People today exhibit an unfortunate tendency (due, in large part, to Lifetime movies and poorly-written fiction) to find life lessons in experiences that really teach us nothing, or worse, the wrong things. Even I find myself stretching my creative limits to find ways to attach significance to daily events. Not every story has a moral. Today's dinner was one such story.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life gives you bland, unappealing leftover cauliflower (Greek-style tomato braised scented with cinnamon, in theory at least), make ... hummus? That's right; this plate of food so perplexed me as to what could possibly be done to transform it that I employed the only method that can be applied in nearly any problematic foods: pulverize the hell out of it with the food processor, whisper a quick prayer, and see what happens. Had my evening been broadcast on the Hallmark network, with the role of Megan played by Lindsay Lohan (it's the only work she can get these days) and the cauliflower by Robert Pattinson (because they have about the same amount of personality), the poignant summarizing voice-over at the end would have gone something like this: "I realized that, with a little creativity and a lot of perseverance, if I truly believe in my abilities, I can fix anything. I started out with nothing - a giant bowlful of mostly tasteless cauliflower. I followed my instincts without second guessing myself and, after trying the food processor, then cottage cheese, then oregano, and finally chickpeas, I accomplished something wonderful: cauliflower hummus. I believed in myself and everything turned out better than I could have hoped for! That's how you should approach all difficulties in life: with a mind open to all possibilities and confidence that your instincts will guide you to success."
Now, if we took this little life lesson to heart, we'd not only be incredibly puerile and naive, but royally screwed. Your gut instincts to throw this-and-that at a problem in the blind hope that it may turn out may not be so risky when vegetables are all that's at stake, but I'm not willing to risk anything more significant than what would otherwise be fodder for the compost heap; I've learned too many other life lessons from times this approach has failed spectacularly (cashew-cheese sauce, I'm lookin' at you). The danger of the Disney movie moral-of-the-story approach to learning little life lessons from inspirational experiences is that the outcome most often is a fluke. The vast majority of the time, believing in oneself uncritically and acting on instinct instead of careful thought yields catastrophic (and occasionally hilarious) results. Never forget that most tales, if true, are cautionary rather than uplifting.
So whence should our life lessons come? Consider more serious situations, where more complex variables and more important outcomes ride on your choices. For example, if I did not utterly lack a single modicum of self-confidence and continually deride all my efforts, I would not compulsively second-guess myself and triple-check every letter and number of every reagent and patient sample upon which I lay my incapable hand at work. Just today, believing in myself and having warm fuzzy feelings would have meant a serious malfunction in an analyzer that cost more than Maria Shriver's alimony payments (you know she's going for the jugular in the settlement) and a test being run on the wrong animal (which, knowing my luck, would have mixed up the results from a healthy young puppy and a geriatric cat who was hit by a truck hauling leaky barrels of toxic waste, causing the shocked owners to put poor, sweet baby Sprinkles out of her misery before she started suffering as badly as her blood results showed she would soon be and Crusty the cat going home to die in agony, but not before biting several technicians and his owner - because he's a bastard like that). Luckily for Sprinkles, I always assume I've made a hideous error that will cause the world to come crashing down on my incompetent head, so I catch them when it's only sprinkling doom instead of raining down. So, what did I learn today? Which experience will stick with me and guide my future decisions? I ask you, which seems more realistic? The lesson for today surely is to doubt the quality of your work, constantly berate yourself for your mistakes, and compulsively check to ensure you don't make any more. Because let's face it, tonight was an anomaly; 99 times out of 100, cauliflower hummus just will not end well.