The Perfect Imperfect

One of my favorite parts of fall is bringing home fruit and vegetables grown by local growers, unpacking them onto the kitchen counter, and either cutting right into them to cook something for dinner, or setting the ones that don’t need refrigeration – crisp apples and golden squash – into wooden bowls in the kitchen window.

This week I pulled out potatoes. We purchased a membership in a farmers’ co-op which has given us the reward of receiving a large bag of fruit and vegetables every Thursday since mid May. We are always surprised by what we will receive, and we plan the week’s meals in part around what was ripe that week at the farm.

We’ve received potatoes in the past, but this week they looked different. They weren’t shaped like regular potatoes. They were finger potatoes, but they weren’t even really shaped like fingers. They were more like funny little hands, with three or more appendages coming out of a small center. They were beautiful and odd and I didn’t want to cut into them.

I finally did, dicing them into bite-sized pieces so they would roast perfectly under the chicken in our big, blue baking dish. As I cut them, I felt washed over with an unexplained happiness, a strange sense of joy at this wonder of nature in my kitchen.

I realized that one of the things I most love about cooking is the sense of surprise, the way I can cook something over and over and still have it taste differently, and the way vegetables and fruit can grow in imperfect ways and still manage to be perfect for whatever I am cooking. The perfect imperfect.

A metaphor is certainly alive and well here, one that can teach us a thing or two about letting go of a constant sense of striving to be better, to be what we think we are supposed to be. To be perfect.

In this world where many of us are lucky enough to live in neighborhoods where we can walk into a store and buy just about anything we want — looking and tasting exactly like all of the others of its kind, week after week — we can forget that nature doesn’t grow food to be perfectly alike, or even perfectly shaped or perfectly tasting. Nature grows things in response to all of the messy mix of factors that shape the particular piece of fruit or vegetable from seed to full grown glory: genetics, environment, weather, how much care it received from humans, and when it was harvested.

Our lives are like that, full of a messy mix of factors that shape us day to day, but messages come at us constantly that we are supposed to always fit a certain mold of who we should be.

In the kitchen this week, I decided I want to be more like those potatoes we ate for dinner that night. A little surprising. Letting myself grow and become who I am each day in response to all that is in my life.

And, by the way, dinner was delicious that night, enjoyed around the table by our whole family as we talked about the day. Perfect. Truly … perfect.