When I first found out I’d been admitted to Stanford’s PhD program in sociology, I danced around my tiny apartment like a crazy person for all of twenty-four hours before a strange, sinking feeling took over. I felt undeserving. Like someone else, but surely not me, should have gotten that spot. I carried that feeling with me throughout admit weekend a few months later, the weekend when they fly out all of the admitted students to tour the school and woo them to accept their offer. While there, I asked my future advisor, “Was this a mistake? Did you accidentally mean to send that email to another Brooke on your list? It’s okay if you did, just maybe tell me now, before I pack up and move all of my stuff 3,000 miles across the country.” (I know, WTF was my 21-year-old self thinking saying that to my future mentor?)
The good news is that she’s a pro when it comes to calming unreasonably nervous and overly self-deprecating grad students, so she took it in stride and casually replied, “Have you ever heard of something called the Impostor Syndrome?” The Impostor Syndrome is a psychological term used to describe the feeling that occurs when you think your accomplishments are undeserved. That your own greatest achievements are just a fluke—the result of undeserving good luck, or worse, a happy accident brought on by a strange, unexplainable mix up or computer error. You think of yourself as a successful phony, of sorts, and you wait on pins and needles for the day to come when you’ll be discovered.
And while it’s experienced by both women and men alike, women are significantly more likely to report feelings of impostor than men, something most social scientists attribute to the cultural messages women receive and internalize regarding their worthiness of great achievements or their “fit” in top-level positions.
After explaining the phenomenon to me, my advisor assured me that, yes, I had actually been admitted. And, no, they hadn’t intended to invite someone else. But don’t you know, nearly six years into the program (side note: I’m officially graduating in June!!!) and several published papers and self-taught classes later, I still wonder to myself almost daily: “Who was that poor other Brooke out there in the world who missed her chance at going to Stanford because they accidentally sent me, someone far less capable and qualified, her acceptance email?”
I guess this is all coming up for me this week because I’ve been struggling with these feelings in the blog world lately too following last week’s happy news. Like all of a sudden, I was receiving accolades for something that I’m not even formally trained to do. Something that I’ve only been doing for a year now, a time span that pales in comparison to how much training I’ve had in scientific research and teaching.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m overwhelmingly grateful for the nomination and outpouring of support. Many of your comments on last week’s post literally brought me to tears with gratitude. But even before the news was made public, the tiny little voice had already started her frantic whisper in my ear, reminding me that I’m just an impostor in this big beautiful world of food blogging: “This is surely a fluke. They meant to email some other blogger, who is, no doubt, pissed beyond belief that you’ve taken her spot.”
But what inspired me to write about this topic here today, despite that I’ve promised you I’d try to keep my sociological musings from creeping into the blog space (and that its somewhat embarrassing to admit all of this publicly), is that I know I’m not alone. Far from it, actually. I read all of my fellow finalists’ reactions to their nominations and many of them expressed having the same exact feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. They too worried that the email was inadvertently sent to them. That they are somehow undeserving.
So, I decided for this particular post that I’d address this ridiculous “syndrome” that so many of us face. And that while I’m at it, I’d make the Ricotta and Egg Gnocchi, which fittingly comes from this month’s issue of Saveur, because gnocchi is one of those things that has always been a challenge for me in the kitchen. In fact, it was the one thing my husband wanted me to learn while in cooking classes in Italy, but when I tried making it upon my return, sure I’d finally mastered it, I overworked the dough and mixed up the ratio of potatoes to flour. The resulting gnocchi ended up being more like a sad little pile of chewy potato-flour gumdrops rather than the soft pillows of dough that should have resulted.
So I decided to make it for this week’s blog post following a conversation about the Impostor Syndrome, as a way of redeeming myself in the kitchen and giving my husband his coveted gnocchi. As a symbolic “fuck you” to the tiny voice in my head that consistently tells me, “you’re not actually good at cooking or blogging. You’re just a really successful phony.” (Shut it, lady, I just made light, pillow-y gnocchi here!) And for every other person—bloggers and non-bloggers, women and men—out there who, like me, tells themselves that their achievements are merely an accident rather than the result of hard work, dedication, and insuppressible passion.
“Your fear of being inadequate pales in comparison to your fear of being extraordinary.” –Dr. Valerie Young
- 2 lbs of Yukon Gold potatoes
- 1⅔ cups of all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- ¾ cup of whole milk ricotta
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon of crushed red chile flakes
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 1 yellow onion, minced finely
- 1 sprig of rosemary, whole
- 4 tablespoons of butter
- 2 28-oz cans of whole peeled tomatoes, tomatoes crushed by hand and liquid reserved
- salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- ¾ cup of pitted green Castelvetrano (or Gaeta) olives, chopped roughly
- ½ cup of grated Pecorino Romano, plus more for serving
- ¼ cup of capers, rinsed and chopped roughly
- 1 large pinch of dried oregano
- Boil water (enough for potatoes to be covered once you add them) in a large pot of water. Once boiling, add potatoes and reduce heat to medium-high. Simmer potatoes until they easily pierce with a fork, about 25-30 minutes. Strain the potatoes, rinse with cold water, and allow to cool while you begin work on the sauce.
- Begin the sauce by heating oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chile flakes, garlic, bay leaf, onion, and rosemary and cook until onions are tender and somewhat translucent, about 7-10 minutes. Add butter, tomatoes and juice, and salt and simmer over medium-low for one hour.
- While the sauce is simmering, grate the now-cooled potatoes. Peel the skins off the potatoes and discard skins (or, if you find it easier, scoop the insides of the potatoes out of the skins in as large of clumps as possible.) Next, grate the potatoes. While a potato ricer is ideal for this, I don't have one, so I use the large grates of a box grater, which works fine. On a well-floured work surface, create a large circle out of the potatoes and make a well in the center of it. Pour the flour and ricotta on top of the potatoes, keeping the center of the well open. Add the eggs to the center of the well and begin folding everything together. The trick to getting fluffy gnocchi is to make sure you don't overwork or overknead it. So just fold gently and then knead until dough is just smooth, about 3-5 minutes. If the dough feels too sticky to work with, add 1 tablespoon at a time until it reaches a smooth, supple consistency. (I used about 3-4 extra tablespoons while I was kneading, but this will vary based on how much water is in your potatoes and what kind of flour you're using.)
- Once the dough ball is formed, cut it into 7-8 pieces. Roll each one out into a long, thin log-like shape, about the diameter of a quarter. I've found the best way to roll is to spread the tips of your fingers as wide as they can go and then press evenly down on all of them as you roll the log towards and away from you. Cut the log about ¾-inches thick, dust pieces with flour and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with extra flour (AP works fine here, but I find semolina flour is even better if you have it) on the baking sheet to keep the gnocchi pieces from sticking together. Cover tray with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to cook.
- Return to the sauce once gnocchi are assembled but still uncooked. Add the olives, pecorino, capers, and oregano to the sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, salt the water and add the gnocchi. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook gnocchi until they float to the top, about 3-4 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the gnocchi to the sauce. Gently stir cooked gnocchi and sauce to combine. Divide among plates and garnish with extra Pecorino Romano cheese.