I try to teach my kids that it’s okay to fail. That we all struggle, we all make mistakes, but the important thing is trying our best. It’s easy to say, right? The obvious lesson. Teaching by example is ideal, but let’s be honest, this is one instance where being the model feels pretty lousy. At least when it comes to the big things. The ones we really care about.
I’ll spare you all the details, but there was something recently that didn’t go my way. I put my whole self into it, and my kids got to watch me working towards a goal. It wasn’t something I “had to do,” just something that I wanted to do. But I took it seriously, and really did give it my all. When I found out that I failed, I was crushed. I was angry, and sad, and disappointed, and embarrassed. A whole mess of emotions that while appropriate for the situation, were still painfully uncomfortable.
But here’s the thing: as a parent, I couldn’t hide these feelings from my boys. I didn’t want to. Of course, I tried to display them in a way that wouldn’t overwhelm them, but I believe in being honest about how I feel. Not always putting on that pretty face and smiling through the nonsense. Yes, there’s a time and a place for that, but it isn’t in my own home. It doesn’t help anyone. So when I got the news, I took deep breaths and collected myself as best I could. But my older guy, all of 9 years, took one look at me and said, “Mom, what’s wrong?” When I told him, and the tears filled my eyes, he immediately came over to rub my back, and say, “That’s okay. You did your best. That’s what matters, right? You’re not going to give up, are you?” Those few words from him helped put everything in perspective. While I had failed one thing, I clearly had succeeded in something else. I have managed to impart a very important set of values to my kid, and to see it reflected back at me filled my heart with joy. Compassion, love, support, and a belief in perseverance, even when it’s hard. That’s definitely a win.
Jump ahead a few months, and I’ve come up with a much easier and pain free example of teaching my kids about failure, and what might go with it. I doubt it will surprise you that it took place in the kitchen, but as fate would have it, it wasn’t my own kitchen this time. Last week was spring break and instead of sunshine and beaches that the two words typically conjure up, we went the opposite route and rented a home in the Catskills, where it mostly rained and we cuddled up by the fire with books, board games, coloring, and even our cat. (Yes, we have somehow become people who travel with our cat…go figure.) I’d come prepared to bake, traveling with my own recipe collection, as well as canisters of flour, sugar, chocolate chips and a scale. (Doesn’t everyone go on vacation with their own cooking scale? I’m not the only one, am I??? Okay, so I might be. But I’m okay with that. Maybe that’s why you’re all here reading this, right? Because I’m that person?) Anyway, you can imagine how thrilled I was to arrive to the house to find a shelf filled with cookbooks and food memoirs right as you walk through the door. It’s like I found my only little piece of heaven.
There were so many books to choose from, but I was inclined to pick up Julie and Julia, written by Julie Powell, which chronicles her year of cooking through every one of Julia Child’s recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I’d loved the movie with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, but I hadn’t yet read the book. As an early food blogger, Powell was one of the first to make the story behind the recipe the main draw. And since the stories are what lead me to follow one food blog more than another, and have informed how I create my own posts, it felt fitting to reflect on the origins of it all while I was on vacation. Conveniently, Julia was already on the shelf too, and so I felt called to try one of her recipes.
But remember, I was away from it all, in the woods, far from the grocery store, so I had to work with what we had brought with us. Which means my options were VERY limited. As I turned the pages, I decided I could go with crepes. Now, I’ve made crepes a good number of times before, and so I knew from experience that the batter is easy, but the cooking is the challenge. I was fully prepared to fail, at least for the first few crepes.
In less than five minutes, I mixed everything up in the blender. And then I stuck it in the fridge for a few hours, so that it all could come together, and because that’s what Julia told me to do. (I suggest you watch Julia making these crepes to get all of her tips, at least the first ten minutes. Also, because she’s awesome.) We played Sorry, took naps, and all read a little bit more, and when it was time for dinner I headed back to the kitchen. And here’s where it got interesting….
Yes, I’ve made crepes before. I know that the first one always gets tossed. You try to figure out the right temperature for the pan, how much batter to put in, and how to flip it. I fully expected the first one or two to go in the garbage. What I didn’t expect was for the first ten to be disasters! My inclination was to blame the things I couldn’t control: These aren’t my pans! They’re warped! It’s an ELECTRIC stove! These are the wrong spatulas! I really didn’t want to take responsibility for the pile of pancake mess that was building up on the counter, but I was the one standing in the kitchen, and I had to own it. I also had three hungry guys waiting to eat, and I had promised ham and cheese crepes for dinner, and I wasn’t going to give up. (That said, there really wasn’t any pressure, because they could still have sandwiches, and I would be the only one a bit disappointed.)
So I tried the first pan, and then I moved on to the second, and finally the third. Two spatulas later, I started to get the hang of it, and I poured in just the right amount, and swirled it around until the edges started to brown, gently flipping it over so that the underside was speckled. I’d been getting frustrated, but as soon as the first crepe worked I hollered up to my big kid, “Come quickly, you’ve got to see this! It worked!!!” He came running, and said, “That’s great, Mom!” Looking over to the heaping discard pile though, he said, “I didn’t think you were going to get it, but you did. Can I eat now?” He saw all of the “fails,” he saw my frustration, and then he saw me achieve my goal because I stuck with it. Nothing major was on the line, but the point could still be made. I’m sorry I didn’t think to take photos of all the failed crepes. It might have proven my point more, and made some of you feel better when you attempt this yourself. But maybe Julie’s words will reassure you that ruined pancakes are to be expected. “The next week was crepe hell. I made sweet crepes and savory crepes, crepes with beaten eggs whites and crepes with yeast, crepes farcies and roulees and flambees. And over and over again the crepes stuck. They burned, they shredded. When they did survive the skillet, they came out in the shapes of all the beasts of the forest.” ( p. 205)
If only all the lessons in life could be as simple as the ones learned in the kitchen. You do your best, and even if you fail you keep trying until you get it right, and in the process you just keep growing.
Julia Child's Crepes are a classic. A simple batter comes together in the blender in just minutes, and the french pancakes can then be filled with your favorite meats, cheeses or vegetables to serve as a meal, or spread with Nutella for dessert. It takes a little practice, but once you get the hang of these, they're quite impressive!
- 1 cup cold water (8 oz.)
- 1 cup whole milk (8 oz.)
- 4 large eggs
- 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (7 oz.)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 Tbsp melted butter
- (for the cooking, an extra 1 Tbsp melted butter for the pan)
*If you've never made crepes before, watch Julia Child teach you how to on The French Chef.
**If you want to make these ahead of time, you can store cooked crepes in a pie plate in the refrigerator, covered with wax paper, overnight.