Wednesday, July 16, 2008

One, Two, Three, Oops! Better Karma in the Kitchen

I have to ruin most dishes before I get the hang of them, but I can usually limit my ruining to a single instance. It's a memory problem.

In cognitive psychology it's called digit span. It has nothing to do with how broadly your fingers reach. It's the number of digits a person can recall. When someone is giving their phone number, it's easy to catch the whole number if we know the area code and prefix. There are only four digits left, and four isn't a great digit span. If none of it is familiar, we can break it down into smaller pieces -- two three-digit and one four-digit set of numbers. Give the average person a 14-digit number without any clear patterns and in a single exposure they may pick up the first 4 or 5 digits. Me, I'd have to work pretty hard for 5. My digit span is about 3 1/2.

Recipes can be like this. Ever have a recipe that looks straightforward, but trips you up in the kitchen because step two really includes step two, three and four? I read the step, execute it, move onto the next step, then realize that after adding the garlic I was also supposed to add the minced ginger and five spice. Every part of every step may contain getting tools, rifling through cabinets for ingredients, using tools and putting things away. Occasionally, I can blame the Mini Chef for distracting me, but my memory problems predate her.

I heard a piece on NPR about how Hare Krishnas connect the consciousness/karma of the food preparer to the food. Monks do not eat in restaurants because they don't know whose consciousness has been absorbed in the food. I'm working on a list of ways for me to follow recipes that will prevent the one, two, three, oops! Maybe I can eliminate the ruining of food as a necessary step to learning a recipe. Maybe omitting "damn its" will improve the food's karma too.

I suspect I'm not the only one with this issue. I'm open to additional suggestions. Much of this is common sense. Some of these you may have learned from your parents, and if you had a home economics class, you probably heard some there. If this is embarrassingly obvious, good for you. But some of it I wish I would have been told a long time ago. Many of my frustrating moments in the kitchen I can trace back to not adhering to one or more of these:
  1. Read the recipe at least twice. I've had everything lined up, then on the second reading discover the part about marinating overnight. Frozen Pizza!

  2. Make sure you really have all the ingredients and in the quantity specified in the recipe.

  3. Don't cook in a messy kitchen. When I run out of counter space, discover the salad bowl I need hasn't been washed, or the sink is full of greasy pots and pans, I go nuts. People who know me have trouble imagining me going nuts, but it happens.

  4. Figure out the timing, not just of the roasting chicken, but how long the salad will take to put together.

  5. Ask someone else to set the table.

  6. Anticipate when you'll need ingredients and in what form. For instance, if you saute onions and garlic and need to add chicken breasts, make sure you've prepared the chicken before the onions are just black vestiges of scallions.

  7. The same as above, except with tools and plates. Do you have a bowl or plate ready to put that chicken on if it's supposed to be taken off after browning on each side?

  8. Don't count on your memory to track when you put something in the oven. I shouldn't need to explain that.

  9. Wait until you're well into your project before treating yourself to a glass. There are laws against driving under the influence, don't you think sharp knives and heat could also constitute a safety hazard?

  10. Make food that you enjoy eating. If you don't enjoy potato salad, you'll probably resent the process of making it.

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