And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. ~ Kahlil Gibran

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


I admire people who can follow recipes. I never can. It's not that I don't try to do what the recipe says, it just always sort of happens that I think this would be great in there or I don't care for that and so I omit it. When I do find something I like a lot, I usually can't remember what all I put in it or what amounts, so I can never replicate it.

Eating Barefoot's cooking is always an adventure.

I have been this way all my cooking life. My Mom (bless her heart, I don't know WHY she allowed this) would let my brother and I bake cookies on our own when we were quite young. Usually we did chocolate chip, just the recipe off the back of the bag, and usually they worked out pretty good.

Still, it was inevitable that the day would come when we ran out of some ingredient. Now, your average cook would either go get the ingredient or not make that particular dish. Not me, oh no. Sometimes I would just switch recipes halfway through. Sometimes I would dig through the pantry for something that looked like a good replacement for the missing ingredient. Sometimes I made a science experiment out of it and would look at all the recipes in the cookbook ( gotta love old church cookbooks) to see what was common for all cookie recipes and keep it to that.

Then we found the food coloring, and there were blue cookies and red cookies and green cookies. I am sure my Mom wanted to ban us from the kitchen after some of these projects. We were even too lazy to actually make cookies! We just pressed the dough onto a cookie sheet and baked it. While it was still warm, we would break it into pieces.

As I got older, probably 12 or 13, I decided to try my hand at apple pie. My folks have an apple tree that produces wonderful apples every year, so it made sense. Once again I consulted the pile of old church cookbooks in the pantry and began my work.

Side Note: If you like cooking, go to the thrift store and find yourself those self bound old church cookbooks. You know, the kind that the Church Ladies would make up for fundraising. The older, the better. There are some fantastic recipes in there!

To properly envision my story, you have to know the kind of kitchen I learned to cook in. It is an old farmhouse kitchen with very little counter space. Some moron had put green carpet down (in a kitchen?!) and the cupboards were an oddly orange shade of woodtone. The wallpaper was white, with yellow and blue 60's-ish flowers outlined in (I think) brown. The counter tops had this metal edging all around them that made it nearly impossible to clean up your messes. The stuff just hid along the edge there.

Where was I....Oh, yeah: Baking Pie.

So there I was in that odd looking kitchen (the re-model looks great, by the way Mom) doing my best to follow a recipe from one of the cookbooks my Mom had in her stash. I finished mixing all the ingredients for the filling, and it just didn't smell like apple pie to me. So I added some cinnamon. And a little of something else. And a little more of one other thing.

I continued this way until it smelled right to me, assembled my pie, and baked it up.

It was good! I have always gotten lots of compliments on my apple pie. Could I hand out the recipe? No, cuz every time it is a little different. I can't even explain how it is supposed to look and smell when you know it is ready. I just don't know.

I cook everything like that. Sometimes it is fabulous, like the rutabaga/potato/carrot/onion/kohlrabi/squash thing I make on occasion (very filling, and oh, so yummy!). Sometimes it isn't so fabulous, just good. On very rare occasions it is terrible, but that only happens when I am working with ingredients that I am unfamiliar with.

One of the things I would really like to learn to do is follow a recipe. I know there are wonderful cooks out there who have painstakingly measured out every basil leaf and grain of salt to provide me with instructions on how to awe my family with amazing food. And I can't cook it because I am handicapped by my inability to follow instructions.

I raise my glass and salute you, all you recipe followers. Cheers!


Lisa said...

You could try doing what the cooking show people do, and measure each ingredient into a separate little dish and then set it aside until needed. It may create a few more dishes, but after installing Sprout-proof ear plugs and horse blinders, you should be able to measure things exactly, one ingredient at a time.

Then (just like the cooking show people) take a break and eat some chocolate (really, they do this!) Come back to the kitchen and assemble the recipe.


Bitterbetty said...

So.. I am of the impression that if you follow recipies you dn't know how to cook as well as someone who can ignore a recipe.

I follow recipies a lot because I am not That Into Cooking and if a dish fails I really resent the time and materials wasted.Sadly and miserly of me.

To your creativity!

Deb said...

I'm with you, Barefoot. Recipes, for the most part, are just suggestions! And I love those old church lady cookbooks...I never knew there were so many different recipes for Jello salad!

The apple pie reminded me of one of about two times in my life I made an apple pie. As I was mixing the filling I grabbed a container with a name that started with C and ended with N. Cinnamon, I thought. But as I was preparing to fill the pie I noticed it smelled a bit...different. I looked at the container: CUMIN. Yikes!

I was able to somehow get rid of most of the cumin and overpower it with cinnamon, but that pie did have a strange undertone to it! :)

Anonymous said...

You aren't the one that was playing at being the Cajun Cook and put a handful of salt into the green cookies or were they blue? You are an old-fashioned type of cook and go by sight and smell to get fantastic dishes.

Love you.

barefoot gardener said...

It's the measuring that gets me. Everything is "close enough".

At least you know that you aren't into it, and choose to leave the experimenting to the experts! ;)

Oh, no! Did you tell anyone what you did, or just pass it off as "a new recipe, I don't think I will try it again"?

Aren't you glad Emeril wasn't around when I was a kid? Can you imagine Bro "Bam"ing everything?! That would be so funny!!!!
Thanks for the compliment.

Wendy said...

I'm with Deb - recipes are a "guideline." I've never cooked a dish that was 100% per instruction, and I'll often leave out or substitute for exotic ingredients (like saffron - who in the hell has ever even heard of "saffron"). It's worse when I'm doing an all local dish ;).

RuthieJ said...

Hi Barefoot,
This post made me LOL. I've been a recipe follower for years and only recently have branched off into my own "variations on a theme." I made a really yummy cheesy enchilada/venison soup the other night. Of course I'll never remember what I put in for next time, but there was enough for leftovers tonight, so I'll get to enjoy it once more.

barefoot gardener said...

Sometimes you get the best dishes that way. I usually substitute things that I won't use for more than one dish and will have lots of extra for. Too often you only need 1/4 cup or less of something for a recipe, but you have to buy it in large quantities!

Welcome to my world! It is full of statements like "Man, that turned out so good! I wish I remembered how I made it so I could make it again later...."
Mr. Barefoot will occasionally ask for a dish and then I panic, wondering if I can figure out what I did last time.

Kati said...

I think it's great that you can cook without a recipe. I love recipes. But I don't always follow them. I try to follow them pretty closely the first time or two, just to get some idea of how the food is supposed to taste, then I adapt to suit myself, my supplies, and my time. Occasionally, too, I love going through my cookbooks for ideas, then kind of picking the best of this recipe and that recipe and putting it all together & seeing how it comes out.

But, I generally need a recipe as a jumping off point.

Hey, as long as our families enjoy it, huh?!?! *grin*

Teresa said...

Sadly I almost always follow a recipe. I am not creative in the kitchen though once I make something following the recipe a few times I do get brave enough to tweak it here or there. I have longed to be able to cook without a recipe, I always felt that those people who could wing it were far superior in the kitchen than I.

Funny how sometimes we want to be someone we aren't and the person next to us wants to be exactly what we are.