Goodbye Perfectionism, Hello Creativity in the Kitchen

I was born wanting to do things precisely. A perfectionist, detail orientated, rule follower.

These characteristics, as you probably know, are a double-edged sword. I never faltered from A marks throughout all of my schooling, went on to play Division 1 golf in college, secured an elusive pharmaceutical sales position at the age of 22, and continued to lead the “this American life” type of journey.

It was those big things, but the little things too.

At age 7, I can remember sitting at the dining room table practicing my handwriting for hours. When I couldn’t perfect a cursive k, the tears rolled.

Art was not encouraged in my family; I think mostly because it was subjective. There was no formula my parents could follow to guide me into success as they could with school and sports.

Santa brought me one of the first American Girl Dolls in 1992, Kirstin as a matter of fact, and she is still in the box as of today. With the plastic around her amber necklace. Because playing with her (like a normal child) meant the possibility of scratching or dirtying her.  

Getting up at the very same time every day, on the odd minute, 6:52 am and eating the very same bowl of Cheerios. Any waver on that and I was in a funk for the rest of the day.

A constant need to achieve sameness is exhausting, yet comforting and satisfying – and equally hard to break free from because of just that. In my eyes, perfectionism is the biggest suppressor of creativity that lives within those of us who fall into this category.

Little did I know the kitchen would be the place where I let all of those walls crumble, and find happiness. A happiness that ultimately turned into how I make a living.

When I began to cook, I knew nothing. Nor did I have anyone telling me how to do it. I think both of these things were what worked in my favor. The first dish I made that I was really proud of was a butternut squash risotto, with squash and herbs I had picked up from the farmers market. The conversation I had with the young man made me feel so much joy, his passion flowing into my hands, that would, in turn, make a meal to sustain my hunger.

It might sound a little deep and “wo-wo,” but the whole experience from start to finish gave me life. And looking back on it, a first timer’s risotto is definitely not a good one. But it didn’t matter. I had nothing to compare it to.

I approached recipes unlike anything else I’d ever thought I needed to learn. Instead of memorizing and following everything to a T, I let myself flow to the rhythm of “choose your adventure.” That meant adapting to ingredients I had on hand, improvising technique depending on time, using a combination of recipes to create one, and usually letting the season guide me with flavors and produce.

Every time I tried something new, I felt like I was creating something I could call my own. That felt so powerful. Even when they didn’t turn out exactly how I imagined in my mind, I felt like I was learning. It was okay to make mistakes. And many times, delicious mistakes. This creative energy was invigorating, and unlike anything I had ever felt in the first 25 years of my life.

Eventually, I noticed I was approaching life in a similar, less “straight and narrow, by the books,” restrictive way. It was okay to not have my clothes aligned by color in the closet. It was okay to try hiking and yoga instead of running the same exact route I’d paved the last 4 years. And it was okay to be more gentle and loving towards myself instead of demanding.

“Embrace the journey. The mess. The delicately burnt edges. The lightly bruised fruit. The recipes that make themselves. Including the one that is life.”

About this recipe:

I make a version of this crostini, or toast, with whatever vegetable happens to be in season or in my refrigerator. The turmeric goat cheese is the one thing that stays the same each time, spiked with golden magic and a heavy dose of black pepper (did you know you must consume both in tandem in order to experience the benefits of turmeric?). When you’re roasting the broccoli, don’t shy on the salt and olive oil. You’ll have the reward of crispy, golden edges, and the reason why restaurant vegetables are so damn delicious. These golden bites are perfect for a cocktail party, or you can make single lady breakfast toast alongside eggs. Enjoy.

Roasted Broccoli & Turmeric Goat Cheese Crostini {recipe via Heartbeet Kitchen}

1 small bunch of broccolini (or broccoli, or seasonal vegetable), trimmed into small florets

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon salt

5 ounces goat cheese, softened

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

gluten-free or regular baguette, cut in ½ inch slices on the diagonal

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut broccoli into small florets, and toss with olive oil and salt. Bake for 20 minutes, turning halfway through, until tender and browned.

Meanwhile, add goat cheese, turmeric, garlic powder, black pepper. Mix together in food processor until smooth. Set aside.

When broccoli is done, set aside and place pan of bread in the oven. Bake for 6-10 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool.

To assemble, spread goat cheese mixture (a good tablespoon or more, don’t skimp) on top of toasts, then top with broccoli. Serve.

Images from Heartbeetkitchen.com


Amanda is a writer, photographer, and food stylist in St. Paul. Through her blog, Heartbeet Kitchen, she shares modern, seasonal recipes and sometimes deeper ponderings about life, health, and travel. She’s passionate about cooking like she doesn’t have to clean, sharing the table with others, and cats. Any and all of them.

 

  • I am exactly like you. A perfectionist, and I have the constant need for everything I do to be the best. My parents never put any pressure on me too – it was just me and my high expectations for myself. 99% on a school exam? Not good enough. I’m glad you found your way out of the routine thoughts using cooking. I hope one day I’ll find my own creativity somewhere, too!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

    • Glad you could relate Charmaine. Our own worst critic is often ourselves, right? I’m hopeful that you’ll find your creativity spark!

    • Charmaine, I put that EXACT pressure on myself, too. I was so hard on myself with parents who wanted me to succeed, but never pushed me too far.

      I find creativity in cooking as well—I rarely follow a recipe and let loose. It’s been very freeing. I’ve learned to chill a little with gardening, too. I hope you’ll find a place to let loose, too!

  • I used to be so anxious about cooking, I would have to follow a recipe to the T and if it didn’t go perfectly I would be so frustrated. But for me that all changed when I started reading Nigel Slater’s recipe books, he has such joy in cooking and it’s all about just cooking food you love with the ingredients you have. Now cooking is one of my absolute favourite things to do!

    – Natalie
    http://www.workovereasy.com

  • Intuitive cooking is my favorite kind of cooking. I love getting to feel creative and helpful and healthy all in one swoop. My style of cooking can stress out my husband, though. He wants to know exact cooking times and exact amounts of ingredients where as my answer is always, “until it tastes good” or “until it looks done”.

    Anne Lamott says “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor and the enemy of the people.”

    • Yes, intuitive cooking! I love that way of phrasing it. And the creating piece of things – my beau is the same actually, which is why he stays out of the kitchen. 🙂 Thanks for sharing the quote as well. -amanda