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July 09, 2012: Mistakes my brain just won’t…

July 9, 2012

Oh yes, the memories of all the mistakes return. Often, it’s late at night, the quiet time, just before falling asleep. Sometimes it’s in the shower, or shopping, at a stop light. I’m not totally sure why my brain likes to torture me with them. It’s not like I haven’t had a plethora of happy, satisfying, and successful moments my brain could dwell on. No. My brain takes the errors, the faults, every single goof, and snuggles them in its warm crevices, nurturing them gently, like some kid coddling a water balloon, only to yank them out at any given moment to chuck in my face, and say, “Bleahhh! You are SUCH the DOPE!”

And yet, my brain is also very selective: it seems to hold on to all the psychological tortures and seems to forget all the physical ones! I remember when I was twelve, on a dare I jumped from the top of Johnny B.’s shed and I simultaneously twisted my leg, knocked the breath out of lungs, and bit my tongue. I remember being very uncomfortable to say the least, but the memory of the actual level of pain is lost. Scientists say this is a survival mechanism. If we didn’t forget pain like this, mankind would never evolve. We’d never risk another injury. We would shelter ourselves and become like our rotund ancestors portrayed in “Wall*E!” Certainly, there would never be a second child born in a family!

So the brain cherishes those embarrassing, ego-diminishing, pride-squelching mistakes. I’ve got about a million of them, and I’m sure you have one or two you wish your brain would let go of, and just get off your back, for chrissakes!!! OH! and the best (i.e. worst) of these mistakes seem to happen in front of a lot of people! It’s practically a rule…and justifies why public speaking is the most prevalent terror of the human race!

So, the classic memory my brain just loves is the time I made bouillabaisse for my friends. If you’ve never had bouillabaisse, make it, order it, somehow get it! Do NOT leave this life without tasting bouillabaisse, at least once. I promise you will not be sorry. Bouillabaisse is a fish stew, native to Marseille, France. It is a luscious mix of fish, crustaceans, leeks, broth, tomato, and spices. The French say that one cannot make a true bouillabaisse without a certain Mediterranean fish, but they are full of it, and this stance just makes them so….FRENCH! No, just make sure that the fish and herbs are fresh. There are tons of recipes out there that are just as good as mine, so I will let you explore. Just whatever you do…don’t do what I did!

The sad thing is that I had made bouillabaisse a number of times before this. In my first year out of college I lived in D.C. which had a number of very good fish markets, so I always made bouillabaisse when guests visited. When I moved to Boston and got settled I decided to make it for everyone I knew here. EV-ER-Y one (as in: every person I knew!) Dinner was: bouillabaisse, bread, salad, and wine. Because I had thirteen people coming, I needed to dig out the biggest pot I  had, which I decided, was my lobster pot. [Here, experienced cooks will cringe. That’s OK. We grow from our mistakes, and up to this point I hadn’t made this particular one.] Throwing all the delicious ingredients in, I set the bouillabaisse to boil. After 15 minutes it wasn’t boiling, so I did what came natural…I cranked up the heat. [It’s OK, I cringe here too. My brain actually insists on it!] An hour later I had yet to get a boil on the bouillabaisse, so I was like “What is the DEAL?!!!” Then I taste it. Yep, the yummy treat I had made a number of times before, tasted just like liquid cigarette ash!!!

What I did not know at that time, is that lobster pots are made to boil water and only water! They do not conduct heat well enough to cook soup. The soup had been cooking, but only at the bottom of the pot. Of course, as soon as I discover my error is when people started showing up! Despite the torture it gives me, my brain has one saving grace: a quiet resolution to fate. So, I suck it up and confess my error to my friends and we have this little back and forth:

Me: “Well, I always suspected this day might come. I’ve screwed up totally. Dinner is ruined and I think we should send out for pizza”

Friends: “Oh, you’re being ridiculous! You’ve made many meals for us and you are always far too critical. I’m sure it is just fine.”

Me: “Really, folks! This is a total disaster. This bouillabaisse just cannot be eaten!”

Friends: “Just stop! You are being silly”

So the other trait my brain has, is its mischievous side. Given no option, there was nothing to do but serve up the dinner! I confess I did actually enjoy watching my friends taste the most terrible thing possible with them trying to make-believe that it was just fine. And then we sent out for pizza!

So, all was not lost. We had a great time (mostly at my expense.) We now have friend-code we can use: “Don’t pull a bouillabaisse” has meaning. They could just as easily say “Don’t pull a Steve” but they are very kind people and understand that our creations are made better from our mistakes. I think every mistake I’ve made in cooking has contributed to my being a more successful cook. The trick is to rememb….

Hey! Waitaminute!!!…maybe these memories my brain won’t let go of have a purpose after all! Maybe now I can finally stop praying for early dementia!

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One comment

  1. You see? The fails make for good stories–and this one was epic! Also, I did not know that about lobster pots. Wow, that could have very easily been me.



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