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The joy of cooking is mostly about ignoring recipes.

“I need to go find some recipes to ignore for supper tonight,” I said to my friend as I took stock of what was in the fridge, concentrating on those foodstuffs that were on a knife’s edge from going bad and trying to figure out how to pair it together.

Recipes are kind of like getting a general sense of assemblage.

A general direction.

“You’ll be heading northerly in about ten minutes.”

“To get to China, head to Washington D.C. and take a left.”

Recipes are the existential poetry for food that ought not exist but soon will.

My favorite recipe website is Natasha’s Kitchen for a variety of reasons, none of which I’ve so far outlined. Natasha actually seems to follow recipes which lead to tasty food. For me, the joy of cooking is mostly creating suggestive food results.

As I’ve bemoaned more than once in my blogging past, food blogs are a bit excruciating when it comes to finding recipes because you have to slog through a lot of purple prose to get there. What you came for—the recipe—is not readily available but is, instead, buried or woven through a lengthy story of Grandma’s Ancient Quest For The Perfect Rolling Pin or How My Ancestors Once Grew A Paprika Tree And We Still Have It To This Day.

There are no paprika trees. Maybe there are. I don’t know. I know nothing about paprika beyond putting it on deviled eggs, and I’m too lazy to go research it beyond that.

Natasha gets right down to business, has very perky and upbeat videos, and doesn’t tend to use ingredients that might involve renewing your passport in order to locate them.

But even so, I still tend to think of recipes as more like guidelines.

Not baking recipes for key ratios, mind you—I try to take baking seriously—but cooking ones. Sauces? Soup? Hotdish?

No one tells me what to do.

Some of the results have been notable, and badly so. That’s what a frozen pizza is for, a backup emergency plan when the guidelines get away from you.

You do not want to know about the leftover mashed potato patty cakes I made. They were not like my mother made when I was a child, those flavorful fond memories of crisped patties with warm mushy potatoes inside, soaked in butter, though the recipes and instructions I get from the old country (anyone my mother’s generation and prior) are decidedly vague and I can’t really be blamed. Complex instructions involving “heaping” and “pinch” and “large portion” and “until it looks right” assume I know much more than I do.

You only know those kinds of things if you’ve experimented. How does the saying go, that it takes a lot of bad results to create a good cook? Moments before I breathe my last breath, I will be an amazing cook.

I can’t leave you without some advice.

When in doubt, make hash:

  • Cut up some onions, carrots, and whatever other vegetables you have in the fridge.

  • Garlic works pretty good, so throw some in.

  • Put it in a frying pan with butter. Make them there onions weep until they’re clear.

  • If you have old diced ham, why not.

  • Old pesto? Get it in early and cook out the sketchiness.

  • Chopped up nearly-rancid slivered almonds are a nice crunch. Add it to the disaster.

  • Cook up some rice.

  • Cook up some spaghetti noodles that are broken and otherwise useless sitting in your cupboard. Ignore the historic presence of weevils. They’ll wash off. Chop up into fake rice-sized pieces.

  • Toss in the frying pan.

  • Salt. Pepper. Turmeric. Basil. Oregano. Whatever you want. Visit your paprika tree if you have to.

  • More butter is nice.

  • Serve with apologies.

It would work on TV.

In television and movies, people in kitchen scenes have deep life conversations while sipping wine and cutting up ridiculous amounts of vegetables that they’ll never use in one meal. That much celery and carrots? Please. What could you possible be making?

Imagine if you had the vegetables I had to work with.

You’d understand.


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