Real Talk: Dealing with Cascading Failure

I’ve shared as many of my flops on this blog as I have successes, along with how I’ve learned from whatever goes awry. Doing so helps me to push forward and refine my skills for future endeavors.

What I don’t typically talk about here is how much failure SUCKS in the moment, at least for me. It hurts and it makes me want to scream.

And you know what? It’s worth mentioning, since I don’t want others reading this to get the wrong idea. As a teacher, I made an effort to be forthcoming each day about my mistakes and how I felt about them, because it made me a more authentic human being to them instead of an unknowable variable, distant and untouchable.

The topics I discuss here are messy. They’re frustrating and often complicated and sometimes I succeed out of sheer luck, and then more chaos ensues as I try to replicate the success… because science.

Looking back, I’ve been pretty cheery and upbeat overall through my writing in this space, and I suppose with good reason insofar as the highlights are concerned.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though. You folks tend to see the sanitized and cleaned-up versions of events, partially because you might find certain mutterings over minor minutiae uninteresting. Moreover, I doubt anyone wants to really see the rather literal blood, sweat, and tears that become part of each exercise.

Through it all, even the worst burns or maple krakens, I remind myself of this mantra: If we’re going to get better, we have to embrace the cruddier parts of the process — and the resultant messes — before revisions can begin.

Hey, it works for writing, and it works for cooking, baking, and gardening, too. I don’t have much by the way of advice, but that’s held true fairly consistently for me!

Tonight’s post was prompted by a cooking venture where absolutely everything that could go wrong did, and it left me a torn-up mess inside for a little while. This evening happened to be one of those painful bumps in the road, and damn, it stinks.

Somewhat literally. But mostly in metaphor.

Let’s go into the details of the disaster in question, for posterity’s sake:

On this day, the twenty-fourth of August in this pandemic year of 2021, I decided I would make curry. Specifically, I wanted a tasty cauliflower curry using some of the produce I had purchased at the farmer’s market last Saturday.

Thus, during a break at work, I looked over the recipe, made a shopping list, and scurried over to the grocery store after my shift. Mask adorned, I deftly braved the crowds and escaped intact and also lightly burdened with groceries.

Home I went, and there to begin preparations… unfortunately, there my woes also began in earnest.

The cauliflower had already begun to spoil (no longer firm with many a brown spot), as did some of the fairytale eggplant that I had hoped to serve as a side dish to the curry.

Ugh. Annoying. That’s money down the drain. 😖

While less than ideal, I did happen to have a few extra eggplant in my garden ready to harvest. So I switched gears to roast the aubergines anyway and use them instead of the cauliflower in my curry.

This could work, I thought.

If only.

As the roasting neared completion, I started assembling the curry on the stove in my stockpot, pulling the spices from the pantry and arranging them on the counter.

Except… I didn’t have half of the spices I needed. While I thought I had curry powder and garam marsala — I always have them — I had either run out or tossed out an old jar without remembering.

Okay, I told myself, feeling my temprature hike up several degrees, fine. Recenter, and see what spices you could use instead. You can make this work.

Then, due to my inattention, the eggplants burned. Blast it.

I kept going, thinking I could still salvage this and break even.

I made it as far as pulling out my immersion blender to turn everything I had left into a thick curry soup, with a can of coconut milk ready to open and pour… and I couldn’t finish it. Dropping my hand from where it hovered over the stockpot, ready to begin blending, I turned off the stove and walked away from my curry.

This palate of mine is not only for wine — I could tell with a single sniff as I worked that the ingredients just weren’t meshing together. Even worse, there was nothing at all I could do to save the dish by that point.

Horrendous. Not even worth tasting.

Sometimes we don’t make it to what we envision. Better luck next time, I suppose…

Once I’d cooled off, into the sink went the remains of my sad attempt, and I flicked on the garbage disposal with a closed fist and lightly gritted teeth.

Looking back, the only thing I did right during tonight’s process was to stop myself from going further, which would have likely stirred up even more regret and frustration. Aside from the produce that was already ruined, my only losses included some chicken broth and half a jar of tomatoes. Some spices, too, but not enough to be a huge deal.

Okay, Allie, but why bother writing about this failure?

Seeking Continual Flavor isn’t a blog about what things look like when they’re done well. Or rather, it’s not solely about that.

Because in order to better appreciate the successes, you also have to remember the stumbling around you did to get there. Tonight was a true exercise in endurance, because it’s easy for one’s confidence to take a beating when everything tilts sideways and tosses you overboard all at once. You can’t let it drag you down.

How did I deal with tonight’s shenanigans, aside from writing about it?

  • I breathed through it, because allllllll the emotions raged for a good few minutes. Channeling my inner Elsa, it took a bit, but I could finally let it go.
  • I cleaned the kitchen despite my state of emotional exhaustion, because I didn’t want any physical reminders of the disaster to linger and bug me later.
  • I made myself a quick no-brainer dinner. Days like this are precisely why I have a couple of microwave meals hidden away in my freezer.
  • I decided that the best wine pairing for failed curry would be a spoonful of salted caramel gelato straight out of the jar, and so I indulged myself with three spoonfuls.

And of course, I won’t leave without sharing what I learned from this endeavor:

  • Curry’s not hard to make, if you have the right ingredients.
  • One should write a grocery list at home where they can verify everything, not at work.
  • Proper produce storage is a big deal. I need to learn a lot more about this topic, so I don’t accidentally waste more food that I’d planned to use within a week.

Here’s hoping your Tuesday evening was more pleasant than mine! While my curry plans have gone on hold for now, I will try again sometime soon.

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Published by Allie

Foodie explorer with Stardew Valley dreams. Lover of wine but not beer, cheese but not milk, and all things chocolate. Working to learn as many self-sufficient, at-home food production skills as possible.

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