What Happens When You Can’t Leave Well Enough Alone?

I’m a fiddler.

No, not the kind that inspires the Devil to bet a shiny fiddle made of gold against my soul.

I just can’t seem to follow directions, recipes or plans without giving them a little tweak. This is almost compulsive in the kitchen. I’ve only ever met a few recipes (all of them involving baking…which apparently has some “delicate” chemistry requiring one to pretty much stick to the recipe…but I often manage to still throw in a little something different) I couldn’t fiddle with a wee bit.

It used to drive my husband nuts that I couldn’t seem to follow a recipe. He’d tell me that recipes were there for a reason and that somebody else had already worked out the kinks. Fair enough but I’ve always considered recipes more as a general guide to the territory and not a strict itinerary. He’s since come to accept that I’ll probably never be able to leave well enough alone, especially in the kitchen.

And some of our best meals have come from those experiments.

Also, some of our worst. Just ask my husband about the Thai red curry incident.

But, you know, that’s how the cookie crumbles.

So, why is it that I can’t just follow recipes as is? I’m sure part of it is that I’m stubborn (I always want to have things my way…my mom always said so). But I think the biggest part is that I love to play, I love the joy of trying something new, not knowing how it’ll turn out and having it turn out beautifully. I love getting an answer to “what if” even if that answer is a ginormous “yuck.” It makes cooking and everything else fun.

Most everything, anyway.

Of course, sometimes it’s better to stick to the recipe, at least the first time around. You have to know how something’s supposed to work before you start making variations on it. This is actually something I’ve only discovered in recent years (I did say I was stubborn, didn’t I?).

All of this compulsive fiddling is probably why, as a writer, I’ve always enjoyed going at it by the seat of my pants. And, once I discovered there is a recipe of sorts to good writing, I wanted to play with it before I ever tried actually following it to the letter. However, I’ve discovered that writing is a little more like baking than making curry; there’s some delicate chemistry at work. Oh sure, there’s room for endless variations but only if you know the how the recipe’s really supposed to work.

……

Mrmph…sorry. I was thinking about curry. And brownies. I completely forgot whatever else I was going to say.

***

What about you? Do you like to follow a plan or blaze your own trail? Are there some areas in life where we simply must stick to the recipe or is everything an opportunity for variation? If you like to do things your way, what’s the funniest mishap you’ve had with that?

 

 

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Categories: Tuesday Toss-Up | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “What Happens When You Can’t Leave Well Enough Alone?

  1. My wife does the same thing. She normally adds things here and there that she thinks will make it better instead of just following the tried and true recipe. Luckily for me, she is normally right. 🙂

  2. I think I tend to be a fiddler only if I’m comfortable enough to do so. I constantly tweak recipes that I find, usually because I don’t have all of the ingredients, making a little improv necessary.

    But with most things in life, I like to do it by the book the first time around, and then go from there 🙂

    • The need to improvise fuels some of my tweaking too.

      Going the first round by the book is smart. It took me a loooooong time to figure that out for myself. 😀

  3. I fiddle with recipes, and I ALWAYS reduce both the temperature and time called for in baking. Baking anything for the length of time and at the temperature called for in recipes is guaranteed to produce hard, dry, overcooked cookies, brownies, cakes, etc.

    • Good advice. I usually work with the same temp (except for bread, for which I like to use a lower temp) but always start checking at least couple minutes before time time given for baking.

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