Melissa Clark on Rice Pudding … and Sticktoitiveness

Melissa Clark, in her most recent column for The New York Times, told the story of a recipe that she had copied from one of her parents’ cookbooks when she was a fledgling.

The piece is, on its face, a story about Catalan rice flan. As Clark writes in her “nut graph” — the paragraph, early in any article, in which a journalist lays out the basic theme and tells the story in a nutshell:

It was unusual in that it wasn’t like the soft and spoonable flans I’d met before. This one baked into a solid yet still creamy cake that I sliced and served in wobbling wedges topped with its own ambrosial caramel sauce. I made it repeatedly for several months, then dropped it to conquer some other culinary frontier — poundcake, I think.

But what struck me wasn’t her tale of flan. It was her obsessive pursuit of kitchen perfection — the fact that she cooked the dessert repeatedly for several months until she had mastered it. Moreover, having been reminded of the flan recently and unable to find her copy of the recipe, she writes: “I had to bake it nine times before I was happy, leaving a trail of crunchy rice, curdled custard and bitter-tasting batches in my path.” Several months! Nine times!

Her confession made me feel both better and worse about my recent months of cooking vegetarian dinners for The Professor. Better because I stopped feeling bad about both the little steps backward (such as my second attempt at bean risotto, which The Professor liked less than the first) and the failures (Ciao Giada’s stuffed peppers! And good-bye!).

And worse … or at least daunted, by the realization that it can take months of practice to really nail a recipe. Adding ten A+ vegetarian dishes to my repertoire is going take a lot of work!

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