Monday, July 28, 2014

Don’t Apologize

“A recipe is not as precise as a chemical formula, since ingredients vary slightly, as do cooking utensils and stoves. But a little difference is sometimes refreshing, and so it will not matter if there is a slight change in the finished product. For example, a sauce or a pudding may be thicker or thinner without being a failure. Don’t apologize! Just present it differently – the softer pudding in dessert glasses instead of on a serving dish as you had planned.”
-       Fannie Farmer, The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, Eleventh Edition (original copyright 1896)

I was in a bad mood: I’d been reading the news after breaking up (again) with my mercurial quilting machine. Cooking when in a bad mood can lead one of two outcomes. When it works, cooking can lead to sublime transcendental enlightenment. The risk however, is that as they slowly go bad, failed cooking experiments can generate a gradual accumulation of nameless dread that eventually coalesces so thickly in the kitchen that it triggers the smoke alarm. So cooking while angry is always a risky undertaking - but one I was willing to take on in my dark mood.

Fortunately, I have the key, to escape the nameless dread. Garlic can make all the difference, and I’m not talking about scaring away werewolves. There’s something about the smell of roasting garlic that dispels the dread and summons the sublime. Thus, my challenge was to make something with garlic. Then, there were the other ingredients to assemble like an offering to the gods of anger: I needed comfort food, aka gluten. And obviously, cheese.

I found this cool spicy hot chili oil and I always have fresh basil on the windowsill although these days, my pot is looking a bit tired. So, why not something in the bread machine that will infuse the kitchen with aromas of mental wellbeing and carbohydrates to accompany my postprandial bourbon. So I made the dough in the bread machine, then kneaded it and let it rise on my counter and baked it on the pizza stone in the oven.

Now, I could follow a recipe. But the entire instigation for this cooking effort was the bad mood. And if there's one thing I hate (and there are many more than one thing) I don’t like things bossing me around – especially non-sentient things like signs and recipes.

It was Fannie Farmer who (I think my grandma told me when she gave me the cookbook for a wedding present) first applied the idea of precise measurements to cooking to make the experience more repeatable – like a scientific experiment – and less fraught with pinches of this and handsful of that. Betty Crocker (not to mention Keith Richards) had nothing on Fannie, my friends, when it came to cooking recipes with precise measurements requiring tiny spoons.

So, I consider a recipe to be a place to start cooking, not and exercise in proving a scientific theory about the thickness of a pudding: one that can be repeated with perfect consistency thereby proving the perfect pudding theory.  If I ever write a cookbook, it will be entitled Cooking While Pissed. Unless Julia Child already named one of her books that because it seemed to me that when she cooked with wine she, you know, got baked too. The fact that I was listening to a playlist heavy on the bagpipes had little to do with either the cause of my bad mood or the outcome of my cooking exercise (or with this post, for that matter).

Which was delicious bread, a bit heavy because I may have added too much cheese, thereby proving the scientific theory that yeast doesn’t make cheese rise. So I presented it as transcendently thinly sliced doughy lumps of garlicy cheese instead of bread, and it paired perfectly with my Sunday evening PBS mystery shows. So I’ve got nothing to apologize for. 

And also, by my second bourbon it occurred to me that my paternal grandmother may have given me a cookbook for a wedding present (thereby dramatically foreshadowing the failure of that marriage) but she might have been ahead of her time, slipping in the rather subversive message that a girl shouldn't have to apologize for her cooking. Thanks, Gram!

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