"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

Hubris me

by Julie Tilsner on April 14, 2009

in Good Ideas Gone Bad

Burningdollar I told you so.

A few weeks ago I tried to make this delicious artichoke frittata from a recipe mailed to me in the old-fashioned manner by my friend Elfini. The last time I made it I created not so much a frittata as a scramble, but it still tasted good, and smelled even better. Second time's a charm, I thought, and with all the ingredients miraculously on hand, I set out to whip it together one evening.

But the second time wasn't a charm, and for reasons I can't articulate I made such a mess of things I ruined my old non-stick pan beyond repair. You can imagine what the actual frittata/slop looked like. I didn't even bother trying to clean the thing. Into the trash bag it went.

This proved all the nudge I needed to go ahead and buy that $100 All-Clad fry pan. Not only would I be buying a quality piece of cooking equipment, one that would serve me well for decades to come, but I would also be doing my part to stimulate the economy. There was no downside to this splurge, I told myself. I ordered it online the next day.

I was underwhelmed when I received the actual pan. It was bigger than I expected (you'd think I'd have a better mental picture of what 12-inches is. Then again, dimensions have never been my strong suit.) It also was lighter than I expected a $100 pan to be. All in all, it looked downright ordinary. No matter, I told myself. It would redeem its worth many times over.

The first thing I did was fry up some tortillas for my kids' quesadilla dinner. You can fit a whole tortilla in that sucker. It did this job with aplomb. It also presented several grease stains that proved quite hard to wash off. Stains on my new pan. It was like noticing the first dent in your brand new BMW. I felt sorta sick to my stomach.

I avoided the fancy new pan for another week. Several times I went to make an omelet and, remembering how I'd spurned my trusty old pan in lieu of this trophy usurper, decided to make something else entirely.

Then last Saturday the Drama Tween and her girlfriend who'd spent the night came to me wanting pancakes for breakfast. It was 8 a.m. and I was lolling about, enjoying a delicious lie-in like the slattern I am. I was all too quick to say yes when they said they wanted to make the pancakes themselves. She's made them before. And my drowsy mind was pleased at giving my daughter another opportunity to practice cooking for herself. I fell back asleep.

When I woke half and hour later I washed my face and noticed my son in his room playing Nintendo. "You haven't had a pancake yet?" I asked him. He scowled and made a face. "They're too busy being silly down there." Uh oh.

The smoke was already wafting up the stairs.

The front room was hazy with the kind of smoke that comes from burning food. I arrived in the kitchen and stared not at the flour all over the floor, nor at the 13 bowls and plates in various stages of use set around the counter and table. Not even the broken eggs and opened milk on the countertop gave me pause. No, all I could see then was my $132 All-Clad 12-inch stainless steel fry pan, smoking like a hot spring on my stove, bits of batter burning black to its sides.

I made a noise that doesn't often occur in nature. I can't describe it other to say that my up-until-then jubilant daughter suddenly looked like a deer in the headlights.

"My pan," I whispered.

My daughter cringed, looking at me with huge green eyes. "I'm sorry…?"

I turned off the burner and stared at the pan silently. Was it too hot to put under cold water immediately? Or by waiting would I merely bake in the damage? I truly didn't know. So I stood there and looked at it while my girl got more and more upset.

"Mom! I'm sorry…Talk to me! MOM?"

I knew then that I am the sort who was never meant for high-end crockery. I realized I was being punished for my hubris, for being rash and tossing out what worked in my household for that which is shiny and new…and not adaptable.

The girl was about to start crying so I hugged her hard. "It's not your fault," I said. "You didn't know it wasn't non-stick and I should have supervised a little."

She brightened a little. "Well and I had a little trouble with the measurements, too," she said, holding up a tablespoon she thought was a teaspoon. "The batter didn't turn out like it was supposed to."

Sigh. So much like me already. "Well you'll never learn if you don't burn a pan now and then," I told her. We cleaned up together then went out to the local diner for pancakes. The next day I bought a $10 non-stick pan at Target.

As for Ms. Fancy Pan, I put serious elbow grease into getting the burned grease and batter stains out of it. And although it doesn't look new and shiny anymore, true to promise, it's a pan that's hard to kill. Maybe it will fit in just fine here after all.

I'm not using it again though until I have somebody to supervise me.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

transiit April 15, 2009 at 12:39 am

a cast-iron griddle is very affordable (less than 20 bucks), well suited for pancakes (and many other things), can take a lot of abuse, nearly as non-stick as the fancy teflon pans (when seasoned), and can often be coaxed back into health with an easy reseasoning.
just an idea.


ATriana April 15, 2009 at 9:58 am

Too bad you didn’t take me up on my previous offer to Sur LaTable (in Santa Barbara) for the “correct” pancake griddle, and its usage!


elfini April 15, 2009 at 10:36 am

Plane ticket please.


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