Friday, August 24, 2012

Followed Directions Well

A couple of nights ago, I came home late from work and whipped up an improvised dinner.  I sauteed some onions, garlic, and mushrooms, deglazed the pan with some white wine, and threw in some diced tomatoes, sliced kalamata olives, fennel seed, oregano, and cubed, leftover pork roast.  Oh, and salt and pepper, too of course. After a few minutes of simmering, I served the melange over pan-grilled eggplant slices and garnished it with a bit of shredded mozzarella.  Quite good with some crusty bread and a glass of pinot grigio.  Nothing to it.

Oh, but there is.  

In the past, I did not extemporize.  I was not one of those people who could make up dishes based on a loose idea or whatever was on hand.  The gears of my brain locked up when challenged to throw dinner together.  I religiously searched out recipes, made plans, shopped according to a list, and cooked what I had planned and shopped for because I didn't feel able to do anything else.

We ate fairly well that way, but I yearned for the instinctive freedom other people seemed to have.  That yearning was my personal reason for attending culinary school.  I hoped that by being exposed to more knowledge about and experience with food, I would become more comfortable with creating dishes or meals.  I longed to be free and easy with dinner, rather than bound by a plan.

Not that I dislike plans.  I still make one and usually follow it because it makes life simpler.  I even enjoy creating the plan, with recipe research taking hours if I please.  Mostly now, though, it's more inspiration than mandate.  I know that I can off-road it if I want, as I did that night.  Occasionally, I do have to remind myself to quit leaning on the crutch of the inspiring recipe and just do it already, because I own the power now.  I'm acquainted with flavor-makers and with my own instincts. I can be as free as I choose to be.

I can find freedom now because I realize that I do have instincts and ideas.  They were just obfuscated with self-doubt and over-analysis in the past.  Now, I sense and honor them, catching myself before I'm too snagged in questions and following my own leading instead.

That night, when I thought of adding the fennel seed to my mixture, I began to wonder, to reconsider.  Then I plunged on with my gut leading, and it turned out fine.  It's sad to take forty-some years to learn to trust yourself, but so it is.

I still prefer the workday ease and thoughtlessness of a prepared menu, but it's a choice now, stemming from efficiency and not fear.  I follow recipe directions to see what they know, yet believe that I can trust what I know, too.

The next day when my warmed leftovers were scenting the break room and someone asked if that aroma was my lunch, I answered that yes, it was, just a little something I threw together last night.  And I felt very proud, in a grateful way.  I wasn't showing off.  I was marveling that I've come far enough to do, even if only at a humble level, what I used to envy other people doing.

I used to say about myself, with bitter humor, that my tombstone should read "Followed directions well."  I was referring then to my dependency on instruction and my supposed lack of creativity.  I guess the humor wouldn't have been bitter if I hadn't known somewhere inside that I wanted to be different and was capable of it. 

These days, I'm glad to know that I could use that epitaph in a much happier way. My unearthed instincts are the directions I follow well now.  In the kind of transformation of which I love being mindful, those formerly bitter words have a new meaning with which I can be at peace and at play.  

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