7/17/13

Don't follow blindly; follow mindfully.

This applies to life, but also to recipes. There are times when the instructions that you're given don't make sense, and there is no way to quickly get into contact with the author of those instructions. In cases like those, I ask that you follow mindfully, not blindly.

There was a recipe that I'd seen for a certain tofu dish. It read like any other: press tofu, pat dry, add spices, add 2 tablespoon of salt, 2 tsp of pepper, and 1 tablespoon of red pepper flakes. At that moment, I put the brakes on my train of thought. It was like hearing loud, screaming claxons, warning me away from disaster. How is it possible that you have almost equal amounts of salt and heat? That seemed way excessive. I assumed that it was a typo, and scaled the red pepper flakes back to a much more reasonable 1 tsp. The dish turned out delicious at the end. It was a tiny bit on the spicy side, but still quite tasty. If I had gone with that full tablespoon of chile flakes, I shudder to think of the pain that would result from that level of heat.

Years ago, when I was visiting Quito, Ecuador on a class field trip, one of the people there knew the directions to a specific place we all wanted to go check out. For the sake of this story, we'll say it was a ... library. Yes. A library. Stop looking at me like that!

Anyway. On the way to the library, we had to cross multiple intersections. I was able to follow along, because the street signs for stop, go, and walk/don't walk are pretty universal. Unfortunately, the guy who was leading the way wasn't paying close enough attention, and wandered into traffic. My friend yanked me back before I was about to do the same. "That's the DON'T WALK sign, Dino. What are you, nuts!? Just because that idiot is walking into oncoming traffic doesn't mean that you need to be a lemming and follow him off the cliff!"

Whether it be adding entirely too much heat to a recipe, or walking into oncoming traffic, both are situations where a bit of mindfulness, and careful attention would prevent some pretty horrible disasters. It's the reason why when I make a recipe for the first time, I'll go through and read it thoroughly. I'll make sure I understand the instructions. If there's a technique that I'm not familiar with, I'll go onto a popular video posting website, and look it up. Why? Because when I'm on unfamiliar ground, I want to make sure that the path is going to be as smooth as possible. Even with all that preparation work, there are times when I'll miss a step completely, and slap myself on the forehead for being such a dunce.

Similarly, when I'm in a new city, or following directions for the first time, I'm extra careful about looking all around, making note of the road that I'm on (and the road I need to be on), checking frequently with the GPS (sorry, but printed maps confuse me, since they don't have a giant arrow pointing me to where I need to go) to ensure that I'm not going the wrong way. Even then, I still manage to get myself lost with hilarious frequency.

Think what would happen if I were to take a recipe or a new city without all those precautions!

The point is that by being careful, I'm not guaranteeing that I'll be perfect. There's no such thing. What I'm doing is stacking the odds in my favour that I will end up successful in my ventures. When I'm reading or making a recipe for the first time, I don't like distractions (TV turned on, someone chatting to me casually, my MP3 player in my ear), because I find myself losing my spot as I follow along the recipe. Similarly, when I'm trying to navigate a tricky set of directions (or even a simple one; I really am pretty hopeless at getting to the right place the first time), I pull my earphones off, and clear my brain of erroneous thoughts. In the car, I'll ask that the radio be turned down, and that any conversation not involved in getting us there in one piece be put on hold (I don't drive, so I'm frequently assigned the role of navigator).

There are memorable flubs in both cooking and life that I could tell you about, but that's for another day.
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