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.”