Learning to Cook

or, It's okay to color outside the lines

During my college days, a friend invited me to dinner. It was an informal affair, with most of the time spent in the kitchen, cooking. While she prepared most of the ingredients, I was given the task of cooking one of the vegetables (most likely green beans). I dumped them in a pot and asked how to prepare it. (At this point, I'd barely cooked anything for myself besides ramen noodles.) She told me to put water in (how much?) and cook until it was done (how long?). When I asked those questions aloud, I realized that something was happening here I'd never imagined: she was cooking without a recipe.

That's probably not a shocking revelation for most readers, but it stunned me. My mother, who'd made thousands of meals for her family, always cooked from a recipe. She did this even for recipes she'd made dozens of times. I didn't know you could cook any other way. Seat-of-the-pants cooking? How would you know what ingredients to add, or how long to cook the result? How could that possibly work?

It worked fine, of course. We shared a nice casserole.

That evening was a revelation. In succeeding years I've applied the lesson it taught to ever greater aspects of my life. First it was cooking: just put some ingredients together and see how it works. Later, I learned to knit partly by experimentation. Why slavishly follow a pattern, when I could learn as much or more by trying new techniques, by mapping my own path?

The broadest application of this philosophy is life itself. I've seen people in great emotional pain because they don't like who they are, yet are afraid to change. They're bound by rules, particularly the rule that states we have to remain who we are. Must we, though? Who says? If your life isn't working, identify what's wrong and change it. Yes, you'll be a new person. Yes, that's allowed. It takes courage to give up part of yourself, but you gain a new world.

Throw away the recipes. Experiment for yourself!

Last updated 6 October 2003
All contents ©2003 Mark L. Irons