Thursday, November 25, 2010

Going Off Recipe

Two days ago I had the pleasure of attending a cooking lesson at The Santa Fe School of Cooking.  The class was taught by Chef Rocky Durham who was a most pleasant combination of historian, comedian, culinary expert mixed in with humility, compassion and (instantly detectable) character.  He explained to us that the menu for Mexican Cuisines III had been developed by someone else and he was not the author of the recipes that were sitting in front of us.  While he found merit in the recipes and was going to instruct us on these specific items; he also made it very clear that he was going to go "off recipe"....sort of as the spirit moved him.

I will certainly blog about the cooking class, recipes, etc. when I get all my Santa Fe photos properly uploaded, cropped, etc.  For today, though, I want to talk about going "off recipe."

I suppose each of us is born into, and unto, completely unique circumstances.  Depending on a myriad of variables I think each life starts to take on it's own "recipe."  Some of the ingredients are just basic...just salt, for instance.  Usually, in cooking and baking, there is some sort of oil, butter, fat at the foundation.  There is often a binder like an egg, egg white, egg yolk.  In baking there are your "dry ingredients" and your "wet ingredients" and most baking recipes start from the "dry" mixed into "wet" sort of place.  These fundamentals can not be argued or tampered with.

I prefer baking to cooking.  I don't consider myself a "bad" cook by any stretch.  But I think I shy away from cooking for a number of reasons.  One is that as a single is really a pain to cook for one person day in and day out.  It is hard to purchase items "for one" and I am terrible about eating left overs.  I also tend to back away from cooking because there are far less rules and boundaries.  You can really go all over the place, a pinch of this and a toss of that.  You can switch gears mid-way and wind yourself up in a place you never intended to go.  By it's very is NOT who I AM.

Baking, on the other hand, demands exquisite precision and attention to detail.  One shard of flour more, one granule of sugar extra, one change in barometric pressure might render a valiant attempt into a terrible failure.  (Lately my pound cakes and brownies have suffered terrible fates as I bake them and immediately toss them out.  I think I need a convection oven!)  Baking, for me, is a labor of love.  I like to take my time and enjoy the process (usually with a spot of bourbon that helps to heighten the sweetness of each recipe I make).  Where something calls for melted butter, I choose to do a slow melt on the stove as opposed to the instant gratification of pressing some buttons on the microwave.  I mix sugars together with my hands imagining the feeling of the best quality satin sheets.  I grate whole nutmegs and grind cinnamon.  I use only organic products as I feel that they not only "crisp" up the flavor of the baked goods but they also hearken back to the days when people "made" their own baking products from the fruits of the land they lived on.  I make a special trip to the farmer's market to collect eggs from the same gentle woman who lovingly raises her chickens and is so proud of what they produce.  In short, the process warms my heart and takes me back to a place when values and sensibilities were....just different.  At least in my mind!

Going "off recipe" in baking is not an option.  I usually thrown in a flavor here or there that might enhance the over all experience; but never do I tamper with the fundamental ingredients.  Baking IS who I AM.  Going "off recipe" makes me very nervous.  I am not a rule breaker or a thrill seeker.  By nature I like to stick to a general plan and follow through with it.  Don't get me wrong...I do have a creative side; but as "living" life understanding has always been that there is a recipe and you do not deviate from it lest you find yourself desperately searching to get back on course.

Having given it some thought during this amazing week in Santa is what my life recipe "should be:"

2 amazing parents
Siblings (optional)
12 years foundational education
4 years university
2 years graduate studies (at minimum)
1-2 serious boyfriends
1-2 heartbreaks
1 husband
1 marriage
1-2 dogs
2-3 children
1-4 homes
1 career
1 solid faith in God
1 sweet relationship with Christ
70-80 years of living
And a pinch of joy, sorrow, celebration, trials, tribulations, successes and failures thrown in for a bit of flavor every now and again.

Combine and make certain you don't wait too long to find your husband and have your children because that could result in an imperfect creation and irregularities.  Keep a firm handle on the amount of sorrow, heartbreak, trials, tribulations and failures because you certainly don't want an excess of those ingredients.  That might render the product slightly bitter and burned ever so slightly...a golden crispiness.  Infuse the ingredients with as much joy and celebration and success as possible.  Those ingredients are as essential as butter and mayonnaise is to a Paula Deen recipe.  I believe her philosophy is that you can never have too many of those items.  Do not deviate from this pre-scripted plan.  It is expected, the norm and any variation will result in a bizarre end product that will offend the sensibility of the recipe.

Here's what the recipe has ACTUALLY been:

1 unbelievably loving mother
1 amazing father (who has set the bar so high, I can't imagine any other man living up to it)
1 extraordinarily tender and thoughtful childhood
4 amazing aunts
3 cousins who are my "sisters"
1 God daughter
1 God son (as of January)
1 year pre-school (picked up one life long friend)
7 years primary school (private school)
2 years middle school (private school)
4 years high school (picked up two life long friends)
4 years college (picked up a NUMBER of life long friends)
1 semester abroad in London, England (acquired a love for Europe, theater, art and traveling)
2 years graduate school (picked up 3 life long friends + one of their sisters)
11 years assessing students for special education services (picked up a NUMBER of life long friends)
1 apartment
1 home
3 kitties
4-5 European vacations
Unlimited travel throughout the United States
1 belief in God
1 fresh relationship with Christ
4 and 1/2 major heart breaks (if left alone long enough will turn into tender friendships, sometimes)
2-3 bad decision (still working on forgiving myself and others)
1 blessed road to The Children's Bereavement Center of South Texas (began to find my voice here)

I suppose that is my "base" recipe.  Here are some of the "flavors" that have given my recipe it's unique flavor:

Unlimited amounts of love and laughter
Tears of joy-save these; they are hard to find
Tears of sorrow-use sparingly; they make for puffy eyes...even though sometimes they feel so good to shed
Fear of failure-just a pinch of this; if not complete omission....often results in paralysis
Limited self confidence-be very careful of this one; especially in your teens and twenties
Books-can never have enough of this
Music-can never have enough to this
Movies-can never have enough of this
1 Sassy obsession with a television show
2 Serious episodes of depression-you can't always control for's like barometric pressure and have to accept it and adjust for it....and not feel embarrassed
1 Terrible love of shoes-they set the mood for everything
1 Pinch of adventure and spontaneity-if you are able to add more then you should
Unlimited amounts of forgiveness-because we all expect it back someday, don't we?
1 Heaping amount of "terrible with money!"-although re framing that notion has proved helpful recently
0 Children-but trying to figure this one out on my own
0 Husband-no longer feel the need to figure this one out on my own
Several spiritual guides-find quality ones, keep in abundance and shower with love
Tons of people who call me "Auntie Patty"-this sweetens any recipe and feels like warm melted butter in your heart

While I am certain there are millions more flavors I can add or take away that have made this recipe unique to me...the truth is I am a glass and a half into some serious champagne and it is best if I put this blog to rest.

I am coming to terms with "my recipe" and how it has completely gone "off script" from the recipe I once held onto so tightly I practically strangled it.  I am releasing the grip and adding flavors, a pinch of that and hint of this, and beautifully living out my own recipe, adding and taking away with each step I take forward.

As I was composing this blog post my friend, Jennifer, sent me this via text messaging.  I laughed at the coincidence; but I also laughed at how short this recipe is compared to mine.  So typical of me to over-think, over-analyze and over-process.

Today, on this day of giving thanks, I am MOST grateful for the last six months of my life.  I have learned so much about myself, my value and my voice.  None of which would be possible without Jesus, Scripture and my friends and family.  May you all be so blessed.


  1. I loved this post Patty! My life has certainly gone off recipe as well...but I think that IS life. At least that's what I'm starting to suspect. I love you my friend!

  2. Next time I see you,I'll ask, "what's baking" rather than "what's cooking?" Thanks for explaining the difference and sharing your thoughts. The young lady I have known is a mature grown woman now! We all feel blessed to have you part of our life. Love you. We are proud of you just like your parents are. Hoping to see you soon, Uncle Darshan