My friend, Frenchy, asked me to show him photos of recent desserts that made me proud, because, “you know, you’re never happy with the outcome. You think it doesn’t taste good or the texture is off, or there’s some other issue.” Frenchy’s correct…partially. He’s a musician and should understand the creative process. I challenge him to write a song, from beginning to end, without adjustments, without tinkering until he is pleased with it; not a piece that is “good enough” for his audience, but a work that makes him proud. A recipe rarely comes out perfect the first time and, if it does, it often cannot be duplicated with the same results the second or third. Tinkering is needed. It’s part of the process.
Yet, I won’t deny that I’m also my worst critic. Self-doubt and I have done battled in the ring since childhood. Regardless of what others may think, and I’ve heard my share of snarky comments, this is not feigned modesty constructed in an effort to appear meek and humble or garner compliments. Confidence has been a lifelong struggle. I remember a fellow student in culinary school, Michelle, who always seemed self-assured, even when she screwed up, even when she undercooked her shrimp or used a recipe from Epicurious and called it her own. And, the thing was, Chef bought it. Chef loved her, thought she was the best, because she was self-confident. I, on the other hand, have often felt I’m one step away from being found out as a fraud. Although, confidence does not necessarily translate into competence.
Over these last few years – over the last year, if I’m really honest – my self-confidence has improved…in my baking, in my writing, in my photography, partially due to the feedback and encouragement of my friends and readers, but also because I’m beginning to silence that incessant critic inside me. I may not have Michelle’s hubris yet, but I’m trying. I recently found the following, illustrating just how far I’ve come:
With clammy hands tightly gripping the steering wheel, I gulp pranayama breaths of air, desperately trying to calm down. A cake box filled with my future slides around on the passenger side floor. I am running late.
I’m taking my tarts to the owner of the Steakhouse for final judgment. My worst critic, me, appraises the final products harshly. A week before, I was a proud cock, crowing about my tarts – the best key lime ever! Today, as I test and decorate them, my confidence crumbles. The key lime is too sweet and its crust is gummy. I re-bake it. The coconut cream is dry, flat, and lacking coconut flavor. I re-bake it. The lemon tart is cloudy on the surface and a little undercooked. If I had more filling, I would re-bake this one as well. I attempt to cover up its flaws with powdered sugar and whipped cream. The apricot-almond seems overcooked and lacking flavor, I also re-bake it. The hours tick by; my kitchen is a war zone with sheet-pans and counters scattered with the bodies of discarded tarts.
Can’t I call him and cancel, start over, and wait until I produce something I deem remarkable?
I can’t endure criticism and my fear of it has only grown with each new culinary plan, scheme, and pursuit. Negative comments sear my skin and positive ones bounce off the scars, unable to sink in. It’s a throwback from my youth, I am sure. In our house, crushing another’s confidence was how you buoyed your own worth and superiority. Now, the effects paralyze me.
I drive the tarts to him and gather courage in the parking lot. He gives me bottles of wine as payment for my work and we chat. He doesn’t fear failure and I admire him for that. We talk about how difficult it is to tell a vendor their product isn’t any good, like breaking up with someone – “It’s not you, it’s me!”
I can’t do it. I can’t watch as my work is judged. I ask him to taste them after I leave, share them with the staff, and call me with his feedback. I cannot endure a breakup, not from him, not now. I wait. My phone is silent and I am deflated.
– Written 2014
He finally did call. He loved the key lime, coconut and apricot-almond. You are probably expecting one of these recipes to be listed below. Nope, not today.
Simple Old-Fashioned Rice Pudding
Many rice pudding recipes call for raw rice and 45 minutes or more of simmering. With this recipe, you can have comforting rice pudding in less than 10 minutes.
- 1 Tablespoon corn starch
- ¼ cup sugar
- Pinch salt
- ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup cooked rice, cooled
- ¼ t. vanilla extract or 2 teaspoons brandy
- In a medium saucepan, whisk together corn starch, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Whisk in egg, then milk, and finally cooked rice.
- Place saucepan on medium heat and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Simmer for 4-5 minutes until pudding is thickened and the texture of oatmeal. Take off heat and whisk in vanilla extract or brandy. I enjoy eating rice pudding warm from the stovetop. If you prefer chilled rice pudding, place in a dish and cover with plastic wrap, ensuring the plastic wrap makes contact with the pudding surface to avoid a skin.