Part Art Part Science

One of the things I love about cooking is that it’s part art and part science with just enough math thrown in. But you don’t even have to know that to be a good cook. You may visualize taste and instinctively know what to throw together. You may have apprenticed with your grandmother, mother or dad and have a visual reference for the thickness of pancake batter. There are so many paths that lead to great cooking!

If you don’t have much experience and cooking doesn’t come naturally to you, the book SaltFatAcidHeat by Samin Nosrat can bring you knowledge and confidence. Even if you’re an experienced cook and are good in the kitchen, you may improve your game using this tool. Besides that, the book has pleasing illustrations and quirky fold-out pages. It also includes pages on which to write notes. I always appreciate those.

While it’s not a traditional cookbook, this book does contain recipes – delicious ones. The Vietnamese Cucumber Salad (page 226) is so good, I could eat it every day for a week!

And speaking of salads, there’s a whole section in SaltFatAcidHeat on dressings. I’m fond of throwing together dressing rather than buying bottles of it from the store. I feel the same way about barbecue sauce. There’s less waste that way, and I’m rarely without the raw ingredients to make a dressing or sauce on a whim.

You may think there’s no way you’ll ever prepare your own salad dressing, but reading this book will make you a more likely explorer in that you will come away understanding the basic elements of good cooking. It shares the kind of knowledge that can bring more confidence and freedom in the kitchen. You’ll have read how to cook onions. And not just soften them until they’re clear, but how to brown or caramelize them. You’ll know how to fix a broken mayonnaise and create a dough that’s chewy and rich or one that’s flaky or tender.

I’m going to delve more deeply into the dough section while I adapt some recipes to make them dairy-free. Swapping out another liquid for milk changes a dough more than you might expect. And the fact that my dairy-free doughs are also gluten-free adds another layer of complexity. Understanding the science of dough helps me design artful ways around the obstacles presented by combining nontraditional ingredients.

If you want to delve further into the science of cooking, there’s literally a book entitled The Science of Cooking: Every Question Answered to Perfect Your Cooking. This book is filled with facts and has a very different feel than SaltFatAcidHeat. But both are great learning tools.

There are other books that approach cooking from a scientific perspective: Culinary Reactions: The Everyday Chemistry of Cooking and The Science of Spice: Understand Flavor Connections and Revolutionize Your Cooking are two of those. If one of these doesn’t suit you, just look around a bit and you’re sure to find a guide that will.

Whether you enjoy the art or science of cooking, there’s always more to learn and more delicious dishes to make. That makes cooking the perfect job for me.

If only there were someone else to do the dishes!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Treasures Among the Trash

recipeYou never know what treasures you’ll find among the trash when you begin to clean out clutter. I’m sure the reason most of us have clutter is that we think too many things are treasures. Marie Kondo is making sure we know how to see the difference. But when we clean out an incapacitated or deceased relative’s home, we don’t have the luxury of choosing what is saved. We only have the opportunity to discover treasures among the trash.

Every month or two I spend a couple of days in my 98-year-old cousin’s house cleaning out the compilation of trash and treasure that includes: bank records from 1972, unopened mail from 1987, family photos from 1896, report cards from 1910, a wedding invitation from 1919, and a baby book from 1920. Because these items are mixed in with junk mail, decaying candy, promotional products, and wadded Kleenex, it is an arduous and sometimes icky process. I love it when I find some treasure that makes the effort worth it!

Recently, I’ve been working my way through the den toward the kitchen. Kitchens have the best variety of memorabilia. A few years ago, I discovered my grandmother’s ceramic green pepper spoon rest in my mom’s kitchen. I was thrilled. Now it’s on my counter by the stove. I love that visual reminder of my grandmother.
I also love finding old recipe cards. Not only do they give me a chance to prepare my favorite family dishes, there’s something charming about the varying shapes, sizes, and legibility of old recipes. Some assume you are extremely knowledgable about cooking techniques. Some have an ingredient list. Some do not. Many are spattered with remnants of food. Some are in handwriting I recognize. Some have clearly been handled more than others.

This look into the past seems more enticing to me than an old photograph or a tarnished silver service. Perhaps it’s because the recipes are a living memory. They can be created again and again. They can be shared with generation after generation along with stories of previous times they were enjoyed! If you think your kids don’t appreciate those stories, tell them to your grandkids.

At 2-and-a-half, JD loves any story about my experiences; he asks me to repeat them over and over. He never tires of hearing the details again and again. Adding food into the mix creates an indelible experience that he will no doubt share with his children and grandchildren. The recipe cards may not be preserved, but hopefully the recipes will find their way into his heart and his smart appliances or voice-activated replicator or whatever generates food in 2077.

Experimenting with unfamiliar flavor combinations is fun for me, but when I’m tired and hungry or it’s my birthday I’ll take my grandmother’s beef and noodles and a lemon meringue pie any day. Throw in some fresh green beans with new potatoes and I can smell the dirt from the garden when I helped my grandmother dig potatoes. These memories bring with them a sense of belonging to my family and to the earth. I had a place and a purpose.
Such simple things can have a large and lasting effect. In this era of disconnection and short attention spans, we are often lacking a feeling of belonging and purpose. If you can provide that for your family by sharing the stories and food that you loved, is time spent in the garden or the kitchen worth it? I think so! I know time spent connecting is.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”