disaster offers one mom a perfect illustration of the challenges of parenting.

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I don’t remember exactly what we registered for prior to our wedding, I just remember wielding a scanner and selecting a bevy of things young couples needed to start a home. I was more distracted by the fact that I was about to get married to the man I love. 

So, there I was, sitting in a chair at my bridal shower in the midst of these lovely ladies (most of whom I’d known my whole life), opening beautifully wrapped packages with mysteries inside. One would think the mystery would be solved upon opening the gift. However, I sat baffled at many of them.

“What’s this?” I whispered to my mom, seated to my left.

“A spatula, honey,” she said. Right. Of course. I knew that, didn’t I?

“What’s this one?”

“A different kind of spatula.” Uh oh. There are various kinds of spatulas? My poor husband was in for a rough ride.

Clearly, I had a lot to learn. My idea of cooking for myself consisted of a lot of microwave friendly dishes and lots of pasta. Macaroni, anyone? C’mon over! Thankfully, my husband liked to cook and was happy to get his hands dirty in the kitchen. He taught me how to use the various spatulas now populating our kitchen drawers and I became more confident wielding a chef’s knife. Things were looking up.

Today, many years later, I've cooked dinners for our family of four that I’m quite proud of and do so rather consistently. I rarely rely on the microwave for sustenance and pasta barely makes an appearance. 

There are a few lessons I’ve learned in my domestic transformation, the biggest being overcoming a fear of failure. Previously, I was paralyzed by lack of knowledge in the kitchen and terrified of failing at every turn. My husband changed all of that with his unending patience and willingness to teach. So, with my newfound confidence and wonderful sous chef, I cracked open my first grown up cookbook and started cooking and haven’t stopped. 

Just last week, I flipped through the pages and landed on a risotto recipe. 

Risotto is one dish I love to eat and make; mostly because it sounds fancy. But risotto can be tricky. Overcook the risotto and it becomes mush. Undercook it and it’s crunchy. It has to be just right to be creamy yet still distinguishable as risotto. 

This particular risotto recipe called for butternut squash – another ingredient that can be intimidating if only because of its shape. Here I was in my kitchen attacking a squash while trying to follow step-by-step instructions I found in a quick online search. 

At my feet the dog instantly appeared, waiting for the occasional scrap to fall from the counter. I considered tossing in the towel and giving it all to him after I realized I diced the squash instead of cubing it as the recipe required. 

I pressed on while repeating to myself, “I am creative. This will turn out delicious no matter what!” I’ve been told I can be unrealistically positive. I take that as a compliment. 

Just about 10 minutes away from feeding my family, disaster struck. After hacking the squash to the wrong size, then nearly dumping the whole dish onto the floor into the eager dog's mouth, I found I was missing one of the last important ingredients. I felt like crying. I reached out to our amazing neighbors, tail between my legs, and asked for Parmesan cheese to rescue the meal. They brought it over with a smile.

A few minutes later, I rallied the troops and dinner was on the table being eaten by my hungry family. This is now one of their favorite dishes.

Have there been failures? Perhaps, but instead of preventing me from continuing, they’ve encouraged me to keep going. And sometimes the failed attempts at certain recipes have become successful new recipes in their own rite, like the historic, potentially accidental invention of the chocolate chip cookie.

Through the misses, I’ve learned what I like and don’t like. I’ve found my taste, my flare, my strengths. I’ve found that I love cooking with fresh veggies and that I really love beets and Brussels sprouts. I never would have known that about myself if I hadn’t started experimenting in the kitchen. I probably would have dismissed some of my new favorite foods without even a taste thinking that since I didn’t like them as a child, I never would. 

Like cooking, parenting is a giant experiment every day. Without a willingness to try something new and to cover unknown ground, it’s like banging your head against a very hard wall. When we're able to step outside our comfort zone and be daring, that's when we truly discover what's possible. Risotto, maybe? And hopefully, we all have great neighbors who can drop off Parmesan cheese when the going gets tough. 

My favorite quote from author Marianne Williamson ends this way, “…as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Don’t our kids deserve this? Don’t WE deserve this? I sure do. 

With that, I’m going to go enjoy my next tasty meal and thank my lucky stars that I have all those spatulas in my drawers. I wouldn’t be as well fed, or well rounded, without them.  

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