I got caught. I got caught looking up recipes on the internet for some dishes I plan to make this week. As I usually only cook for myself, every few weeks, or so, I set aside an evening to cook up several batches of this, that, and the other. I freeze up single serving portions, and, for a while, whether I’m busy, working, need a quick bite before going out, need to cook a meal for one, two, or more, or, even, if I’m going camping backpacking, I’ve got everything ready to go. No stress. No mess. Well, yah, there is a big mess that one day I cook everything, but once it’s all cleaned up, every other meal is easy peasy.
I don’t usually use a recipe, though I love looking through them, and, in fact, adore cookbooks. I have slimmed my collection down to just those I refer to, and, now, oft go looking for recipe ideas online. I’ll find a recipe or two, maybe three, and kind of take the best bits of each to create my own. Once I’ve mastered it, I just wing it from that point on. My food, I think, is always scrumptious, and certain batches of a dish are a lot like other batches of the same dish, they are never, ever, ever identical. I never, really, measure. To me, a recipe is a suggestion. A recipe is a collection of ingredients and some suggestion of process, and you can either closely follow it, or loosely adapt it. I prefer loosely adapting it.
I was, among other things, looking up recipes for a really spicy, yummy, wholesome Bloody Mary mix, something I could make a batch of for entertaining, or to enjoy over a week or so. I found six different recipes I thought sounded good. I’ve not made anything yet, but rest assured, I’ll be pulling ideas from each and every one of those six recipes I selected.
My mom, the one who caught me looking up recipes on the internet, usually eats pre-packaged, pre-flavored, pre-spiced, processed fare. Open package, heat and eat. Or, perhaps, open package, boil, open other package, dump and stir. When she does endeavor to cook, it is from a cookbook and to the letter. Substitutions are blaspheme. Deviations are abhorrent.
The only measuring cup I ever use is the ¼ cup, and only because I firmly believe ¼ cup, or, roughly four ounces, of anything, is more than an adequate serving size. Our ¼ dry measure cup was lost in the earthquake a year ago and I’ve survived without. I just use my fist as a relative size gauge for my serving size. My jeans still fit, so it must be close enough.
Since I’ve been caught looking up recipes on the internet, everything I cook for the next month will elicit an inquiry as to “which recipe” I’m using. Mom has boxes and drawers and books chock full of bits of labels of boxes and cans, snippets of magazines and long yellowed newspapers. In my fifty-two years, I’ll hazard she’s actually made three of those recipes.
Funny, our lives are not a lot different. Mom is very “per the recipe” and I’m much more about taking what I think may be good and stirring it all together, then changing it up a bit the next time around. I’m not saying one method of cooking, or of living, is more right or wrong. Mom’s life, until my dad passed away, was exactly what she expected, it was just like Betty Crocker said it would be if the instructions were carefully followed. It is a method, with a fairly predictable result.
My life, on the other hand, has always been somewhat chaotic, very much like those evenings I commandeer the kitchen and cook up large batches of six or seven different recipes. There are ingredients everywhere, I’m stirring, tasting, adjusting, adding more spice, stirring and tasting, again. Mine is more of a feeling, with uncertain, but usually delectable results.
I take risks. Some of my dishes fail, but most are really good. Mom assumes very little risk, and the dishes are consistent, but predictable, so, so, so predictable. Just what Betty Crocker envisioned.
In life, Mom, and I do have respect and admiration for this fact, followed the recipe. Career, husband, kid, cookie cutter, suburban house, retirement, old age, and Betty Crocker cakes. Truthfully, I think she prefers Duncan Hines, whether because there are more coupons in the paper for Duncan Hines, or they are a few pennies cheaper in general, I don’t know. Her life has been very good, perfectly predictable, but, in my opinion, quite ordinary.
Since childhood, every time I made a request, a wish, an announcement, it was often met with a sigh and a very resigned, “Oh, Jardin.” To this very day. As evidence, she just read aloud to me, every offering for the “Over 50” age group in the local parks and recreation catalog. Because I am over fifty, chronologically, I should fall into step, I should resign to the fact that I am on the downhill side of life, coasting, now, for death. As there were no classes for the “Over 50” group in whitewater kayaking, ice climbing, spelunking, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, mountaineering, rappelling, or skydiving, I politely, and very unsuccessfully, feigned interest, then tried to explain why nothing offered actually interested me. I choose to take risks, to spice things up, to keep trying new recipes, then combine a bunch of shit together to make something unique, unrepeatable, unpredictable, and very memorable. My philosophy, being, now, on the downhill side of things; take risks, be bold, be daring, more than ever before, cram as much life into this roller coaster ride as I can. Every moment gone is another moment closer to death. And death from some whacky adventure sounds far more appetizing than calmly waiting for it to greet me from the comfort of my recliner while watching Jeopardy.
Mom loves Jeopardy. I know what time of day it is by which theme song is emanating from the TV room, downstairs.
I just made a pot of “chicken soup.” I tossed in a little of this, some jalapenos, a little of that, some cayenne, a bit of this, some ancho, a touch of the other, some chipotle, a few things from the fridge that were on the fringe of safe edibility, like the roasted butternut squash I made a couple of weeks ago. I stirred it all together, then added full on bacon grease, butter, and some half and half. Per Mom, this is a prescription for instant cardiac arrest or spontaneous human combustion. Or both.
I choose to make things up as I go along. I like the result. Spicy. Unpredictable. Dangerous. Fun. A little crazy.
Mom goes by the recipe. Predictable. Safe. Solid. All McCall’s and Ladies Home Journal.
Neither approach to life is more right than the other. We just stir things up a little differently. Your recipe for life? You choose. I’ll stick with chaos and spice!
I offered Mom a cup of my soup, out of respect, generosity, decency and politeness. She accepted. Perhaps she thinks I followed a recipe.