For the longest time, I have avoided really writing about food on here. I realised this last week, as I was driving home (I do my best thinking and writing-in-my-head while driving). I have stopped baking. And I have stopped having people over for dinner. These realisations caused me pause.
What is stopping me from doing these things? I have always absolutely loved cooking for people, and baking things. Ever since I was very small I have done both, in abundance and with joy. And yet, over the last few years, these things have disappeared from my life. Slowly and surely, without my noticing, they have gone. Yes, I still make cake for A’s birthday. And, if my sister is around, for hers. Sometimes I make dessert. But this year I did not even bake a cake for my own birthday. And Sunday was the first time I’ve had anyone over to eat in absolute ages.
I realised that I have stopped baking, sharing and writing about food because of fear. I am scared of failing at something that has long fed my life. I have been so paralysed by this fear that I’ve stopped doing the things that once brought my joy and pleasure – baking, and writing about baking. I never used to worry about whether my creations were good, or pretty. I made them for me, to satisfy some deeply held urge within my self to create. I never thought about who read my writing. I wrote because I derive a lot of pleasure from writing. I worried a lot less about how many photographs should accompany each story.
And then somehow, I became fearful of sharing. I became scared that the cake wasn’t quite right. Or that the recipe hadn’t been tested enough. I started to beat myself up because a cake wasn’t perfect. Or the writing did not quite capture something. Or I worried, bizarrely, that I might cause food poisoning. Or an allergic reaction.
This week I have listened to a few podcasts on the very subject of failing. First was Turning towards Life, and an episode formulated on Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese poem. In the discussion, Lizzie Winn and Justin Wise talk about the line ‘you do not have to be good’. They discuss how we are encouraged to be good from a very young age but if we give ourselves permission to not be good, we have an opening to be something else entirely. It provides us with an opportunity, Lizzie says, of if I don’t have to be that, what could I be? I have been repeating this to myself all week, whenever I start to become overwhelmed by things.
I then listened to How to Fail with Elizabeth Day; and her interview with Deborah Frances-White (whom I love). They talked about failing at all the kinds of different things in life you can fail at – work, comedy, motherhood… In it, Deborah explains how, early on in learning improv, she had teachers who encouraged failure. And really, what that taught her was failure is a way to understand processes. Failing is a way to get better at understanding something. Elizabeth sums this up as: “you can apply this to everything in life. That it is not you, it is the alchemy of something.”
They go on to talk about the two great enemies of creativity: fear and ego. What you have to do is to divorce yourself from the work. And to do that, you have to give up the self worth you carry within the work. I read an article which explained how, especially for makers, you must realise that if people do not like your work, it is simply that. They are not into the particular thing you have tried to offer. But that does not mean they are not into you. Even more important, perhaps, is to embrace being average at things. Which is not to say that you cannot be fabulous at something, it is just to accept that you are not fabulous at something yet…
Even Hadley Freeman has been writing about failure this week, in her Guardian column. She debates whether it is really necessary to have a transformative experience from spectacular failure. Often, when people talk of failing they counterbalance it with the amazing achievement they went on to accomplish. But actually, Freeman argues, failure doesn’t need to be spun into a larger story. It is simply part of life. “Life is not a series of achievements to tick off a list, but a stream of unexpected meanderings…” she writes.
All in all, as I walked around campus this week, I realised that the universe was trying to tell me things. That it is okay to try and fail. That it is okay to fail multiple times. That actually, right now, things in my life are okay. And I don’t need to be scared of what other people think. Or of sharing. Sharing is a way of trusting yourself. Trusting the inner core of your being, and trusting that what you put out into the world is okay. Maybe not great, but okay.
So last Sunday I had a friend over for dinner and I cooked delicious chicken chilli. We talked and ate and drank a crisp white wine. We delighted in the long evening, the promise of summer. For dessert I made gluten-free almond cake, and served it with a homemade pink grapefruit marmalade ice cream. I gave her extra slices of cake to take home. I took the rest to share at work. And I felt good about all those things.
Gluten-free Almond Cake
Adapted from Tea with Bea
240g demerara sugar, blitzed in a blender
70g ground almonds
80g buckwheat flour
70g brown rice flour
2tsp baking powder
130g greek yoghurt
1 tbsp vanilla extract
50g unsalted butter, melted
80ml sunflower oil
Preheat the oven to 170C and grease a 20cm cake tin with butter, and line with baking paper. Melt the butter and set aside to cool. Mix together the dry ingredients. Whisk the eggs with the yoghurt and vanilla. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry mixture, making sure to mix only until everything is combined. Fold in the butter and oil. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for approximately 30 minutes, until risen and golden. A skewer inserted should come out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes before turning out onto a wire rack and cooling completely before slicing.
I served this with pink grapefruit marmalade ice cream but it is exceptional just by itself too.