At some point in my mid-40s, I decided it was time to learn to cook. This from someone who took cooking classes in high school. Those classes didn’t help because of the very strict deadline. It was always a rush to get finished. No time to develop awe or passion. Then, after all the tables were wiped down, everyone displayed their efforts and the teacher would choose the best. Seriously discouraging.
I look back on this experience as How Not To Teach Someone To Cook.
I still have a recipe book from my youth. There was a time when people wrote from one edge of the page to the other. There is no margin; no place to make notes. The recipe, as given, was an unchanging rule for making a particular item. The idea of experimenting did not exist.
During my mid-life crisis, I decided to systematically tackle this skill deficit. The large tomes written by Jamie Oliver or Stephanie Alexander looked great but also looked pricey. Instead, food magazines were chopped to pieces and the favourable bits stuck in a large folder … hereafter referred to as The Folder. The printed word was supplemented with lots of TV cooking shows that demonstrated technique. Things seemed to be going well. I even invited a half-dozen friends to a three-course picnic and no-one got sick.
But I haven’t used The Folder for a couple of years now. What went wrong?
Looking back, I didn’t let the process evolve in response to my changing circumstances. It is so easy to get stuck in a routine that no longer supports us. I call it the Worn Out Sneaker Syndrome. I loved my old, barely-holding-together sneakers. They were somehow comforting. I grew up and recognised they were becoming dangerous.
So, in response to the 2012 Year of Efficient Eating, the latest development in my eating and cooking routines, it is time to fix The Folder.
The Folder will be a functional resource for life as it is lived now, not an artifact of a bygone era (even if that era was only last year or last week).
1. Think about what is needed.
I’ve decided I need space next to each recipe to jot down notes. I experiment now. Sometimes the recipe is not detailed enough and I need more written instructions, reminders for next time.
I also need somewhere to keep the information I want to remember about protein, salt, calcium, seasonal fruits and vegetables, etc – all that stuff I’ve been discovering this year while researching the minimum daily requirements of different food categories. This year is teaching me that cooking is much more than recipes.
2. Find a structure or format that works. Explore options and consider restrictions. A drawer of index cards would be more useful in my kitchen, but I chose the A4 folder so I could carry it around with me.
3. Develop a picture in your mind of the finished product and begin collecting. Or in my case, begin culling and collecting. In the past, there was too much quantity and not enough focussed quality. This time, I’m not going to collect a recipe “just in case it might be useful”. Each recipe must fill an identified gap. After all, I can always look something up on the internet if I discover later that I need it.
I read a headline recently about the demise of recipe books. I didn’t bother reading the article. Sure, the internet is out there. But I recommend creating (or buying if you must) a hardcopy recipe book. The kitchen is a messy place and replacing my laptop is just too expensive in comparison.