I know I’ve posted here before about my little culinary experiments, but I don’t know if I’ve ever admitted to my various food sins (as a cook) and the ways in which they shape my creations (such as they are).
1. My Foolish Conviction That Careful Measurement Is For Cowards
I am somehow convinced of this. It isn’t true, mind you, and I know deep down that it isn’t — some foods really, really depend on proper proportion in order to cook well. Just the same, I found that I enjoyed cooking much more when I stopped worrying quite so much about the measurements and following recipes to the letter and to the second. I also (strangely) got better results when I trusted the “eyeball method,” at least for seasonings (there’s a good reason why I don’t do pastries or fancy things that require actual care). (None of this applies to meat, though — I was always slavish about food safety with meat, although now that I never cook it anymore that no longer matters.)
I have absolutely no idea how much of anything I used in this chili.
2. My Tendency To Obsess About Variations On A Theme
While other people are looking for cool recipes to try and new foods to sample, I spend an absurd amount of time asking myself “Hey — what would happen if I did that same thing, only with different stuff?” Usually, this means that I find a recipe I like try to reproduce it, say “meh” to the results of obeying the recipe THAT WAS CLEARLY DESIGNED BY THE MAN TO KEEP ME DOWN, and then start screwing around with ingredients.
Flatbread, naan, quinoa cakes — all roundish things that I can fry in a skillet. Whee!
3. My Habit Of Making My Recipe Choices Based On The Cookware
I recently became obsessed with cast-iron cookware (which I think is absolutely brilliant — lasts forever when kept right, heats evenly and well, easy to clean, takes a licking and keeps on ticking, and better at being non-stick than any of the several nonstick pans I have owned and then ruined). This means that I will now spend the next year or so making stuff in cast iron pots and skillets, and looking for things that one ought to make in them. There are, as it happens, things you can’t make well in cast iron. I will not learn to make those things. Those things do not matter, and they will not matter until I am done being obsessed with cast iron cooking and start looking for little souffle’ crocks and crap like that.
4. My Periodic Obsession With Specific Dishes, Styles, And/Or Ingredients
I have had a Stew Phase, a Tabouleh Phase, a Crepe Phase, a Chili Phase (I may still be in that one), a Naan Phase, a Cucumber Phase, a Tomato Phase, a Curry Phase, a Quinoa Phase (still in that one, probably), a Lemon Pepper Phase, a Steamed Vegetable phase, a Pseudo-Asian Stir Fry phase…
5. My Unwillingness To Subject My Cooking To The Actual Tastebuds Of Other People
Here’s the thing: I have no idea if anything I make is actually any good. I like it, but it’s entirely possible that I am a culinary philistine with the dull palate of a born-and-raised Midwesterner and a stubborn insistence on eating whatever I cook for no better reason than that I cooked it, and that discarding it would be wasteful. If I really wanted to improve, I would try to get other people to eat this stuff. Do I ever allow other people near the food I make? Hell no! Why would I do that? I can handle people picking my arguments apart and offering suggestions on papers, but by the gods, if they diss my chili, I will fall apart like the world just ended.
OK, maybe its more like this: if they diss my chili, I will have to give them The Cut Direct. No one wants that. It reduces one’s social circle so terribly.
The point of mentioning all of these things isn’t just to engage in a little passive-aggressive self-flagellation (someone might say “no, you’re fine!”). As I cook now, I sometimes think that the main reason I didn’t do it before is that a) I was busy growing out of a need to resist any and all feminine socialization norms, and b) I always found the process chaotic and intimidating. Giving in to my little sins, though, has made it possible for me to feel like I can actually cook (if, perhaps, rather poorly), and suddenly something that was a source of anxiety is a source of excitement. I think of this feeling sometimes, too, when I think about how my students must look at what I’m teaching them (especially where writing is concerned).
Time to think of the next roundish breadlike thing I can fry in the cast-iron skillet!