My soufflés fell. They fell, I’m fairly certain, because I insisted on peeking at them repeatedly through the cracked oven door to make sure they were puffing up nicely. And they were, at one point. But when I pulled them all golden brown and fragrant from the hot oven, they’d fallen flatter than a pancake, concave even. “Shit, now what am I gonna do,” I thought, not out of any real concern for dinner but because I needed pretty pictures for my blog.
I like taking pictures of the food I make. It’s a meditative thing for me, being in the kitchen and behind the camera, but sometimes it gets away from me. I had a whole story mapped out around this grits soufflé, a story about homesickness—- deep, achey, ever-present, adrift-at-sea homesickness. Grits help with that sort of thing, because food—- the kind of food we care about—- is never really about just food. So I thought I’d make grits, and then I thought, “good lord, who wants to look at a picture of grits?” Within a matter of hours I’d managed to transform my antidote to homesickness into a source of anxiety over blog-worthy photographs. And just as I was beginning to fret about how I’d find the time to remake the soufflés and the light to re-photograph them by my self-imposed weekend deadline, I stumbled upon Brian Ferry’s beautiful post about honesty and the creative process. Before I was even halfway through, I’d decided not to revisit the soufflés.
I spend an awful lot of time thinking about photography, and the photographs that most interest me are those that capture things as they are—- un-staged, un-styled, of-the-moment sorts of photos. That’s not exactly the honesty that Brian was talking about, but it’s what I was reminded of as I read his post.
It’s true, I could make the soufflés again, but I’d only be doing it because I needed a photo of them, and then the things I do for pleasure—- cooking, photographing, writing—- would become a chore. Instead, I give you the soufflés as they were, along with the recipe, which I’ve successfully made for occasions both special and ordinary and which I can assure you do puff up light and airy, creamy and pleasantly gritty, with a whisper of piney rosemary and the sweet, mellow nip of roasted garlic.
recipe adapted, ever-so-slightly, from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, which I love to pieces
Things I made in 2011 but never got around to writing about:
It’s occurred to me more than once over the past few years — as we’ve ripped up carpet and torn out cabinets, laid flooring and tile, hung drywall, replaced light fixtures and appliances and furniture, and slowly worked our way through 11 gallons of Benjamin Moore’s Moonlight White — that what I really should have is a home renovation blog (like Door 16, only not nearly as cool), filled with satisfying before-and-after photos and helpful tips on how to paint 50-year-old knotty pine paneling. Instead, I float about in a dream world of food, taking ambitious photos of recipes I’d like to share and then realizing oh crap, that room needs three more coats of paint before Monday; let’s order sandwiches.
But we finished the last major project on our list right after Thanksgiving and we’re now left with only minor tasks like paint baseboards and cover that weird hole in the wall and make a light fixture for the bedroom. Which means a return to a semi-normal life filled with the simple, quiet things that make me happy: cooking, writing, and eating well. I look forward to sharing all that with you in 2012.
This afternoon I made a batch of granola, then I tossed it out into the yard for the birds and tried again. You wouldn’t think something as simple as granola would pose much of a problem for a girl who can successfully replicate Chicago deep dish pizza in her own kitchen, but the second batch ended up in the yard too. Some days are like that.
I’m really not very good at not being good at things, but a certain amount of failure is inevitable. And each of those small failures is, of course, a learning experience: screwing things up may actually be the best way to figure out how to do them correctly. Two burnt batches of granola have ensured that future batches — and there will be future batches — won’t spend more than thirty minutes in the oven, no matter how pale and soggy the oats still appear to be. Sure, a recipe can warn you of such pitfalls (as, um, I believe mine did), but you might not fully internalize those warnings until you’ve spent an afternoon making and photographing food for birds.
Our culinary blunders, then, are more setbacks than defeats, each burnt bite nudging us along toward perfection (or at least toward edible breakfast food). Good news for granola girls; bad news for birds.