I’m out here on the Internet for a reason. I don’t want to be the Recipe Lady or the Cake Lady. Or even the Awesome Desserts Lady. I want to be the Lady That Helps People Feel Comfortable In the Kitchen. It’s kind of a long title, but I really mean it. I want you to come here and find what you need to empower you to Go Forth and Bake, fearlessly. Or at least a little less fearfully.
To that end, I’ve assembled all my crazy posts about my philosophy on cooking, baking, recipes, crazily expenisve equipment or ingredients, food snobbery, sharing recipes, etc. Feast your eyes. Read one, read all, decide not to read any. But here they are.
Since sometimes my post titles have nothing to do with what the post is really about, I’ll also give you the first couple of paragraphs of each post. That way, you can decide if you want to keep reading. You’re welcome.
My first post: The Case for Pastry Methods and Techniques
So, hello there, and welcome to my blog! I also have a delightful and informative website all about baking and pastry: Pastry Chef Online. It needs a little love, and I am working on it, but in the meantime, here I am! I just read on the lovely WordPress site that they alone host almost 4.5 million blogs! That only covers their corner of the blogosphere–there are TypePad folks, Live Journal folks, Blogger folks and on and on. So, what makes this blog stand out from the crowd?
Here’s my angle: I can’t tell you how many times people have asked for recipes for this, that or the other cake, bread or pie. While I am happy to send someone a recipe, it brings to mind the old Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, and he eats for the rest of his life.” If I hand you a recipe, I might as well have handed you a fish. If, on the other hand, I teach you a method, I have taught you to fish. In a manner of speaking, that is.
Lately, something has been bothering me about food and cooking. It’s not the actual act of cooking, rather it’s the snobbery and elitism surrounding it. I must admit that I’ve slipped and been a food snob on occasion, but, in the spirit of “The Change We Need” I’m going to turn a new leaf and try to be as inclusive about food and cooking as possible. I’m going to remember that there is no One Way or Right Way to make a dish.
That’s not to say that I don’t have my standards: I think everyone should use the freshest, best-quality ingredients they can get their hands on. I think we should stay away from as many processed and super-refined foods as possible. I think that Cool Whip should be outlawed. I think that people need to learn solid techniques and understand ingredient function. Here’s where my personal change comes in: there is no “right way” or “one way” to make anything. No longer will I engage in debate over whether chili should or should not contain beans or tomatoes. No longer will I stand idly by as people argue over whether a pot pie has one crust or two, whether coq au vin needs pearl onions or the proper number of times to fold parchment to cut a circle for the bottom of my cake pan! It’s a brand new day.
Here’s kind of a funny thing. A couple of weeks ago, someone emailed me and told me that they were interested in becoming a pastry chef, but that someone told them they would have to be creative in order to succeed. They wanted to know if that meant they needed to be able to draw, because they couldn’t. Then, earlier today, I received another email from a different person who asked almost the same question.
So, there are at least two people out there in the world who found me, out of all the baking and pastry folks out there on the Hinternet, to ask this question. I can only imagine that there are a lot of other folks out there who haven’t found me yet (gasp!) or just don’t know where to go for answers. If you are a)someone who is wondering how creative/artistic you need to be to become a pastry chef or b) know someone who has this issue, or c) is so addicted to this blog that you just can’t look away, I’m talking to you.
What people don’t seem to understand, and what The Food Network and most cookbooks fail to tell us, is that you cannot be truly free and comfortable in the kitchen until you really understand and have internalized the principles of ingredient function, cooking/baking methods and techniques. Drawing on my psychology background (are you really surprised), it’s all about automaticity. My spellchecker says it’s not a word, but it really is. Ah-ta-mah-TIH-si-tee. What this little theory states is that, when we are first learning a new skill, we are hypervigilant and very mindful of the learning process. We’re actively engaged and intent on performing each step correctly (and in the right order). Through repetition, we become more and more comfortable with the steps until eventually we can perform them without even thinking about them. Voila: automaticity.
Sorry, no bittersweet love story here. If that’s what you were hoping for, just move along.
Before I started working in a professional kitchen, I never had a recipe notebook. I had a gajillion cookbooks and an accordion folder of random recipes, but no notebook. As soon as I got to the first restaurant, the Executive Pastry Chef told me to get one and copy down all the recipes we used. He also told me that I could go through his huge recipe binder and copy down anything that looked good. So, I went out and bought one of those 5-section medium-sized notebooks at Walgreen’s, and I began copying.
This sounds like a big fat task, but what I was copying was just lists of ingredients with a Very Truncated set of directions. The paragraphs-long Procedure Section was apparently supposed to be in my head. You know the ones: “Preheat oven. Prepare pan. Beat on medium speed for 1.7 minutes. Scrape the bowl with exactly 8 scrapes. “ You see, in restaurant kitchens, they just kind of assume that you know how to prepare your pans. They figure you know how to do The Creaming Method. The chef will just come over to you during your second week with a sixth pan of horseradish broth and say “Make some sorbet out of this for a garnish on a sashimi dish,” and then just walk away. As you sit, flummoxed, holding the pan and trying to psych yourself up to be The Iron Pastry Chef.
I’m starting to feel like the person who wears all black–including a veil and gloves–to a wedding. The old lady who ruins the game of Capture the Flag by screaming at the kids to get the heck off of her lawn. The downer at the party, spouting nothing but gloom and woe over the music. The Eeyore of the Hundred Hinternet Wood. And what has brought on this feeling of doom and gloom and woe and crankiness? Thank you for asking. I wasn’t sure if you would. Sigh…………….. Oh, right. It’s The Baker’s Catalog from King Arthur Flour. The early spring 2009 edition, to be exact. It showed up in our mailbox on Saturday, and I really was excited. “Oh, good!” I said to The Beloved. “Something to look at before we go to bed!” Are we party people, or what?
Anyway, he’s a good sport, and I was under the weather anyway, so we opened up our little catalog on Saturday night, all pleased with ourselves and looking forward to seeing some Cool Stuff. About 20 minutes later, after many “Oh, please”s and “Seriously? Are they kidding me?”s, I threw the catalog across the room (well, just down on the floor, really) and stated in my Huffy Voice, “Oh, I am going to write about this in my blog!” I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but I feel a little bit silly saying things like that. Kind of like the guy who brings out the squirt gun to fight off a grizzly bear. Or the herald who has nothing but one of those green and orange plastic birthday horns to blow. But, still, the pixel is mightier than the sword, and as I don’t want to turn Excalibur onto its very owner, I guess I must be satisfied with wielding my keyboard with Outrage and Defiance.
How many times have you heard yourself say, “I need to find a recipe for (fill in the blank).” There should be a question mark in there somewhere, but I don’t know where to put it. Alas. Remember waaay back when we talked about the Road to Automaticity? I think that, when we say “I need to find a recipe for…” we have pretty much just started out on our journey. A recipe is safe. It provides us with structure: lists of interesting ingredients, cooking times, temperature settings, Rules for Success and a description of the End Product. That’s all well and good, but recipes maintain a Suspicious Silence when it comes to teaching us how to cook.
What a recipe really is is a marriage of an ingredient list to a set of techniques and procedures. Except, recipes don’t tell us that. No, they just smile a mysterious, small smile. They don’t allow us to generalize, or rather they hope we’ll generalize on our own, even though we are sometimes Nervous in the kitchen. And nervous folks don’t generalize very well.
The Hinternet is a Large and Wonderful place. I can be going along and going along doing my thing, and a couple of Items will Strike me and make me Ponder. Usually, I find these items in disparate places. But they come together in kind of a Hinternet Harmonic Convergence. And then, the Magic 8 Ball tells me, “All signs point to….” And then I get inspired, and I sit down and I begin to blather. Here I go again. Welcome to my world.
I was over on Twitter yesterday, and @iheartcuppycake asked tweeted, “Just got email: How do you come up with your cupcake ideas? I can’t believe how much I am struggling to answer this.” I shot back to her this Gem: “Sometimes it’s hard to explain in concrete terms the intangible. In this case, the intangible=creativity. ” And then she tweeted, “So true. Maybe I’ll just quote what you said ” Well, friends, this little twitter exchange got me thinking. Is there a real difference between people who can create cool flavor combinations or present a dish with a unique twist and those who wonder how the first group does it?
So, yesterday (I think it was yesterday) sometime in between the painting and the contemplating of The Vast Expanse of Yard, I wandered up to the computer to take a wee break. The Yahoo people were featuring a recipe for a Cap’n Crunch Shake. Suppressing a shudder, I went to investigate. Apparently there is a woman out in the Hinternet that goes by the moniker “Hungry Girl.” She is Very Powerful, and fat free snack manufacturing folks grovel at her feet in the hopes that she will Smile Upon their, let’s call it Food, so that they can sell A Bunch.
First, let me say that I’m sure that Hungry Girl is a lovely person. She’s obviously doing something right, and I’m sure her mother loves her very much. But, friends, I have some Things to Say.
Well, friends, my parents came to visit us at The New House this weekend. We had a lovely visit, but a comment that my dad made made me sit up and Take Notice and scribble a note to myself to Write About It. At breakfast Saturday morning, he mentioned that he had heard an interesting piece on NPR about national food chains. They spoke with some CEOs of large (soulless) chains, and they were bragging (my word) about how, if you order a Domino’s Pepperoni Pizza, it would taste the same whether you called them up in Carmel or Connecticut or Columbia. My dad was impressed. I was Dismayed.
I think I must blame the folks over at McDonald’s. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure they pioneered the idea of Manifest Destiny Taste Branding. I just made up that term, but that’s what they do: you can tell a McDonald’s burger blindfolded, from sea to shining sea, because they all taste the same. Once the interstate highway system had folks zooming from coast to coast in hours rather than days or weeks, large chains swooped in and capitalized on Americans’ need to have things Stay the Same, even when their view out the window was radically different. How sad–we could take to the road in our cars that had beds built in and go See the Country, but somehow, we wanted some aspects of our lives to stay the same, even on the road. And it wasn’t enough to just bring some pictures of the old homestead with us on the road. Oh, no, we couldn’t just Dream of Home while munching away on a Local Specialty. We wanted our food to Stay the Same. No matter Where. We. Went.
When I first heard about Top Chef Masters, Bravo’s new series based on the format of their fabulous Top Chef reality series, I was thrilled. TCM was billed, perhaps not in these words, as Battle of the Masters. And, as in all battles, there are losers and there are winners. And, in Realityland, there can be only one winner. Twenty-four professional chefs with some Seeeerious Credibility compete, which means that 23 of them…..Lose. I thought to myself, what a fantastic way for home cooks to gain some confidence. Even chefs who have been at the top of their game for years, ones with international reputations and cookbooks and restaurants in Los Angeles or Chicago or New York or San Francisco will occasionally Mess Up. And it will be caught on film Forever. This doesn’t excite me in a Train Wrecky sort of way, though. I understand that my culinary heroes are people, too. What does excite me is the subtle message that TCM subliminally transmits to us. The message that even Culinary Icons have their Bad Days. And if those guys can have a bad day and still run Extremely Successful Culinary Empires, why should home cooks, myself included, be intimidated by trying something new or cooking for friends?
I am a Very Slow unpacker. I make this Big Push to get all of the dishes and What Not unpacked, the pictures on the walls, and the clothes on shelves. Then, I just sort of lose steam. So I am just now, three months after moving into The Beautiful House, unpacking the cookbooks. I have lived without them for Four Months. One third of a year. As long as poor Laura Ling and Euna Lee were held in North Korea. Longer than the gestational period for ‘possums, rabbits, skunks, squirrels, bobcats, dogs, cats, and lions. Longer than some folks know each other before they get married and then get divorced again. (Here is a list of Short Celebrity Marriages for your Amusement, Shock and Edification).
And, after all that time, guess what? We didn’t Starve to Death, nor did we exist solely on Twinkies and Delivered Pizza. We shopped for food; we cooked; we ate well. And the only time in a Lion’s Gestational Period that I went digging for a cookbook was for the Big Ass Wedding Cake.
So, my best friend that I’ve never met, Linda, left a comment yesterday over on fb. Here it is:
I love my cookbooks. I read them like novels. A really good cookbook writer brings much more to the party than merely recipes. You can learn the culture of countries, the history of their food and why certain peoples eat certain foods. I adore heirloom recipes and enjoy reading the memories associated with them. Call me sappy – I like knowing that the cake recipe presented was handed down from someone’s grandmother who was conducting a secret love affair with Calvin Coolidge and served him this particular cake post coitus.
As usual, Linda made me laugh and think.
And then, I received a comment on Ye Olde Blogge from Jessica. Here’s what she said:
If you have any pointers to cookbook titles that actually explain the whys of different ingredients/techniques/etc I would be most obliged if you could share, I’ve been having a hard time finding cookbooks that don’t have exactly the problem you’re describing. And you should definitely consider writing a book! Forget the recipes, I just want a book about cooking techniques, I can find recipes a dime a dozen…
Okay, so here’s the dilemma: I agree with Linda that cook books are an endless source of culinary and cultural history, but I also agree with Jessica that recipes are a dime a dozen and that basic cook books should focus on the science and process of cooking.
No pretty pictures here, people. Just the cold, hard, sometimes uncomfortable facts of how I got to be a better cook than I used to be.
Off and on, I spend time talking about becoming an automatic cook: about letting go of fear, divorcing yourself from rigid recipes and having fun in the kitchen. People seem to appreciate the sentiment, but I often get comments about how to do it: Do you have to go to culinary school to become an automatic cook? How do you learn the skills and techniques in order to become automatic? How do you make that first leap from Recipe to No Recipe?
Well, here’s the thing, I can’t really answer those questions for y–No, wait! Don’t go. Please, stay, and let me ‘splain. If you had let me finish what I was saying you would have heard me say “I can’t answer those questions for you; I can only tell you what worked for me.” Everyone is differe–now, wait a minute. It’s not a cop out! Sheesh, you’re pretty touchy. Everyone is different. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, both in and out of the kitchen. My huge kitchen weakness is impatience. Yours might be entirely different.
If you’ll notice over in my sidebar, sort of down towards the bottom, I have a red circle with a bar across it with the words “Secret Recipes” in it. And that means No Secret Recipes. I got said badge from Drew, from How to Cook Like Your Grandmother. I wear it proudly. Or rather, the blog wears it proudly. I truly believe not only that people shouldn’t keep recipes secret or be too proprietary about them, but that original recipes are about as common as Dodo birds and to say that Your Recipe is Original is maybe a bit of an Affectation.
Let that one sink in for just a moment.
For example, I recently read a recipe over at the venerable Coconut & Lime for a lemon-chive asparagus risotto. It, like all the recipes on that site, is touted as being completely original, and readers are exhorted not to reproduce it for profit and to always provide a link back should they reference it. Further, and perhaps more upsetting to me, the blogmistress wants us to explain how we change any of her Ingredient Selections and still link back to her recipe.
Tris is facing some open heart surgery in a couple of weeks, so I’ve already put a sticky note on her cookbooks in case of her Untimely Demise. Of course, she offered first. But you’d better believe that I jumped on it. I’m a little mercenary that way. I blame The Beloved.
I went down to Pinehurst last Wednesday to join The Family for luncheon, and we all wandered over to Tris’s house to say “howdy.” She said that I could go ahead and pick a cookbook or two. Sort of like a drug dealer gives you a free sample before sealing the deal. I know, because I watch a lot of television.
Anyway, I opened her Cookbook Cabinet and spied Julia Child’s The Way to Cook. I held it up with a raised eyebrow. I got an immediate and emphatic NO. Then, I picked up an old copy of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Again, I got a NO. So then I was all, “You’re a little bit Take-Backsie what with all the you-can-have-one-just-not-that-one nonsense.” She unashamedly agreed. She’s that way. Then she told me to pick another. I grabbed a Maida Heatter staple, Maida Heater’s Book of Great Desserts. I didn’t exactly get a yes. It was more like an “Okay, fine.” Then she said that she wanted a recipe out of it–one for some sort of ganache-y topping/frosting stuff. She started looking for it, and then she saw her mother’s notes in the margins. And that, my friends, was the end of my Very Brief Ownership of Maida’s book. (To be fair, I wouldn’t have parted with a cookbook with my mom’s notes in it. But I don’t really want to be fair).
Oh, but you should have seen me when I first decided I wanted to cook and bake. I was a trembling little thing, sweating with apprehension as I approached a recipe. Here’s how it went:
- I would decide that I needed to cook a Dish of Some Sort
- I would pour through my cookbooks, trying to find the Perfect Recipe.
- I’d painstakingly copy said recipe onto a wee sheet of paper.
- Paper clutched in sweating hand, I’d head out to the grocery store.
- I’d wander up and down every aisle, searching for the Mandated Ingredients, checking them off (!) as I found them and placing them reverently in my cart.
- Having bought Said Items, I’d go home and follow my recipe blindly.
- Usually, and through no fault of my own, my Dish was generally edible, and even quite tasty.
- I’d breathe a sigh of relief and accept the Kudos of the Masses.
I went along for quite awhile thinking that my Seven Step Process was just the way it was. That’s how to cook. Right?
Wrong. I was so wrong.
So, you might have gathered that I saw Tony Bourdain recently. Yes, The Beloved got us tickets–sometimes the man can Take a Hint–to see him speak at Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium. I had no idea what to expect, but as he talked, he said exactly the kind of things I would have expected to come out of his mouth if I had expected something.
First of all, he didn’t wear shoes. He had on beige socks. He came out drinking a long neck Some Kind Of Beer. I settled in to enjoy the ride.
He talked about a lot of things. He made fun of most of the Food Network “stars.” He spoke with passion about respecting culture and cuisines and people. About being a conscious traveler. He touched on how he is getting in touch with his granola side a little, now that he has a daughter. He has kind of decided that Rachael Ray might be a little cool while he held Sandra Lee up as poster child for All That is Wrong with Food Today.
Yesterday, on the magical twitter, I was involved in three very interesting conversations. One I think I inadvertently started, and the other two I just jumped into the middle of the way things often happen on twitter. The only person common to all three discussions was me, so it falls to me to write about it.
Conversation Number One started when I tweeted this little gem: “Don’t seek inspiration from a cook book. Be inspired by what’s in your pantry and fridge, especially if you don’t want to go to the store!” I use lots of exclamation points in my tweets.
At any rate, I really do feel that way. Look at what’s in your fridge, freezer or pantry that needs to be used up and then look in a cook book if you need some help with how to put different ingredients together. I mean, especially at this time of year, we all have Holiday Stuff lying about that needs to be turned into something tasty, and if you go look in a cook book before you take inventory, you’ll inevitably end up going to the store which results in two things: 1)You spend money that you didn’t really need to spend, and 2)You run the risk that some overlooked foods might go to waste.
This is going to be one of those posts. One of those where I have a vague notion of what I’m going to write and a strong feeling about it but no actual concrete plan for how I’m going to get from the beginning to the end without getting lost, losing you along the way, or both. So just be forewarned.
Last weekend, The Beloved and I attended the public wedding ceremony of two of our very dearest friends, Jennifer and Michael. Jennifer is the one who officiated at our wedding, so it was particularly poignant for us to be able to participate in their ceremony.
Aside from attending the wedding, I made pound cakes for the reception. Jennifer and Michael were not interested in a fancy cake or dessert but rather wanted something familiar and homey for guests to enjoy after dinner. Pound cakes fit the bill perfectly, and they “ordered” two chocolate, two pineapple upside down and one strawberry pound cake. They were a hit. They were so good, in fact, that many people found me during the reception or at breakfast the next morning to ask if I was the one who made the Van Halen pound cakes and that they were the best pound cakes they had ever had.
Have you ever had writer’s block and you tell someone and they say “You know how to get over writer’s block? <beat beat> Just write.” And then you punch them in the neck, and their eyes bug out, but you feel a little better? Well, that’s about where I am right now. Someone (the Voice in my Head) has a sore neck, and I’m writing. Not sure where this is gonna go, but join me if you will.
So, I asked a question on Ye Olde Facebooke Page the other day about sharing recipes. Do you? If not, why not? If so, how come? Some folks share everything. Some folks clutch dear recipes to their Bosoms and do Not share. Ever. Some folks will take the time to find a recipe similar to their Special Recipe and share that. Other folks share some recipes and not others. The dividing line between Recipes Suitable for Sharing and Bosom-Clutching Recipes seems to be “family recipes,” or “recipes I will use in my restaurant/bakery/catering business.”
Now, for me, I share everything. Even dear family recipes. You want to know how to make Auntie Ev’s plum pudding? I will absolutely tell you how. Interested in exactly how I make any or all versions of my Van Halen Pound Cake? I will email you with all the Excruciating Details. If you live near me, you can even come over and I’ll show you. Heck–I’ll make a video and share it with Everyone.
You may or may not have noticed that I changed the name of my blog from Pastry Methods and Techniques to The Balanced Pastry Chef. I changed the name after really coming to understand on a deep personal level that food can heal, and food can kill. Not like the Deadly Oleander–suddenly and with sharp stomach pains–but slowly and insidiously. And advertisers keep wanting us to buy Killer Food. Dead food.
I really don’t want to sound all scarily heavy and Depressing, but I think there are still people out there who think that, if it’s sold in a grocery store as food, then it must be okay to eat. And that’s just not true. The more overly processed the food is, the more I feel the need to enclose the word in quotation marks, thusly: “food.”
Here it is, Day 8 of 10 of The Master Cleanse. I have swallowed no solid food since Thursday evening, January 5. When I started this whole thing, it was an impulsive move. I had been reading about it and Pondering the idea of it and researching it, and then I just said, “What the hell, I have all the stuff I need here.” And I was drinking lemonade the next morning, staring ahead at ten long and unpleasant days.
But you know what? They haven’t been unpleasant at all, actually. Except for that salt water flush. Dear lord, that sucks. Yeah, I’ve had a couple of low energy days. I’ve had some headaches, the odd breakout or three, some aches and pains. And I have been more than a little Snippy. But I figure it’s what has to happen to truly detox after years of eating pretty much whatever the hell I wanted. Plus green smoothies. And I actually credit those with minimizing the detox symptoms.
Last Friday morning, I Informed The Beloved that I would not be cooking for him–or anyone–for the duration of the cleanse and he’d best remember how to make some ramen. Except for I said it sweetly. Sort of. And he, being supportive, completely understood and looked at me, worriedly and with Furrowed Brow, and asked, “Do you want me to do this with you?” Sweet, right? And I said, “No, sweetie. You have to work. I don’t think they’ll let you work in the bathroom.” He agreed. So, I fully intended to sit around, drink my lemonade and pound down my water, read, do some work, but stay Far Away from Food until Monday, January 16.
Chefs are cocky. Look at Anthony Bourdain. Cocky. Bobby Flay? Way cocky. The chefs I’ve worked for? Nice guys, but cocky. Arrogant, even. And even the ones that aren’t overtly cocky are Supremely Confident. Hello, Thomas Keller. His economy of movement and calm demeanor in the kitchen are a testament to his incomparable mastery of his craft.
But see that? He’s confident because he knows what he’s doing. He’s had years and years of experience. Time to perfect even the most mundane of kitchen tasks. He is surely accomplished enough to delegate prep work to cooks, but I bet he can still cut a mean brunoise.
As an undergraduate, I was a Psych major. My Master’s degree is in Special Education. And in both disciplines, the concept of Bloom’s Taxonomy* came up frequently. Bloom was a guy who chaired a committee who addressed educational objectives and goals. His committee’s classification of educational goals are divided into three domains: the cognitive, the affective and the psychomotor. While the skills in the three domains differ, the same basic rule applies to all of them: you can’t master the next one without mastering the previous one. Put another way, each skill in each domain is a prerequisite for the next. It’s the old “You must learn to crawl before you learn to walk game.”
Let’s look for just a moment at the three domains. The Cognitive domain has to do with the intellectual response to learning. The Affective domain is a bit trickier. It’s about emotional readiness to learn and the emotional response to learning (or to a lesson). The Psychomotor domain is all about the physical ability to perform tasks and are at least loosely tied to the physical developmental benchmarks (“grasps with hand” comes before “grasps with fingers,” for example).
Lots of folks can get to the point in their Journey to become Confident Cooks where they can look at a list of ingredients and know what techniques to apply to come up with their desired end result. I’ll talk about how to get there at Some Other Point (you’re welcome), but friends, a Thing has come up that is making me take a Bit of a Detour today.
Today I want to take a look at supposed Expert sites that offer recipes. Places like Martha Stewart and Epicurious*. And The Food Network. And this is why. When one searches for a recipe online, one should realize that one is Engaged in a Crap Shoot. Recipe agglomeration sites are everywhere, and most sites do not require tested recipes. It’s the Wild, Wild West out there, and the recipes posted on these sites are just as likely to fail as they are to succeed. But when you search for a recipe on the expert sites, you expect the recipes to work, to be accurately represented and to be tested or at least Skimmed Over for Accuracy.
I used to teach in residential treatment and also in the public school system. I could tell if I was getting through to my wee charges by the looks on their faces, by their Level of Bounce and by their engagement. I was constantly scanning the whole class like The Terminator (but nicer. And human) to assess engagement. And if I saw it slipping, I’d alter my course to draw them back in. Some days, all it took was a bit more animation in my voice. Other times, I’d come up with games on the spot or spontaneous hands-on demonstrations or puppet shows or role playing. Or pretty much whatever it was that would suck them into The Learning Process. In Teacher Talk, I had a lot of tools in my tool box.
Teachers have to be flexible. They have to be able to alter course at the drop of a hat. Not to change the subject, but to present a subject in a different, more interesting way. They have to be able to recognize when things are starting to go Off the Rails and make the proper course corrections. Or, if they realize there is no stopping the derailing, to at least be able to control the crash so none of the kids realizes that they bombed out.
Y’all know how I feel about recipes. I think they are limiting. That they make folks think that “this is the only way to make this Thing.” That changing up an ingredient list isn’t nearly as earth-shattering as folks make it out to be. It’s when you change up the cooking techniques that you’re, well, really cooking instead of just substituting. I think that recipes are static, like a collection of bugs stuck in amber, when what cooking should be is freeing and open to interpretation. Within in the rules.
And that’s where the problem comes in: the rules. I’m willing to bet that, time was, most folks knew the rules. They learned them from their moms and grandmas. From aunts. Maybe even from hired cooks. From their Home Ec teachers. But: time was. As in past. So much emphasis in the schools these days is placed on straight up academics that Home Ec, along with other hands on, practical classes like auto mechanics and shop class, have been marginalized. And people—especially kids—these days are scheduled to the hilt. Between soccer and ballet and lacrosse and Kick boxing (Sport of the Future) and scouts, there’s very little time for a kid to learn to cook. And very little time for parents to teach them. And when grandma lives 6 states away, chances of meaningful cross-generational cooking training are reduced to almost nil.