The Muppets (feat. The Swedish Chef), "Pöpcørn"

>> Thursday, December 15, 2011

The ScatterKat has been pleased with my cooking so far, insofar as I've actually cooked much for her; I've made a few things, mostly pretty simple, though there's also been a good bit of frozen vegetables you steam in the microwave or prepared-cook-to-eat meals from the supermarket. (I try to avoid frozen prepared meals for the most part because the ingredients lists just look too much like a stock order for a high school chem lab or something.) I really suspect she's just a very easily-pleased audience, though the nice thing about that is how much she enjoys a bite of food.

The thing is, I tend to be a neurotic cook. This probably doesn't surprise anyone who knows me or is a regular reader. I like recipes to be explicit: tell me exactly what a "dash" is or exactly how many minutes something should be in the oven; giving me subjective instructions like, "until it is thoroughly browned" will have me all nervy. Which is absurd, of course, because there's no way for some of these directions to be any more explicit than they are--e.g. there isn't really a way to say that a roast should be in the slow cooker exactly so many hours and minutes because it depends on the size of the roast and personal preferences about how rare or tender the thing ought to be when it's "done" and vagaries of starting temperature and of cooking equipment and so on. And the truth is, I haven't done too badly (if I'm allowed to say so) by winging (no pun intended) things like just improvising how I want to prepare a duck before I put it in the oven. I did alright with my last roast with some improvisation; and here the neurotic thing comes back into play because that puts the pressure on--now I want to make the roast exactly as I did last time, because it was successful, but because there was some improvisation involved, I can't actually repeat the precise steps necessary to replicate the results, so now I have another roast in the fridge but I'm almost scared to cook it.

Cooking is art, not science, which is unfortunate for me. I have control issues, I have to admit. Personal control issues, I mean, not that I like controlling others: i.e. I like to know exactly when and how something is going to happen or I get all angsty and high-wired about it. Spontaneity is not my strong suit.

I have to sort of admire The Swedish Chef, you know. He's all id in the kitchen. Okay, so he usually blows something up, and gods know, "popcorn shrimp" is not shrimp served with popcorn. (Not just the gods, I mean: we all know that, right?) He's got that little-kid-bravery in the kitchen, that critical inexperience that allows small children the liberty to invent anything because they don't know you're not supposed to. So it makes him a force of comedic chaos and usually results in singed eyebrows and besooted clothing; I still have to respect and admire the gleeful panache.

It's an obvious short step--to me, at least, and perhaps to some of my readers but maybe not to others--from The Swedish Chef's mad creativity in the kitchen to mad creativity just everywhere. I hate that I've lost that innocence if I ever had it. The curse of age to an arty type, I think, is that you usually have this horrible tradeoff between the spontaneous creativity that youthful ignorance allows and the skills and experience that age permits. That is, I think we've all wondered why some musician, director, novelist, painter or other artist was so much "better" (and often more prolific, too) in their early days even though they're very obviously objectively more-skilled at their craft now. I fear the answer may be that the fact they didn't know what they were doing back then was what allowed them to be so bold and inventive while what they know now constrains them even as they're so much better, now, at what they're actually doing within that smaller perimeter. And what really scares me, personally (because I like being creative and have a self-image of myself as a creating person), is the probability that there isn't much of a sweet spot where one is simultaneously good and fecund; I'm pretty sure I'm a better writer than I was yesterday, and will be a better writer tomorrow than I am now, but I'm very much aware that I seemed to have more to say when I was thirty and more than that when I was twenty (and, honestly, was imagining shit all the time when I was ten) than I do approaching forty. (It's not hard, inevitably and irrationally extrapolating from there, to fear the springs will be bone-dry by fifty.)

If I may conclude with a toast: here's to The Swedish Chef, and who would've thought of him as an aspirational figure? We can only hope we never lose the knack for accidentally destroying our kitchens while our meals continue to taunt us.


Carol Elaine Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 12:26:00 PM EST  

Well, he is the Swedish Chef. Therefore, he is awesome, even with blowing stuff up in the kitchen. It's no wonder that you find inspiration from him.

And your post actually inspires me to update my damned blog...

timb111 Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 1:44:00 PM EST  

I recommend "Cooking For Geeks" where the emphasis is on expirementing (hacking) recipes. Lots of fun, also you get to buy an infrared thermometer which has lots of uses around the home.

Nick from the O.C.,  Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 2:54:00 PM EST  

I'll be 51 next week. I find I have more to say, and better tools to use to help my say it, than I did when I was 40.

YMMV, of course. But I wouldn't sweat it, dude. Age is just a number, and not an indication of where you sit on the ennervation sprectrum.

Eric Friday, December 16, 2011 at 12:05:00 AM EST  

Thanks for the supportive words, Nick; hope you're right.

And Timb: I've added CfG to my list of things I need to get. Thank you.

CE: Yes, you do need to update your damned blog. :)

Tom Friday, December 16, 2011 at 11:22:00 AM EST  

"Dill wed? We don't need no stinkin' dill weed!" and "Miracle Whip, not mayonaise." Does that count as improvisation?

All I know is that I'm still tickled when someone likes what I cooked. That feels like childhood innocence to me. Even if, as is mostly the case, I'm my only consumer, and so my only critic, I'm still tickled when I cook something and it turns out well. So good on ya, and even better when you have an appreciative audience!

Eric Friday, December 16, 2011 at 11:39:00 AM EST  

"Miracle Whip"?! That substance comes straight from Hell and I have a pretty good idea how it's created, but I won't perturb you with details. Ugh.

Phiala Friday, December 16, 2011 at 12:45:00 PM EST  

You could ditch cooking and take up baking instead. Where cooking is art, baking is science.

I also recommend becoming a devotee of Harold McGee.

Warner Friday, December 16, 2011 at 3:21:00 PM EST

And I say cooking as well as baking is science.

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