Monday, September 27, 2010

like studying, only more fun

I often have people asking me to teach them how to do things that I do pretty easily, like cooking, canning, baking and knitting. Sometimes computer stuff, but I'm not really that technical, I'm just good at problem solving/figuring things out. But for all the homey stuff I do, I'd say I'm probably around 98% self taught. Sure, someone showed me how to cook the first time, and knit the first time, but after that it all came down to what information I could find in books, on TV or on the internet.

I was never a great student in school because I didn't really like doing homework. Now, by homework I mean the work part of the equation. Reading up on a subject and listening to lectures was fun for me and I always did incredibly well on tests. But if I needed to turn in a paper or my work on mathematical equations, etc, I never did well because I was super lazy. I just learn from absorbing. That is how it is with cooking for me. Like studying. I take the time to commit a recipe to memory as if I were preparing for an exam. Because it is hard to do everything so quickly, which is usually how things need to be done, when you have to stop every 30 seconds and read the next step. Now, I'm not saying I don't have the recipe with me when I'm cooking as a cheat sheet, I'm just saying I try to really know what I am about to do way before I actually do it. It is just better for the final result. So, nothing I do really takes any special skill other than researching the stuff so I know it well.

Also, finding out the science of things can help too. I really like to wing it when I cook things, but when it comes to baking and canning, you can't just make things up and expect them to work. There is a science to it, but if you know the science than you can figure out how to make subtle changes without ruining the overall result. In baking this usually means something like replacing a portion of liquid with another liquid to give it a different flavor, or using a different color sugar or a different type of flour to change the texture.

Canning is a little different, just because you really have to have something exact to make it safe. But there are a lot of safe and approved recipes, so if you research and study all of the recipes you can find, you can figure out how to merge them if you want to tweak things a little based on your preferred ingredients. For instance, I am making a recipe from Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) called Anna's Orange Marmalade currently (it is in the overnight phase right now), but because I read in a few other recipes that you can enhance the flavor by replacing the water with orange juice, and because I saw some lime added in yet another recipe, I replaced 1 cup of the water with lime juice I happened to have. It still has the right amount of liquid, just slightly changed to add a little extra sourness.

A big thing with all of this is finding out WHY you are doing something. Why do you need yeast in bread? Because it won't rise if you don't use it. Why do you need lemon juice or vinegar in canned salsa? Because you need a certain level of acidity to kill harmful bacteria. Why do you need to yarn over or knit into the front and back of a stitch? Because you need to increase a stitch. Once you start figuring out why things work the way they do, that is why you can be more creative. I see people having issues with their knitting more because they don't know how many stitch variations work, yet they also don't want to follow a pattern. I too don't like to follow certain patterns very strictly, but it is a lot easier if you know why a stitch does something so you don't need to follow a pattern. However, with lace, I have no patience for figuring out my own fancy patterns, so I stick to the instructions on those. But even when I have an exact pattern, I read the whole thing first to make sure I understand all the instructions and can anticipate what will be next.

It is all about studying up and knowing what you are doing. Nothing I do is all that complicated, I just spend a good amount of prep time figuring things out first so then I don't feel like I'm jumping into something scary.

Also, the biggest thing? If you do screw things up it isn't the end of the world. I've made some real messes for dinner before, and hand to unravel many a knitting project. I think we all need to learn to be a little less scared to mess up and less concerned about the wasted time, and more interested in the learning process.

1 comment:

  1. I think that's a good point--to read ahead/study up on what you are doing. Because when I go to cook something I follow the directions AS I GO ALONG...and that can be a problem when one of the steps says "chill overnight" and I'm like "WHAT??!! I was making this for RIGHT NOW!!" doh!

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