I’m a terrible cook. Or, rather, I’m an uninspired cook. I can follow a recipe, and indeed that’s the only way I can create a decent meal. I have a few go-to recipes, they get repeated a lot, and my husband is kind enough not to groan too often when I pull out the same ingredients for the same five or six meals he’s had over and over again.
It’s because I don’t have the artistic knack of cooking. My husband does—he can look at a recipe and say things like, ‘you know, if I added this ingredient instead, and substituted that for this, and instead of pork we used chicken…’ and then what comes out of the kitchen is inspired, tasty, and wonderful.
Me? I’m like, “Okay, one tablespoon of soy sauce. Check. Okay, half a cup of spicy ketchup. Check.” And what comes out of the kitchen is what was on the package or recipe, nothing more (though sometimes less).
I link this lack of cooking gift to a similar lack: I don’t have much in the way of a sense of taste in my memories. You know how people talk about certain foods and how the discussion will make their mouth water? That doesn’t really happen to me. I read a great psychology paper on people who have zero creative imagination—they literally cannot picture, say, the Eiffel Tower if you mention it, instead they have a list of facts that come up under the association. They don’t “see” anything, though they still know it. Part of me wonders if my lack of ability to “taste” a memory of food is a much, much smaller scaled down version of that. I know what I’ve enjoyed eating, and I can remember that I liked it, but I don’t quite remember the flavour exactly. I have cravings, like most people, but it’s rarely “I want this food.” It’s usually “I want something sweet.”
Now, baking? Baking’s different.
Baking is all about following the instructions, about learning the chemistry of cooking, and repeating successes. Sure, I will eventually play with a recipe—usually in tiny increments—and have had successes there (I’ve tweaked a lemon loaf recipe to create a lime loaf, for example) and usually those successes have come with a few basic failures first. But baking is about each step being done in order, without “just toss in a dash of” ambiguities, and I love it.
I’m also good at it, though I think there’s a chicken/egg thing going on there.
Today I made my Swedish Ginger Cookies. They’re a favourite recipe, and one of the rare times I’ve tweaked and fiddled until I got them just the way I wanted them. It was a recipe my husband had, but he got frustrated with as they never spread out enough to form the super-thin cookie pictured. I read the recipe over, saw some things that didn’t make sense from other cookie recipes, and started fiddling.
Now we’ve got super-thin ginger cookies. I love baking them—it’s the smell of Christmas, as far as I’m concerned—and my husband loves seeing me having joy from working in the kitchen. Later tonight, a group of friends he met at university will all be gathering (with spouses) at our house, and I’m so chuffed I’ll get to bring out these cookies for everyone to munch.
And, of course, I bought double the ingredients I need, as I’ll likely make them again before the big day.
Do you bake? What recipes are your favourites for the holidays? What smell is the holidays to you?