Right after Julia Child’s husband, Paul, bragged to his brother that all sorts of delicious foods were “spouting out of [Julia’s] finger ends like sparks out of a pinwheel,” Julia made a disgusting lunch for herself and her friend Winnie. This was after she’d studied cooking and knew how to create fine French food. Nevertheless, she describes her meal as “horrid” and “most vile,” but she and her friend ate it without saying a word about it.
I made vegan hollandaise sauce the other night. It turned out so bad, it went straight to the compost bin. My husband and I had clear words to say about it: Gross! Smells awful!
It’s rare that we make something in our household so completely unsalvageable. Not all of our meals turn out great, but I can think of only one other dish so unpalatable we tossed it after a tiny spoonful to taste-test.
I feel awful about wasting food, but the hollandaise sauce turned out bland, with a choking aftertaste. Bitter, sour, or too spicy are all better than bland. You know bland is a form of punishment, right? The infamous “Nutraloaf” that prisons supposedly used as punishment for the unruly had all the nutrition a person needed but tasted starkly bland, deflating one’s drive for defiance in the hope of some flavor.
This lesson about blandness goes beyond the palate. If you’re someone who avoids pain (and who doesn’t?) at the expense of living life, you end up feeling bland. Numbing painful emotions dulls out the good ones as well and your life ends up as savory as Nutraloaf or Julia’s lunch for Winnie.
Even so, Julia refused to apologize for her “vile” lunch.
She does not “believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make.” So, when she and Winnie choked down the vile lunch, “I made sure not to apologize for it. This was a rule of mine.”
This was not a whim but a rule. Julia felt so sure about the destructive nature of apologizing and the burden self-deprecating comments like “Oh, I don’t know how to cook…” because they “only draw attention to one’s shortcomings (or self-perceived shortcomings)” and force the guest to reassure the hostess and ultimately think, “Yes, you’re right, this is a really awful meal!”
Interesting about “self-perceived” shortcomings. The vegan hollandaise was undeniably bad, but how many times have I replied to compliments about dinner with “Really? It’s okay?” Or worse, dug for compliments when they weren’t forthcoming by saying things like, “So, how is it? Too salty? Less spice?” hoping the diner will gush, “No! Change nothing! This is the most divine piece of toast I’ve ever had the opportunity to masticate!”
She says: “Maybe the cat* has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed–” ah well, too bad!
Maybe the failed vegan hollandaise sauce underscores some Big Life Lessons about blandness and apologies. Even so, I don’t know how such a simple recipe with recognizable ingredients turned out so bad. Hollandaise sauce can be veganized and taste delicious. I’ve had it at Portland’s Vita Cafe and Blossoming Lotus. Apparently, I lack the right recipe.
*Don’t worry VeganMOFO readers. Although Julia was a most devout omnivore, she was just as devoutly in love with her kitty Minette, and should Minette have fallen into any stew, she would have been rescued immediately, comforted, and fed fine French food. [Here’s a link to a beautiful children’s book about Minette]