Just Follow Instructions

Some consider it sensible to follow instructions and never give up. For me, instructions can be problematic. And I don’t mind walking away from a problem. It’s easy to rationalize rebellion. My current problem has to do with recipes; as in how-to-read-them. Actually the question is, “why read them?”

After several weeks of chicken-to-chicken and fish-to-fish competition, my wife settled on the winner of our subscription dinner contest. Gone are the days of frozen fried chicken in a bag and bottles of curry sauce that no respectable Hindu would eat. It’s now taboo to even contemplate sloppy joe in a can. And there’s no thought of tilapia now that we’ve tasted barramundi. I’d be worried about becoming so bourgeois if it wasn’t for the fact that we were saving money.

Plus we’re eating well. We’re no longer stockpiling spoiled vegetables. Leftovers no longer serve as hosts for flowering molds. Best of all, I’m no longer worried about the expiration dates that I tended to ignore. My wife tics off her choices online once a week. All of my impromptu planning that used to take place at the end of each grocery aisle has gladly ended. I was pretty good at it but there were never any surprises. Now there are variations of cod stew, seared chicken atop glistening pasta, and cheesy enchiladas to look forward to as old favorites.

There’s only one problem: I’m stymied by the meticulous organization of peeled garlic cloves neatly tucked into dimensionally precise bags and the miniature plastic specimen jars that hold exactly enough of whatever is inside. The engineering that went into constructing the measured mix of flavors is impressive. The ingredients have been perfectly rationed. The pressure to follow the recipe is immense. Success depends entirely on how one chops and when one blends. The guesswork is gone and so is the chance of combining extraneous herbs and spices. Since I’m neither a chef nor a gourmet, the closest I can come to being either is when I cook freestyle.

I’m basically a practitioner of food jazz. I scan the recipe to get a feel for where it’s headed, review the ingredients to make certain I have most of what I need, and quickly note the suggested temperatures. After that, it’s just a matter of listening for the splash and sizzle to get me on a roll. Every move stems from muscle memory. Every flavor is a familiar recollection.

However, thanks to Home Chef, I’ve been rendered powerless. I just try to follow the fine print and shut up. Inevitably, my wife rescues me. She swoops in with, “Okay, okay, let me do it.” I hide my relief by offering to help, but by this time she’s had enough of me hovering over the minced shallots while muttering about the needless work. Is there really any reason why a guy who never needs to ask for directions would ever need to follow a recipe? Yep, I thought you’d see my point. The conscientious quietly go about their cooking while recipes handcuff food slingers like me.