I’ve taken piano lessons on and off for most of my life. Piano lessons taught me to convert a page of very specifically placed symbols into that exact work of classical music (more or less). I would spend weeks or months studying the notation in an attempt to add somebody else’s masterpiece to my limited repertoire. I happen to love this meticulous and structured process. It’s like solving a puzzle or cracking a code.
My approach to cooking is very different. You might say I cook by ear. Or maybe improvisation is a better word. Not in an Art Tatum kind of way but more in a 6-year-old-hitting-keys-that-sound-pretty-together kind of way. My favorite meal to make involves seeing what’s in the fridge and putting it in a pot.
Occasionally I’ll follow a recipe or peruse the internet for some basic cooking tips. And it’s not entirely a free-for-all even when I forgo the wisdom of those more skilled than I. Here are some of the rules I try to follow:
- Cook the hard stuff first
- Most meals benefit from sauteed onions and garlic
- Use a 1:2 ratio for grains to liquid, boil then simmer
- “Dump in a lot of spices” (direct quote from my mom on making soup)
- Grains + Veggies + Protein make a pretty hearty meal
I realize my simplicity may be blasphemous to many. Eventually I do hope to have a more sophisticated approach to cooking, but for now this works. I don’t cook meat, so my chances of poisoning somebody are pretty low. Welcome to the first year of marriage!
Here’s an example of my experimental cooking from tonight. These are the things I found in the kitchen that I thought would taste good together:
I chopped up the onion, sauteed it in olive oil with the garlic, then added sweet potato and tempeh before tossing in the zucchini. Next came the aforementioned spice dump (I used pepper, cumin, basil, and rosemary… do these even go together?). I poured in half of the diced tomatoes with the quinoa and vegetable broth (in the magic 1:2 ratio), boiled then simmered covered. I added some spinach and it turns out I was right- pretty delicious!
There’s more to be said here with respect to learning processes. To what extent can experiential learning or play teach foundational concepts? Can studying prototypes foster adequate generalization of rules to allow for unique creation? Can either approach be successful without explicit instruction?
I’m sure extensive research has been conducted to address these questions in various fields (academics, language acquisition, and probably management and sports psychology). My hunch is that at least some explicit teaching is ideal, if not essential. Beyond that, I suppose it depends on the field, the learner, and the goal. What’s your style? Do you follow the recipe and play the sonata, or do you prefer to take a stab at your own masterpiece?
Whether I’m playing it by ear or following a recipe, Ari has come to expect my half-apologetic motto in the kitchen: It’s all an experiment.