Friday, October 2, 2009

The Francese Fiasco

The night of our 1 month wedding anniversary (9 years ago), I decided to make my husband his favorite dinner from our favorite Italian Restaurant. Chicken Francese. I was a married, grown-up woman and I was going to cook a fancy dish for my man because that’s what married, grown-up women do. I was excited. I felt domesticated. Empowered. The queen of my kitchen. Or, so I thought.

I grew up watching my mom and grandmothers in the kitchen. They rarely had recipes out or cookbooks. They just moved about the kitchen in a fluid motion, as if they didn’t have to think about it. Dashing this and that into the pan. Making substitutions if they were missing ingredients. Somehow on this night, I got into my head that after just 1 month of being married, and of cooking for two, I had reached this level of domestic diva. I had not.

As I opened the Joy of Cooking to the recipe, I realized the only ingredient that I actually had on hand for this dish was Chicken. But, I really wanted to make this dish so, I substituted, very poorly, every other ingredient. My substitutions and thinking went like this: Chicken Broth. Hmm. I don’t have any Chicken Broth. So, it needs to simmer in liquid…..i’ll just add more butter. Capers? Who has capers? They’ve got kind of a lemon flavor. I’ll just squeeze some lemon in there. Shallots. What the hell are those? I think they’re like onions. I’ll just dice up some onion. Clearly, you see where this disaster is headed. I was also doing all of this while talking on the phone, no less. My mom can talk on the phone while she cooks. But not me, not at this point in my cooking career. So on top of the ignorant solutions for substitutions, I burned the chicken.

My husband of one month came home to find 3 smoke alarms on the porch (because frankly I couldn’t get them to stop) and all the windows and doors open. But, I was not yet deterred. I had opened two place settings of our still boxed wedding china. Lit candles and had music playing. And, I very proudly presented him with his favorite dish. He was kind. He ate. One bite. Two bites. Looking back, I can see the fear in his eyes, but at the time I didn’t recognize it. I ate.

It took me one bite to realize that I was nowhere near the cooking expertise of my mother or my grandmothers. I could not make substitutions or be distracted while cooking. And, this thing on the plate tasted nothing like Chicken Francese.

We ordered pizza.

I’ve come a long way from the Francese Fiasco, but I have never attempted to make it again. Seth, however, makes a delicious version. I had so many expectations of myself as a new wife. Of what I should be. Of what marriage should be.

On my longer runs lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. You tend to do that when you have no access to TV, Facebook or Twitter. And ever since seeing 500 Days of Summer (which you should see if you haven’t), I’ve thought a lot about expectations vs. reality. It was one of my favorite scenes in the movie. Who couldn’t identify with the comparison of how you want and imagine something will turn out, and how it is in reality.

So I run. And, I think about the expectations that I have of myself, and the pressure I put on myself to meet those. I think about goals and what’s next. It can get overwhelming and daunting. Just like opening the Joy of Cooking for the first time. Or training for 26.2 miles. So, I just remind myself that I am here in this moment, running this mile. I’ll deal with the next mile when I get there. I know the next mile is there. I can plan for it. I can train for it. Substitutions and expectations will do me no good. If I'm missing ingredients or elements, then I may need to change my plans, or at least my expectations.

It is what it is. To not accept that will only set off smoke alarms.

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