Liz bought an Instant Pot. It showed up at our door and I pretended to be happy about it but it should have been stamped with a skull and crossbones and labeled The Death Pot of Fear and Shame because that was my level of anxiety over using it.
I am mildly familiar with pressure cookers. Back in my Nepal days, the woman who cooked for the children’s home used one to make rice. It was this big iron tub that looked like a WW1 submarine. When she heated it up the whole pot would rattle like a Velociraptor cage and steam would start screaming out the top. It seemed like something you would be less likely to see in your kitchen and more likely to see on a remote pacific atoll with a mushroom cloud rising off it.
What was so wrong about putting food in a pan, like we’ve done for millennia? You heat the pan, you cook the food. All done. Was everyone clamoring for something different?
But we’d already bought this Instant Pot. So I was going to use it.
I found a Youtube video that was called “Instant Pot for Beginners!” Then under that I found one that was called “Instant Pot for COMPLETE Beginners” so I clicked that one instead. In the video, there was a guy in his kitchen and the first thing the guy said was “Don’t worry, it won’t blow up your house!”
Normally I would point out that nobody says that when they’re teaching you how to make, say, homemade granola, but I won’t because I’m trying to be positive here.
The next thing kitchen video guy says is “See all these buttons that say things like Porridge and Chili and stuff? You probably won’t use them.”
Which was actually good advice. I hate those buttons. Anyone that owns a microwave is familiar with those labels. Meatloaf! the button lobbies cheerfully from the upper corner. They’re pretty standard, those microwave buttons. (Unless you have one of those old microwaves from the sixties that have buttons like “Mayonnaise Pie” and “Entire Raw Chicken (plucked).”
I watched enough of this Youtube video to figure out how to at least open the Instant Pot, and I was off and running. I found a basic recipe which assured me I could just combine chicken and rice and beans and whatnot and set it for 12 minutes and then press start.
“Toss in your ingredients!” the recipe insisted. “No stress!”
Lemme tell you something – I’ve never been more stressed in my life. Because who knows what’s happening with the food in there? You click closed the top of it and it has the finality of bare-chested Egyptians gruntingly heaving a marble lid atop a sarcophagus. The food is in there now. There’s no getting to it. (Which means your food becomes a kind of Schrodinger’s Cat, existing in a theoretical quantum superposition wherein it is simultaneously cooked and uncooked.)
Which means the actual problem is this: You can’t just grab your food off the pan if it things start to go wrong. Your food is trapped. It’s Alcatraz for your chicken burrito bowl.
Eventually the timer went off, the steam came out, I opened it up, and the food…well, it didn’t turn out great. (Which I know to you Instant Potters out there will be a disappointment but apparently you need some kind of advanced degree to cook wild rice in an Instant Pot.)
I put the Instant Pot away, defeated, on a back shelf of the kitchen, wondering if I would use it again.
But a funny thing happened.
Finn wandered in and saw me putting it away. He asked how it went with the Instant Pot. I told him, diplomatically, that I hadn’t really figured it out yet. And Finn (being very Finn) said this:
“You just have to keep on trying, Dad! Remember when I was learning to swim and I thought I’d never be able to swim because it was too hard? But I kept working at it and now I can swim really well!”
It was, in short, the kind of lesson that I give my kids all time.
Moreover, I give that speech with such breezy confidence. I tell them don’t worry! Don’t give up! Keep trying, keep practicing, I tell them. It’s the only way to learn. It’s the way every human has learned every skill in the history of the world.
Just Keep Going, I tell them. That’s what matters.
Which leads me here:
If you’re not familiar with it, Psalm 23 is where that whole thing about “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” comes from. (Shout out to Coolio.) I read a commentary on it one time, and the writer pointed out that it was a valley. Not a locked dark room. Not a deep pit. It matters that it is a valley, because with a valley, yes, you walk down into it, but more importantly, if you keep walking, you will get out the other side. You will come up out of the darkness. It is inevitable, on one condition and with one requirement: You Just Keep Going.
So I’m going to conquer this Instant Pot. I choose to not fear any evil, like blowing up the house with a pound and a half of chicken thighs. I will keep walking.
Which brings me to The Top Five Things I’ve Screwed Up Cooking:
1. Pork Stir Fry.
I tried to make a pork stir fry, this super fancy recipe. I made it at night and put it in the fridge for dinner the next day. I served it with pride to the family. The problem was that I used a lot of rice vinegar and the vinegar basically melted the pork like acid so when I plated the food it looked less like Asian Night on Pinterest and more like Let’s See Who Eats This Gray Soup.
2. Every Single Thing in College.
Cooking in college is like putting a five year old behind the wheel – he knows generally what it is supposed to look like but without any of the important stuff like how not to crash. My roommate Charlie and I would throw a couple of frozen chicken pot pies in the toaster oven, which would take forty five minutes to cook. Forty five minutes. Three minutes after we closed the toaster oven door we decided we should go out. The notion that we would remember anything for that interminable span of time was unreasonable – you might as well ask me to remember to dig up the time capsule we buried in third grade. I don’t know how we didn’t burn down the house.
3. Grilled Vegetables.
I had one job, my father told me at a family gathering when I was young, which was to turn the vegetables on the grill. He instructed me to keep turning them. Except he didn’t say “keep turning them.” He said “You can’t turn them too often.” What he meant was that it was impossible to turn them too often. Unfortunately, I heard that as Don’t turn them too often. So my father, taking all the blame, served everyone vegetables that were raw on one side and burnt to a crisp on the other. Sorry Dad!
4. Boiled Egg.
I put on an egg to boil one time and decided to take a 10 minute nap, knowing the chime would wake me up. Except the chime didn’t wake me and I slept through the night and I woke up and the water had evaporated and inside was what looked like a charcoal briquette trying to stand on one leg.
5. Lucy’s Birthday Cake.
It was Lucy’s sixth birthday, so I figured the higher the cake the better. So I just kept on piling layers on. But the tops were a bit rounded on top so there was very little structural integrity to it, and it leaned over dangerously, like a giraffe stretching for leaves just out of reach. I tried to mask it with thick purple frosting. Lucy, of course, loved it.
Anyway, I’m back on the Instant Pot. I’m going to conquer it. Everyone says it’s amazing. I choose to believe them. I’m comin’ for you, Pot. I’m comin’.