“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.”
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!