The Other I

October 16, 2012

Throwing out the rule book

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:44 pm

My mother taught me how to cook.  Or more specifically, she gave me free reign of her Better Homes and Gardens cook book, which I think might have been what today we would call the text-book for her college classes in nutrition.

My mother was a perfect teacher in that she let me try whatever I wanted and then extolled the result.  I concentrated on the desserts – pies, cakes, cookies, brownies, muffins.  Since most of these things require rather precise measurements if they aren’t going to fall flat, I learned to follow the rules pretty carefully.  I was highly socialized with a need to please, so I tended to be a rule-follower anyway.

When I joined the convent, my talents were recognized immediately and I was given a long-term assignment to assist Sister Anne Cecelia in the bakery, where we also, understandably, baked by the rules.  Except Sister Anne Cecelia who often used her sense of taste or texture to decide whether we needed more sugar or flour or butter.  But it never occurred to me to try to emulate her talent.

Then I married Peter who actually enjoys cooking as an art form.  It was a revelation.  He used recipes as suggestions, not as rules.  I watched him for years in astonishment and wonder.  (He did, though, leave the desserts to me, after the first failure in which he discovered that to get a cake to rise, it is necessary to get the right proportions of rising agents, sugar, butter, and flour.)

But it is only now in my old age that it has occurred to me that I too might cook something without slavishly following the rule book — er, I mean cook book.  This, after all, is the way humans have been cooking since we first learned to light a fire under our food more than half a million years ago.

It’s a risky business because I don’t really know what I’m doing, and if what I produce is totally inedible, I can’t exactly plop it on a plate and serve it to anybody else.  But so far I haven’t produced anything quite that impossible.

And it’s quite fun.

I don’t really think chocolate ice cream with honeyed mushroom sauce would work though, do you?  Even with a cherry.  Still, if carrot cake works…



  1. although coloring inside the lines most often proves successful, tossing out the rule book, walking on the wild side takes more than courage, it takes conveying a sense of success or thinking outside the box, of relabeling the outcome. my mother, a phenomenon in the kitchen was preparing a fancy dinner party for my father’s colleagues. her forte was pastry. for unexplainable reasons, the dinner rolls she had prepared did not rise. the dinner table was set with individual plates and butter knives at each table setting. folks were expecting her dinner rolls .. she always had them. she was beside herself my father gently cupped her face in his hands, looked her in the eye and said – marie elise – just serve them my mother’s protests on met with my father reiterating – just serve them, it will be fine. and so she did everything was passed around and only the rolls were left. then he said – marie elise i did not get one of your belgian flat cakes. folks were absolutely taken by them – never had anything lie them – went perfectly with the dinner – such a fresh change – could they have the recipe. don’t think any self-confidence, relabeling or bluff could save chocolate ice cream with honeyed mushroom sauce – perhaps if you omitted the honey.


    Comment by kateritek — October 17, 2012 @ 1:54 am | Reply

    • Belgian flat cakes! that’s fantastic. It is going to be my mantra for the rest of my life. “Oh no, no, this isn’t a failure: it’s my Belgian flat cake.” It’s all in the perspective. And I don’t think you could have told me a better story about your father. He sounds like a gem. Thank you. T


      Comment by Terry Sissons — October 17, 2012 @ 1:40 pm | Reply

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