Tomatillos, Phoning-A-Friend, and Being the Expert

“What the heck are tomatillos?”

I had done it again. Committed to an ambitious recipe on Bon Appetit’s website to make for dinner. The kicker? We were having company. So there I was, walking the produce aisles for what felt like the sixth time, eyes squinted, shoulders tense, searching high and low for tomatillos.

Google told me they were a small, husk-bearing, green tomato variety, found in plenty of Mexican cuisine. The recipe using them looked incredible - promising me “one-pan” simplicity, and “rich flavor.” I had been trying new Bon Appetit recipes for almost the entire month, and to put it humbly, I was CRUSHING it. Surely, this would be no exception, right?


Thirty minutes passed - and still no tomatillos.

I began googling alternatives to tomatillos, only to find they wouldn’t work or taste the same, and stood in Aisle 3, feeling defeated and embarrassed. I thought to call my Dad. Considering the amount of home cooking he does, we’re convinced he’s single-handedly paying for the retirement of all Safeway employees. He is to those aisles what I am in Sephora - a regular. And yes, I thought to ask the produce guy, meticulously stacking sweet potatoes over in the corner...but he was already weirdly grinning at me, and though I don’t like making a habit of being suspicious - this guy was creeping me out.

I hesitated to call my Dad, because gosh-dangit, I’m an adult, I’m a capable cook, I would just be a bother, and I can find them on my own!!! Except I couldn’t. Except the reason for not calling was not because I didn’t want to be a bother, but because I just couldn’t handle being a novice. Quite suddenly, I was face to face with some ugly pride I didn’t even know was there.

When did we become professionals at masking pride as something else?

I’ve always been an achiever, one who likes knowing the answers, being in charge, and being impressive. Truthfully, I find security in people thinking I have it all together, even when I don’t. I prefer being the expert, 10 times out of 10. The root of it is that in a lot of ways, I am capable, and I am independent - but that reality can start to make a performer believe she can never make a mistake. Never let someone down. Never be less than perfect.

I’m learning in therapy that perfection isn’t real.

And sure, we know it isn’t, but don’t we often live like it is? We don’t give ourselves room to make mistakes, learn lessons the hard way, let someone down, say the wrong thing, or have a base hit. It’s out of the park-crush the bat-crowd goes wild-homeruns, or it’s nothing at all. I’ve seen this striving surface in every area of my life. After I preach. When I leave a coffee date with someone. In my marriage. At the gym. And of all things - when cooking with tomatillos.

By the grace of God, and lots of honesty, I’m growing. I’m working on it. I’m way better than I was a year ago. Heck, a week ago. I’m healing. And you know what I’m learning?

I’m learning that sometimes, you need to phone a friend.

Sometimes, you need to stop trying so hard to be the expert.

And sometimes, you need to ask your Dad - because he’ll kindly tell you that the tomatillos are located by the jalapeños and bell peppers, not by the tomatoes at all.

I've never felt more relieved to find a a small, husk-bearing, green tomato variety, found in plenty of Mexican cuisine in all of my life!!!

Against all odds, the recipe turned out to be a crowd favorite, our night with friends was lovely, and eventually, I got the unexpected stickiness from those darn husks out of my hair.

But ya want to know the real win?

I faced my pride, took a deep breath, and said, “Not over tomatillos.”

Photo by Heidi's Bridge

Photo by Heidi's Bridge

Do you struggle with perfectionism or a similar setback? Did you know what tomatillos were before you read this blog post? Nevermind, don’t tell me that ;)

P.S. Here’s the recipe, if you want to try. Once you muster up all the ingredients, it really is simple and delicious. (I recommend doubling the adobo sauce, cumin, and serving it with a side of white rice!)