Practice Makes (Almost) Perfect

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I wouldn’t say I’m a perfectionist, I don’t have the patience, but I do set high expectations for myself when I try new things. Ultimately this leads to disappointment and frustrations and this past Chinese New Year was a fine example.

My kids love any reason to celebrate, whether it’s a birthday or just the end of the month. We’ve celebrated Chinese New Year in the past, making dragon puppets, so it wasn’t much of a surprise when the kids asked to celebrate again this year.

Of course you can’t have a celebration without food, at least in our family. This is where pinterest comes in. I found a recipe for Homemade Potstickers from YumSugar, Singapore Noodles from Donal Skehan and even these Pineapple Tarts from Indo Chine Kitchen. Of course I’m a sucker for beautiful food photography but I made sure to read the ingredient list and preparation instructions. If I get lost at this stage I know the recipe is destined for failure but all three recipes seemed doable in my mind.

So the day of our family party I started to prepare the dishes while the kids were at school. I felt pretty stoked, cooking the pineapples and making handmade dumpling wrappers. The whole afternoon slipped into a blur of chopping and stirring and rolling. Then it was time to pick the kids up from school and I felt as though I was nowhere near ready for our family dinner.

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Kids and hubby home the (self-imposed) pressure was on to pull everything together and I felt overwhelmed. Had I taken on too much? How did I not see that the pineapples had to cook for four hours with constant stirring? Is there a substitute for powdered milk?

I started to roll the pineapple spread into the dough but it wasn’t working. The dough was too sticky and the pineapple filling was starting to stiffen. I actually chucked one whole roll in the garbage out of frustration. It was obvious the rolls weren’t going to turn out as planned so I improvised and just wrapped what I could.

Tossed in the oven.

I was happy with the vegetarian filling for my potstickers but I just couldn’t get the wrappers to fold properly. Then the dough started to stick together so when I tried to place them in the pan they started to fall apart. As I tried to separate some, others burned.  Alone in the kitchen I started to cry, flipping potstickers, trying to salvage what I could.

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While they steamed I worked on the noodles. Cooked the shrimp, then the onions and cabbage. It all looked good in the wok until I added everything together. Something wasn’t right. Too many noodles? Too little cabbage? It was a mess. It looked nothing like the recipe photo.

I was hot from anxiety and disappointment, my glasses steaming up as I tried to contain my tears. I plated the meal and set the table with what I had made. I almost apologized to my family for what I had presented to them. I say almost as I bit my tonge but my husband could see I was upset.

Why are you crying? This looks great? I think this tastes better than any Chinese food we’ve ordered.

The kids agreed, adding a serving of everything on their plate. Whether they were being truthful or just trying to make me feel better the situation had me realize a few things:

  • Recipes are a great source of inspiration but don’t judge my interpretation based on the original cook. This person has worked on and perfected his or her recipe, posting on the best shots from their creation.
  • Being over critical and judgmental of my own performance doesn’t benefit anyone, including my family. What sort of example am I setting for my kids when I declare failure after one attempt on trying something new?
  • Enthusiasm is great but don’t let it be my only guide. Taking on three new and untested recipes was a little more than I could handle. Trying new things is great but I need to be realistic and take baby steps.
  • Practice makes perfect. Okay, maybe not perfect but each attempt at something is a new testing ground, a chance to experiment and figure out what works best.
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I had to prove that last point to myself by trying to make the homemade potstickers again. I didn’t worry about trying to match the fold pinch on the original recipe but instead just focused on ensuring the potstickers were sealed. Only focusing on one dish, using some smoked turnkey and cranberry stuffing from the freezer, I was able to create a plate of potstickers that didn’t look half bad.

I know this won’t be the last time I try a recipe found on a blog or Pinterest, I know these recipes probably won’t look like the original photos, but I will keep trying new things that interest me. Some will be failures and some will be successes but I will still try. Practice is (almost) perfect and I’m fine with that.

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