Perfection Isn’t What You Think It Is

My mother’s dinner parties were famous for their good food and wonderful camaraderie. But she was a well-to-do housewife, with time to plan and a large house to entertain in. She never failed in what she set out to do.   For me, circumstances are different. Our house is small, and my time is limited. But I do love to cook and to feed people good food. So on the rare occasions we have company to dinner, I go all out.

Last night was no exception.  I’d planned a meal where my kitchen talents would shine, concocting a menu worthy of the best bistros: beef burgundy, fresh haricot verts with herb butter, Bavarian apfelkuchen with cream cheese frosting. Bottles of Merlot and gewürtztraminer (a spicy German white wine that’s my favorite) sat on the sideboard. Everything was in readiness.

But then, there was the butternut squash and red onion gratineé.

A friend whose cooking abilities I highly admire had posted a picture of this squash and onion dish on his Facebook feed a few weeks back. I asked for the recipe. When it arrived, I found that it was British-based: everything was measured in metric, I had to approximate the oven temperature (what the heck does Gas Mark 3 mean for an American appliance?), and with instructions such as “slice the squash into the thickness of a pound coin…” well, you get the picture.

After two and a half hours in the oven, I still wasn’t convinced it was done. But my friends insisted that I serve it anyway.

I had been hoping for a glistening dish of perfection, the beautiful orange squash set off by the red of the onion and the creaminess of the enfolding sauce.  It didn’t even come close.  It was over-browned in odd places; the onion slices stuck up here and there like porcupine quills. But everyone gamely took a serving, and tasted it.

To my astonishment, it was exquisite. And my guests regaled us with stories about their own disastrous kitchen adventures, and brainstormed about how to make this recipe go from a botched-version-of-someone-else’s-casserole to a fabulous Corbie specialty.

You see, what looked like a failure was actually unrecognized perfection. The dish tasted fine, it sparked great conversations, and it will now be one of those universal “kitchen stories” that every cook loves to share with others for a good laugh.

It’s natural for us to have pictures and expectations of how something is going to turn out. But if it veers from the expected, don’t assume it’s a failure. When we are open to the Universe’s cheerful interference, we may come up with something that is perfect for the moment, but we would not have thought of ourselves.

Here’s a challenge for you today: think of three instances in your life that felt less than perfect. Look at them objectively, without judgment. Then see if there wasn’t something perfect that came out of each one. If you can’t think of something, then play with the memory and think of what might have happened if you had looked at it not as a failure, but as a rerouted opportunity.

Are you surprised at what came forward? Don’t be! When we accept that perfection can look different, we can be amazed at how much is already in our lives – or willing to come forward if we welcome it in a different disguise.

“Perfection isn’t what you think it is–and you have more of it than you realize.” – Corbie Mitleid