Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Food, Glorious Food: A Recipe Rant

“Oh, food. Wonderful food. Marvelous food. Glorious food.” –Oliver Twist

Photo by Anna Axelson, November 2010
A constant truth: people will always need food. A curious question: why can’t we enjoy it? As an amateur foodie, I am not an authority, but maybe I can be a voice of reason telling you that it may not be as difficult as you think.

Inspiration/frustration, thy name is “cookbook.” Who needs a recipe? Well, chances are, we all do, but how helpful is it really? No matter how many times we follow the directions on the back of a bag of chocolate chips, the cookies always turn out a little different. Chewy, crumbly, sweeter, saltier; it’s a bit of a crapshoot, so why not make it your own?

Truth be told, a recipe is just a list of ingredients, guidelines, a map. What does “softened butter” or “cream the sugars” even mean? Does it make a difference? Try it and find out!

The ongoing, perhaps even endless venture that is the search for perfection when it comes to recipes is addicting. Like a Lay’s potato chip (“I bet you can’t eat just one…”), time and time again we go back and do it again. A pinch of this, a dash of that, a smidgen of this other thing, all for an end result that prompts “oohs” and “aahs” from the peanut gallery. Yet, no matter how hard we try, it isn’t perfect and even if it was, who’s to say the miracle can be repeated. A blend of joy and dissatisfaction reign and we try again. 

The true recipe is more than just a list of ingredients; it’s time, effort, passion, and technique that bring everything together. The only way to exactingly recreate someone else’s culinary masterpiece is to actually BE them and have been the one to make it. Interpretation is inevitable: make the best of it. To quote a cliché (because clichés are clichés for a reason), it’s not the destination, but the journey, that is important and worth relishing in. 

Photo by Anna Axelson, November 2010
While there are very few things that can top the perfection that is a classic chocolate chip cookie, I typically find it hard to resist taking some of my own liberties with the recipe. Cocoa powder, oats, peanut butter, orange extract, pretzels, cereal, every kind of baking chip under the sun, even a can of pumpkin: the list of things I have tossed into that simple batter for the sake of experimentation goes on and on. Taking a slight risk resulted in a touch that made it mine and if nothing else, interesting. 

Take this lesson to heart: just because the recipe tells you to do something, doesn’t mean you have to do it. My challenge to you is this: take that recipe and make it yours. When it comes to baking, some things have to be more precise, but that doesn’t mean we can’t play with the flavor. Even if we never find out how to make the ideal chocolate chip cookie, we can rest assured that the quest will be a worthwhile and tasty one.

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