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I'm Tired of Being Told to Be the Best Possible Cook

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I make entirely fine scrambled eggs. Not the best, not the worst. They do their job; they get by.

I prefer them to any eggs I've eaten at a buffet, but would I serve them to Amanda and Merrill? No. And do most of my colleagues make scrambled eggs better than I do? I'm sure.

I know the tricks, hacks, tips, and techniques to make them so light they'll fly away (poach-scramble) or so creamy that they fall into large, slick curds (mascarpone, crème fraîche, cream). I know to pre-salt the scrambled eggs and let them sit, to add yogurt or sour cream or cornstarch or plenty of butter and cheese. (I even know how to make them in the microwave.)

And these tidbits aren't "secrets" at all: Google "scrambled eggs" and, after a few basic "how to make scrambled eggs" posts, you'll see articles titled "Perfect Scrambled Eggs" and "How to Make Perfectly Fluffy Scrambled Eggs" and "How to Make the Absolute Best Scrambled Eggs Ever."

Enough already, I find myself thinking: I don't want the best eggs. I'm happy with these slightly good ones.

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Judging by the superlative-heavy headlines—many of which I use myself, all the time—we don't want good enough. We want what's best. And that feeling of constant striving, reaching, pushing, searching, stretching, never settling is exhausting and exhaustive: We don't want good pasta in New York—we want the best pasta in New York; we don't want a good deal—we want the best deal. If it's not the best, we don't want it at all. Because when you have everything you need, when you can get most of what you want, the next phase is to desire those things to be the very best—to exceed, not just satisfy, the desire.

I'd argue that this need—to be the best and have the best—is a privileged one, particularly acute and complicated when it comes to cooking. We don't all want to be the best swimmers or yodelers or ceramicists: But shouldn't each of us want to be as good a cook as possible? It's a skill that defines our species and, thereby, our competency as humans. In Emma Straub's new novel Modern Lovers, her character Elizabeth describes the feeling of inadequacy well:

Whenever she dropped by Zoe's house for lunch, one of the three of them would be eating some bowlful of brown rice and hard-boiled egg and sautéed kale, with an avocado-miso dressing that they'd just whipped up. [...] It wasn't easy to have a best friend who seemed so much better at so many of life's most important skills.

The constant bombardment of ways to be a better cook is inspiring until it's paralyzing, until the pressure of making each meal the best it can be gets tiresome—and starts to feel silly. Because the push to make everything the best way possible not only makes me feel bad about my own skills (in the kitchen, in life), but it can also distract me from what I think is important about cooking in the first place: to have respect for food and an understanding of where it comes from; to bring yourself and others happiness. I'm not surrendering to mediocrity, but making a note to myself to reprioritize from time to time.

My dad, a non-cook whose cooking advice I collected for Father's Day, makes very boring food, and he would admit it. But when I asked him if he would improve his skills if he could, he said that he was satisfied, that what he did was sufficient for now. In this best-obsessed world we're treading in, it was refreshing—not disheartening—to hear that he didn't share the ambitions all of these headlines assume us to have. My dad's priorities lie elsewhere: in his profession, in his other hobbies. As is true for so many people in the world, who eat to fulfill a biological need, who cook to feed their families, who are happy with eggs whether they're the best or not. Working at a food website among the food obsessed, I too often forget this.

And I also forget that food doesn't have to be its best to be its most enjoyable: You know this if you've gone backpacking, if you'd choose your grandma's blueberry pie above all others.

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So after I cook eggs in a double boiler once, I know that the next time I'll go back to exactly what I was doing before. It's not the best, but it's good enough for me.

Tags: Rants