More than once I’ve asked an enthusiastic fellow cook for a recipe after hearing them go on about how much they like making a particular dish, and in response, gotten: “oh no, I never write anything down. I just throw things together” and with that, many times, the exchange ends; the prospect is squashed. I think we tend to regard The Recipe as the only respectable, acceptable means of sharing our cooking, and that anything less is just lazy or haphazard. But I’d like to think there’s room in our sharing for more than just The Recipe, and that there’s more to be shared than recipes alone.
The way I’ve learned to share on my own blog is not the way I tend to engage with others. I love seeing how other bloggers put together their meals. I look for patterns. I love learning about their processes for making and doing. I lust after each of their brilliant and beautiful creations in its entirety but rarely do I even consider replicating an entire recipe line for line. Instead I glean from them details that inspire my own cooking — how to build a sauce or dressing from simple, interchangeable parts; clever pairings of flavors; different ways of structuring a truly interesting and attractive meal that can be applied to an infinite combination of ingredients. I think a lot of us do that intuitively. I’d guess that many of us cook with more ideas and inspiration floating around in our minds than numbers. Why should it seem so odd that we share that way, too?
I’m not vying to replace The Recipe as our standard format for sharing; I’m asking for more. I have in mind the everyday stuff we make — the breakfasts and lunches and dinners and whatever elses. The rustic and the repeatable, whether calling for three ingredients or thirty-three. I think that an honest map or representation of someone’s own intuitive cooking process is no less valuable or worth sharing than an exhaustive and precisely measured recipe. Even if ingredients are meticulously measured and tested and developed on one end (which takes a lot of time and attention on the part of the recipe developer and I have hella respect and appreciation for that!), the intended, perfect result can’t be guaranteed. Tablespoons and teaspoons and other units of measurement aren’t universal and the vessels by which we measure those units tend not to be calibrated to any standard, anyway. Ingredients vary depending on source. Availability varies. Ovens vary. Cookware varies. Tastes vary. Not all cooking requires or even benefits from exactness. I think our diverse sets of taste buds can attest to this; one person’s “perfectly balanced” could be another’s “heinously underseasoned and reeking of rosemary.” Diversity exists invariably among our kitchens and I think that’s a beautiful thing. One size does not fit all and neither does one recipe or one way of sharing.
I’d like to embrace the entropy and celebrate possibility with the open-ended exchange of ideas. Some of our food ideas are best communicated as just that — ideas. Janet of The Taste Space recently shared what she called a quasi-recipe (basic structure, estimations, basic instructions; something similar to what you might hear if you asked someone on the spot to walk you through a dish they brought to a potluck) and asked if that type of thing was helpful. My answer was emphatically yes! These ideas not only illuminate the ingredients and steps contained within the dish as made by the original person; they also open up doors for us to fill the gaps with our own creative riffs and variations. One of my favorite comments I’ve received on this blog was from a person who made one of my recipes with her own deliciously clever twists. Her message communicated to me that she saw my list of ingredients as a source of inspiration — a starting point — from which she made a delicious creation of her own. I loved that. I want the way I share to encourage and foster that kind of interaction. I endeavor to celebrate the our-ness of our cooking. I strive to share all of the ideas I find wonderful in my own cooking and living in a multitude of forms (and I hope you’ll share with me, too).
Here’s the first of what I hope will be many ideas to enjoy and exchange: a simple and savory sweet potato mash, quick enough for a workday lunch and delicious enough for any time, ever. I love making (and eating!) this so much that I mentioned it in this interview for Working Girl Wellness. I hope this simple mash and this simple idea might offer you the same utility and wealth of options that it has for me. Happy January and Happy New Year, friends.
- one small sweet potato, scrubbed
- a knob of coconut oil or butter
- pinch of ground chipotle
- pinch of garlic powder
- salt to taste
- water as needed
- cook (boil, bake, or microwave) your sweet potato until tender.
- squeeze the flesh from the skin, if desired, or mash it in. mix in oil and seasonings with a fork, adding water as necessary for a satisfying consistency. enjoy.
nix the garlic in favor of ground cinnamon for a totally warm and spicy treat. add honey or maple for extra somethin-somethin.
if you’re interested in the other mushy but delicious items on the plate pictured: one is local rutabaga greens fried up with garlic, onion, coconut milk; the other is mashed black-eyed peas with coconut milk, garlic, chilies, and cumin. simple. wholesome. delicious.
other ways to lunch
- one-pot quinoa & tatsoi (or other greens)
- pan-seared rutabaga & tempeh salad with honey-sesame tamari dressing
- white bean & shallot soup with tahini
- sharing recipes and non-recipes & simple sweet potato mash
- southern-style muhammara (roasted pepper + pecan spread with olive oil)
- cucumber millet salad on a bed of hummus
- southern pesto squash pasta + links for a week’s end
- warm butternut squash and chickpea salad with lemon tahini dressing
- thai style stir-fried butternut squash with eggs