Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I was on the phone with SP the other night while she was trying to cook following a recipe, and cursing freely while she did so. I asked her a bunch of questions to find out why she was so frustrated, and ended up explaining why she was doing several of the steps the recipe specified. This (although I think it helped in the end) frustrated her even more. “Why doesn’t the recipe tell me that?” she fumed. “What would happen if I didn’t have someone around that I could ask?”

I think that this question touches upon a basic issue in cooking, which is that recipes don’t actually teach you how to cook. They will tell how you how to construct one particular item (training), but it’s a long process to extract from one recipe (or even a lot of recipes) how the principles of cooking work (education). I speak from experience, since that’s largely how I’ve learned to cook: I started knowing out how to make a couple of things, tried a lot of different recipes, and through trial and error and just cooking, day after day, week after week, started to connect the dots and understand the principles underlying all these seemingly unconnected sets of instructions. It took a long time before I felt like I was getting it. And I was interested in the process, and interested in learning more; I pored over cookbooks, read food blogs by the dozen, started my own eventually, and generally paid close attention to what was happening. I wasn’t fearless, but I wasn’t thoroughly intimidated either. I was also lucky enough to have some foundation to build on, from having grown up in a house where home-cooked food was provided on a daily basis. But what if I hadn’t been? How do people do it?

I think it must be like me trying to do any kind of home repair or maintenance. Neither of my parents is particularly handy, so anything of that sort was either attended to with a lot of cursing and stress, or else a professional was called in. That was the model I grew up with, and I haven’t had the inclination to change it much. I have figured out how to do some minor things by following instructions (ie training), but I’m chagrined to acknowledge sometimes how little I understand about how my house works as a system (ie education). But most of the time (touch wood) that doesn’t affect my daily life in the way that food does. I mean, everyone has to eat, and for most people, that is a three-times-a-day occurrence. Throw a few small children into the mix, and it’s more like five times. How frustrating must it be to be confronted, day after day, with something you don’t feel knowledgeable about, and yet need in order to survive and function? And that’s without even getting into the complicated emotional issues that are always, always tied up with food and eating.

So what’s the point of all this? I don’t know, but I think it ties in to a lot of bigger issues—to do with food, to do with education, to do with how things work generally. What do you think?


Laura O. said... Best Blogger Tips

My guess is most people develop a few meals they feel reasonably comfortable making, i.e., the model we grew up with...and if they can afford to, they eat out or supplement with prepared foods. I think you and M are similar in that he will putter and experiment with fixing things around the house in the same way you are with recipes. As I once said to Sister S about DBS, "It's not so much that he knows what he's doing as he's not afraid to stick his hand into a socket."

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