What do you see in this photo? Take a few moments to list the nouns, verbs, adjectives — yes, even the judgments — that come to mind. 

Here’s what I see: Fear. Embarrassment. A raucous dinner with friends. A fun-fueled mess. 

What you don’t see: Me backing away from this stove, in defeat.

The trouble started when I asked my friend Irina, our dinner host, “What can I do to help?” Irina was busy mixing the sauce for  Pad Thai. She handed me a bowl with batter, a jar of kimchi, and said, “make the kimchi pancakes.” 

That’s when fear set in. I have never made a decent pancake. They come out too thick, spongy and raw inside, or too thin, and stick to the pan. Which is why I avoid pancake recipes.

“Of course you can make pancakes,” Irina told me. “You write a cooking blog.” More fear.

I rolled up my sleeves, splashed a smidgeon of sesame oil into the frying pan, and warmed it.

The batter was way too thick. Had I tested it before I poured it into the pan, I would have known to add water. 

Pancake #1: Thick, spongy, and raw inside. Embarrassment.

Pancake #2: Too thin, stuck to the pan. More embarrassment.

Watching me struggle, another guest, our friend Paola, said, “I’ll make the pancakes. I’m really good at them.” But even Paola was not good enough to turn these pancakes into a success.


Because the recipe Irina had chosen was not great. The ingredient list may have been okay, but the instructions were not clear enough for a pancake-novice, or a vegan blogger with a dismal pancake history.

Of course the recipe included photos of Instagram-able, perfect kimchi pancakes. Irina, Paola and I are all competent cooks. And yet, our pancakes looked nothing like this:



  • Don’t be fooled by perfect food photography. 
  • If a recipe doesn’t turn out the way the recipe-creator says it will, the fault may lie with them, not you. 
  • Choose recipes that play to your strengths. I would not have served any kind of pancake to friends. I’m certain Irina would have figured out how to save these pancakes, but by the time she’d finished the Pad Thai, it was too late.
  • Despite my initial reaction, there is nothing to fear about cooking. And there is never cause for embarrassment, even if you serve your friends a not-great dish. What’s the worst that could happen? You toss the dish. Now, my friends (and all of you) know there are foods I cannot make well. If the pancakes had been the main course, we would have picked up the phone and ordered a pizza.
  • When in doubt, laugh. Irina set the tone for a great party – her warmth, flexibility, and laughter turned the night into a success. 

The Best Part of This Story. The Pad Thai was excellent. But most importantly, the evening turned into one of the most fun we’ve had in a long while. My memory stain of that dinner: Irina ordering me around her kitchen, as I whined about my task and botched the recipe, then Paola stepping in to save me. Frank Sinatra’s relaxed, boozy voice as background music. All of us giggling more than adults typically allow ourselves to giggle.

And there was this. With each botched pancake, Irina’s husband Sasha poured everyone another vodka shot.