Out of the blue, it struck me that nowhere is the power of words–syntax, structure, language–more fundamentally apparent than in cooking. Think about it. If I misinterpret a recipe, I could get some pretty unexpected results. Ambiguity in recipe-writing can be disastrous. In addition, not only does the recipe need to be clearly communicated, but the cook also has to have at least a basic understanding of “kitchen language.” Until my kids started to cook, I naively assumed anyone could read and follow a recipe right out of the gate. I had to take off my colored glasses to realize that terms like “double boiler” and “chiffonade” and even “broil” don’t come standard with everyone’s mental inventory of vocabulary.
As with any language, the beauty of a recipe is that when I have mastered it, I can start playing with it. I can tweak measurements and cooking times to soften the flavor or change the consistency. I can add herbs and spices to punctuate the taste. I can make subtle changes here and there to alter the character of the result. I can even leave something out and watch it fall flat.
I’ve lost track of whether I’m discussing language or cooking. Measurements, adjectives, ingredients, adverbs, temperature, punctuation, spices, words, herbs, syntax, flavor, order, vocabulary. Combine all ingredients and mix well.