Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Recipe is Merely a Suggestion

By day I am a resourceful, solution-oriented manager.  By night I go home and meditatively prepare a nice meal.  I freely admit my natural tendency in the kitchen is to follow a recipe to the letter. My practical nature believes someone else has tested the recipe so it must be proven. Why mess with a good thing? The short answer I have come to realize is it's somewhat limiting and not terribly creative.

Step into my kitchen moments before I begin to actually cook a meal. Every measurable portion, the oil, spices, water, milk, salt and pepper is already measured and placed in it's own container ready to be added at the exact moment the recipe calls for it. I am the Alton Brown in our household.  Each step choreographed -- in the right place.

Watch my husband John cook. He measures spices in his hand and dumps them in. If the recipe calls for 1/2 cup of soy sauce, he'll add 3/4 or so. I don't really know for sure because he just pours it straight from the bottle. "That should be about right," is often heard.  Think of him as Emeril.  Bam!

We both consistently make good meals and we've both had failures. Our only difference is process.

When we cook together, John intuitively can sense my discomfort at his process.  He calmly volunteers the recipe is "merely a suggestion."
Yet, I continue to methodically follow recipes. One would think I would have learned when the occasional disastrous creation I labored over disproved my ingrained "it's tested it must be good" theory.

What could break this cycle of mine? It turns out the answer would be found outside the kitchen. Swing dancing lessons provided the path.

I grew up dancing, mostly for musical theater. Everything was choreographed. But in partner dance, especially the swing dance steps I was learning, I had to release the choreographed dancer's mind set. As a woman it is my role to follow the man's lead but I found myself leading my rotating dance partners during lessons.

A few insistent "Stop leading!!" comments and I finally got it.

Low and behold, what joy I found in the unexpected. Letting someone else guide the next dance moves so spontaneously, put me in a state of immediacy and surprisingly showed me it's possible to do a move you never expected to do. It was exhilarating!

After repeated experiences at dancing in this new way, it dawned on me I was also releasing my tight grip in other aspects in my life....including cooking! Cooking has always been a meditative process for me, but now it's also joyful. I can now say I really appreciate what The Joy of Cooking is all about.
And when my husband and I create meals together now, it feels like we are dancing!

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