The Input Method: I’m Learning Japanese The Way I Learned How To Cook

This isn’t a cooking blog, I’m not a “yummy mummy” and I don’t know what Pinterest even *is*. But I really like to cook, and apparently I’m also quite good at it.  Good enough that I can agree to cook my husband a special dinner and have that be part of his birthday present.  Good enough that my vegan cranberry-orange scones got rave reviews at the office.

This isn't a cooking blog, so this isn't a very good photo of the calzones.

This isn’t a cooking blog, so this isn’t a very good photo of the calzones.

Last night as I was making calzones, I got to thinking about this.  How did I get good at cooking?  I was never interested in it as a child.  I never wanted an Easy-Bake Oven, and I certainly wanted no part of helping my mother in the kitchen (unless there was frosting or batter to lick, of course).  And as it turns out, my mother doesn’t even like to cook – she does it as a necessity and sticks to a limited repertoire.

When I moved out of my parents’ house, I lived with 5 other girls from varying backgrounds, and became a vegetarian.  So I never learned how to cook meat, but did learn about tofu, the classic college stir-fry, and lots and lots of brownies (mmm…..).  I still never considered myself any kind of chef.

But now, I can make all kinds of things, often without a recipe.  I can do curry, fried rice, smoothies, creamy soups, homemade pizza, and a large variety of baked goods…I’m a good person to be married to.

My grandmother says that in order to learn how to cook, you have to be willing to throw out inedible food.  Thing is, I cannot remember ever having to do this.  Okay, sometimes dishes don’t come out exactly as intended (vegan cakes have a tendency not to rise), but it’s always been edible.  How have I had such a high success rate while learning?

Easy – I followed the recipe.

This seems obvious to me, but actually, I don’t know many people who do it.  My dad once made inedible waffles by not reading the instructions on the new waffle-maker.  My mother-in-law’s stuffing (from a mix) turns out differently every single time.  My American friend who decided to make egg nog for our first Christmas in the UK went about it by getting three different recipes off the internet and then picking and choosing his favourite parts of each one.

If I want to make something new, I get a recipe and then follow instructions to the letter.  I measure everything: I measure the coffee for the coffee pot, the water for the rice, the potatoes for the soup. This is one of those things about me that people consider an idiosyncrasy and I consider completely normal.

So now that I’ve been following recipes for about 10 years, to be honest, I don’t have to be as strict.  I didn’t follow a recipe for the calzones I made yesterday – I started with a recipe ages ago, but I have given it little tweaks over the years and now it is my own creation.  And if I need to make coffee and there isn’t a measuring spoon available, I can kind of eyeball it. (Note:  don’t do this with baking!  That’s why it’s “so hard” – you must measure everything!)

But I can only be creative now because I wasn’t creative to begin with.  Humans have been cooking for a long, long time, so I didn’t need to come along and re-invent the Bundt cake.  Similarly, Japanese has been spoken for a very, very long time.  So there’s no need for me to invent my own kind of Japanese.  I’ll just keep listening and reading and measuring and following instructions, and then one day I’ll be able to come up with my own sentences.

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