I rarely have brilliant insights when I’m put on the spot. I’m more of a meditative thinker, the kind who stirs her thoughts slowly, like a soup simmering on the stove. It’s no wonder that I didn’t enjoy being forced to write impromptu essays in grade school. I actually hated it, even though I have always loved to write. My bad memories of impromptu writing have left a strong dislike for any sort of prompted writing. I suppose I’m a bit of a free spirit that way. I want to write about what I want to write about. Wah! May I have some cheese with my whine, please?
I surprised myself, then, when my friend Ammie and I decided to start writing tandem posts on our blogs. The idea was this: we would either write posts inspired by the same prompt (like tonight’s posts) or we would trade topics: I would write about something that she normally writes about, and vice versa. It sounded so fun! Ammie is a terrific writer, and I knew I’d be even more excited to read her blog if we were inspiring each other to write, hopefully in some fresh, new ways.
Tonight’s topic is this: the things we cook without recipes. I invite you to click on over to Ammie’s post here, which I will be reading after I’m done with my own (I don’t want to be tempted by her delicious writing just yet!). And if you have a blog or something similar, and you’d like to join us in these tandem posts, please jump right in! Let us know by leaving a comment on either of our blogs. I’d love to hear what you think or read what you’ve written.
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I have a serious conundrum to discuss with you, and that is this: more than half of my cooking these days is happening without the gentle oversight of a recipe. And what’s more is that I’m loving it—the freedom, the joy, the excitement of flying by the seat of my pants in the kitchen. It’s all so invigorating! It’s also a serious problem.
It wouldn’t be much of a problem if I weren’t trying to keep up a weekly stream of recipes on Life, Love, and Food. In my experience, it’s the cooks who don’t use recipes who make the best food. The two people who come to mind immediately are Matt and Daine. For example, the last time Matt and I were together, it was New Year’s weekend and we made good use of my kitchen. He arrived just in time for lunch, and just in time to stop me from following my recipes exactly as written. I had made a batch of Jess’s amazing tomato soup, but it wasn’t quite finished. Matt, who is always willing to help but does not always do as he is told, was put in charge of adding half a cup of milk to the soup and then blending it smooth lushness. He took the milk container from me and then—with no measuring cup!—just poured in some milk. Like, “What’s with the measuring cup?”
I’d be lying if I said that this sort of behavior doesn’t faze me. It is, one could argue, a result of Matt’s confidence, something that makes him nearly irresistible. He is the most confident person I know, except for maybe my friend Daine. The two of them have a lot in common, and I wonder now which came first: the cooking mastery or the utter confidence? Having not known either of them for more than a handful of years, I cannot answer that question. But it does seem to me that there is something really powerful about being able to feed yourself and others with only the instructions in your memory, mind and muscle combined.
I have neither Matt’s confidence level nor Daine’s intuition level in the kitchen. What I do have, though, is a desire to feel free of the burden of following directions. I want to feel that I always have the ability to cook something decent for myself and and a friend. I want food to be enjoyed during the making and the eating.
But I also want to make recipes that I can share with you, dear reader. Like my fried rice dish topped with a tasty drizzle of peanut sauce, or the creamy cauliflower pasta I made on Sunday night. The dishes I cook without recipes are like butterflies, floating on the wind, just out of reach of words and measurements. I fear that when I try to catch them, they won’t taste as good or that something will be lost in translation from my hands to your mouth. I even worry that by just trying to catch them, these dishes will lose their appeal. Certainly some of my affection for them comes from their spontaneity and the heightened anticipation of not even knowing what they should taste like.
I hope you’ll bear with me, friends, while I try to figure out where this cooking-without-recipes business is heading. In the meantime, I’ve been seeking solace in my cookbook shelves, hoping that some recipe will gracefully volunteer to be the next feature on this blog. I think I’ve got a few, but only if I can restrain myself enough to give you an accurate report of what I did in the kitchen. As an index card on my desk says, “We may drift far from shore.” But I’ll keep a map on hand so that we always know how to get home again.