Humor | A litany of mostly edible mistakes

Smiling man in American Army uniform during WWII standing over a pot of soup. Propaganda poster.


The year before I left for graduate school I started to really experiment with cooking.

One night, I decided that one tablespoon of cornstarch couldn’t possibly thicken an entire pot of chicken soup with dumplings, so I dumped in half of the box. And went to wash my hair.

By the time I got out of the shower, my grandmother’s beautiful chicken and dumpling recipe had turned into blooping, blopping Quick Crete.

The Husband ate two servings of the resulting primordial, blurpy chicken dumpling goo out of loyalty.

Painful, painful loyalty.


Then, there was the Green Goodness broth soup recipe that was Green but not very Good.

It was Thanksgiving. I watched as my entire family and five of our friends tried, with watery eyes, to choke down mouthful after mouthful of ground pepper in green water.

After five bites, my mother said, between peppery gasps, “You know… I think we should… save our appetite for… the dinner.  Don’t… you?”

The Husband ate two servings of the resulting primordial, blurpy chicken dumpling goo out of loyalty.


While in graduate school, I realized that I should learn to bake a layer cake.

I pulled a dubious recipe off of the Internet, and followed the horrid directions to the letter. The Husband helped me stir the frosting for an hour because we couldn’t afford an electric hand mixer.

The layers slumped and burned. The Internet frosting recipe didn’t cover the crazy tilt or the crispy edges of the cake, leaving bald spots in unfortunate places.

As an additional insult, the frosting itself ripped the enamel from our teeth.

But The Husband ate every terrible slice because he loved me and because I had used half of our food budget for the week on the cake.

For weeks afterward, the slightest breeze made his bicuspids ache.


A year after the Green Goodness made everyone cry, I decided to make cornbread dressing with portobello mushrooms for Thanksgiving.

In Texas, cornbread dressing is serious business. I’m still asking my family to this day why nobody stopped me.

“You were so enthusiastic,” my mother told me. “You’re so happy when you’re enthusiastic. Too bad it turned out exactly like the time you dyed my hair.”

Somewhere in the cooking process, the portobello mushrooms dyed the entire stuffing purple.

Linty velvet couch purple.

No one would touch it. My family wouldn’t even put an “I’ll pretend to eat it” spoonful on their dinner plates.

But it tasted really good. The Husband made sandwiches with it later.

Purple sandwiches.

In Texas, cornbread dressing is serious business. I’m still asking my family to this day why nobody stopped me.


Ten years is enough time to gained a certain level of kitchen mastery— I cook from scratch every day now and I can’t imagine life otherwise.

What I miss, if anything, from those early days of burnt cakes and soups that stung the lungs, is the throw-your-hands-in-the-air quality I brought into the kitchen.

In Zen studies, a fundamental quality is to maintain a Beginner’s Mind in all activities.

To believe it all anew each time, each bang of the pot and scrape of the match to light the stove.

I think even with something simple as a midweek supper I need to relearn how to be a beginner, and have a beginner’s freshness.

However, I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in my family who thinks this is a good idea.


I stopped writing for a moment to ask my husband if he remembered any of my truly spectacular mistakes.

“Do you remember the time you got it into your head to cook blue soft-shell crab sandwiches?”


“We were at the coast. You couldn’t get the shells off, so you boiled the whole thing. They turned out slimy and crunchy—”

“Anything else?”

“Well, there was that other time when you made stew, and somehow dropped the screw-top from a soy sauce bottle into the stew. And I almost broke a tooth—”

“—okay. That’s enough examples—”

“Oh! Do you remember the time you dropped a Big Pink Rubber eraser into the gumbo you were making? And about those blue soft-shell crab sandwiches. You got so mad, you threw them down to a bunch of cats underneath the pier.”

“I really don’t remember that. Any final remarks?”

“Yes. The next morning the sandwiches were still there. Even the cats wouldn’t eat them.”

Maybe Beginner’s Mind isn’t such a good idea.

Especially since The Husband has a really good memory for Beginner’s Disasters.

He just poked his head into my office. “Hey! I remembered one more thing. It wasn’t soy sauce. It was Worcester.”

10 thoughts on “Humor | A litany of mostly edible mistakes”

  1. Lovely recollection, BB. Masterfully done. You are a fearless cook, and that is essential.

    I too learned to cook by sheer willpower. Mom often goes on about what a talented culinary artist I am, and I always laugh and amend her declaration with “nay, I am a talented follower of recipes”. The thing I love about cooking is that the knowledge accumulates eventually, and the joy of scanning a recipe and knowing it will be good based on the ingredients is heady and addicting. A recipe bestows divination of the future on a greased track…with instructions! “All I need do is acquire these elements and spend this time doing these things listed here, and this will be the specific outcome…sustenance to sustain and propel forward those who ingest it”. I can even pull off substitutions and modifications occasionally. But there was that one time I substituted elephant garlic for garlic in a pasta sauce recipe, and the sauce turned into a foamy, bitter, soap-like substance…with dinner guests relaxing in the living room. It was maaaahvelous!

  2. Thank you, Diane! When I read your lovely reply on first pass, I thought, right away– “You know, this sounds like the beginning of an essay.” I really would love if you expanded on this one.

    I come from a family of recipe-followers. Their knack was finding great recipes. I love recipes. And cookbooks. V., v. much.

    I started experimenting because… that’s what I do. I just can’t help myself. It’s not just cooking. I spend a lot of time in my head thinking “…and what if I were to do this to that? Or what would this dol?”

    Man, I am so glad you’re the one who tried the elephant garlic thing first. I’ve never even cooked with elephant garlic. I can only imagine your surprise when your sauce turned to homemade soap. (Which made me laugh, BTW. That’s lovely.)

    This is really for a later story, but after, and you said this best, “the knowledge accumulates eventually” — I started to hang out with my friend R——. And R——, besides being one of the most magical people on earth, is also a chef by trade, and a poet by heart. (He’s one of my four.)

    Many of his conversations start with “and what if you combined X with Y? Chemically, it would Z. But, what if I….” And then he’s off and running. He encourages that impulse in me, and I’m grateful for it. I try to do the same with his writing.

    I really, really think you should write this as a full essay. And I’m so glad you posted such a warm and happy reply. Thank you so much for the compliments!

    1. It’s true; you have most excellent cooking karma. I think you missed the most spectacular mistakes by about a year. Also, you never had to go through Thanksgiving with me. This year’s disaster is going to be zucchini chocolate bread.

      I always have liked cooking with you. You are so graceful in the kitchen! And mellow.

  3. Stirring frosting by hand– husbands are good for that sort of thing! Frosting and whipping egg whites until they stiffened. We finally got a proper stand mixer last year. Now he has nothing to do.

    1. I am so glad you got a stand mixer– my friend has one that he let me use for a project and they are wonderful! But, I’m sad for your husband! Husbands are *great* at this sort of thing.

      This is totally off-the-cuff, but here’s a thought: I think he needs to learn how to make cream cheese filled macaroons dipped in chocolate. And I’ll tell you why:

      The Husband makes these– he’s actually a really accomplished cook. The thing about the macaroons is that they’re yummy, easy, fast, and all our men-friends liked them so much the first time he brought a plate to an Easter dinner that they asked for the recipe. And some of them never baked a day in their life!

      If you’re interested I can find a link. (Gosh-dog it! Now I want macaroons!)

    2. I have been looking for this recipe everywhere! When I find it, I promise you, I will post it here.

      It’s in an unmarked manila folder full of recipes. These are the macaroons you wish everybody made. (I promise I’ll keep looking!)

  4. Edible mistakes make the best stories and memories! These are great ones. I also love what you say about Beginner’s Mind. I love it so much I might have to change my whole sermon for Sunday.
    Oh, well. I like you and your blog all the same!

    1. Thank you so much for reading about my edible mistakes! I’m glad Beginner’s Mind is an idea that you can incorporate into your upcoming sermon, and I hope that writing goes well.

      I haven’t had a chance to really post comments on your blog, but I was happy to find you through “Freshly Pressed.” Some of your posts (I tend to call them short essays, so forgive that little quirk) really resonated with me. (I’ll save my comments for your pages!)

      I like you and your blog also! I’m so glad WordPress offered us a chance to meet!

Hey there, Cupcake! How are ya?

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