Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Like Butterflies

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.

* * *

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.

The Purple Binder


a said...

Ah, I love you Rose-Anne! This post is heightened for me because I am, in fact, reading a whole entire book about butterflies right now :)
But anyway, I've always laughed a little at our divergent styles, because I'm much less apt to measure every single thing I put in than you are, but you're far more willing to go at a recipe willy-nilly or to adapt it freely. We compliment each other that way.
I love that you didn't include a recipe in here. You're a stronger person than I am ;)

Rosiecat said...

I love you too, Ammie! I can't lie: I had butterflies on the brain after reading your blog post. Maybe it's a crazy metaphor to use for cooking, but I like it.

Your comments about our different styles are interesting! Saying that I'll go at a recipe willy-nilly makes me think of myself like a linebacker, ready to tackle the recipe quarterbacker. Grrr!

Hey, I'm glad you DID include a recipe! Because now I can make your sweet potatoes like you do :-) Truthfully, I didn't have a recipe to include--I'm too busy not measuring and throwing things together to provide any sort of proper recipe. That's how I roll these days.

pulley-whipped said...

i think the willingness to measure, at least for me, is less about confidence and more about laziness :)

also, since i've been using ammie's cookbook and she frequently writes things like "add some of X" with no measurements, i've learned to freestyle a lot more.

looking forward to your cross-blogging extravaganza!

a said...

Anna, that's totally why I do that! Sometimes measuring is important, but sometimes I think it's important to realize that you can use your common sense (and sense of taste) and end up with delicious results. Also, sometimes I just don't know because I've never done the measurements either ;)

Rosiecat said...

Woo for the freestyle cooking, Anna! And woo to laziness--that is an excellent reason for not measuring (and saves you from having to wash all those little measuring spoons).

(But please note that I will not be throwing out my measuring spoons any time soon...and I still spend plenty of time washing them. Oh, woe is me with my type A personality...)

Shannon said...

i'm much more inclined to do more freestyle cooking now, but when i first started out it frustrated me when amounts weren't given. this is probably more to do with the fact that i have some perfectionist tendencies, though ;) i often qualify with my amounts with "about" since I can (at least I think) eyeball a tablespoon or whatnot... except when it comes to nut butter, haha. anywho, this might nicely coincide with your getting a camera... taking photos of creations, with a description of how you created it, as opposed to a recipe!

Rosiecat said...

Ha! Now I know not to leave you alone with a spoon and a jar of nut butter, Shannon. But OH MY, last night I made a peanut butter fudge sauce and thought of you because I could not stop eating spoonfuls of it. Wow, it was good.

That's a good point you've made about the camera. I admit I'm still partial to a well-written recipe, though--I just like the precision and the care that goes into writing a good recipe. So we'll see where I end up!

Laurie said...

Tandem blogging. What a wonderful idea. I so enjoyed both of your posts. In fact, I was so inspired I went ahead and made chicken soup with only one phone call to my mom to guide me. I wish I could say it was brilliant - it wasn't, but it was pretty good for winging it.

Looking forward to more in this series.

PS I have a purple recipe binder much like yours. I also have a pink one. They both need re-organizing at this point. Not only can I be a slave to a recipe; I'm also a servant to my recipe book.

Rosiecat said...

Oh, good, Laurie! I'm glad that you enjoyed the posts and that you even made soup. Sometimes I think winging it is the best part.

Tee hee! I have five recipe binders, and I am devoted to them. The purple one is my Rachael Ray binder, filled with photocopies from her books and recipes that I printed out from her magazine's website. I love the purple binder.