This September will mark several anniversaries for me. It will be 23 years since I married, and 23 years since I moved to Charlotte. (A couple of days apart for each event – who says I can't embrace change?)
Food writing also fell into my life in a late summer. I wrote my first food story, about classic Sunday dinner dishes, 18 years ago.
Write about one subject long enough and you will learn one or two things. So I started thinking recently about what I absolutely know for sure about cooking. Here are my 12 picks:
1. If someone else cooks it, it will taste better or look better than something you cooked yourself. This does not mean the other person is a better cook, it means you're more critical of your own creation.
2. Setting counts. Something you ate in a place that you loved will not taste as good somewhere else, even if you use the same ingredients.
Corollary to Rule 2: The same thing goes for companions: Food you eat with a friend will taste better than food you eat with someone you don't enjoy.
3. The best tools have the fewest moving parts. A knife has two: Your hand. The blade.
4. Gadgets rarely make life easier. But a great gadget can earn its keep.
For instance, I have a dandy Oxo cherry pitter. I only use it for a couple of weeks every year, in cherry season. But for those two weeks, it earns the small space it takes.
5. Always buy a bigger saucepan or skillet than you think you'll need. You can cook a small thing in a big pan, but you can't cook a big thing in a small pan.
6. Always have at least two sets of measuring cups and spoons. It saves so much time, it's worth it.
7. The simplest recipes yield the most pleasure. But really complicated ones yield a pride of accomplishment. Life ought to have both.
8. Cooking without a recipe is good for the soul. If you can remember all the ingredients, stop searching every magazine in the house for that recipe you lost. You'll probably make something just as good, and it will be made to your taste, not someone else's.
9. Planning saves money. So does throwing out the plan when you see something better. Lesson learned: There is no absolute right way, just the way that works best that moment.
10. The most popular dish at the potluck will be the one that is covered with something – cheese if it's a main dish, frosting if it's a dessert.
People talk healthy, but they get seconds of the lasagne.
11. Practice pays off. Cooking gets easier the more you do it. If you never cook, it won't be there when you need it.
12. The best recipes are the result of failures. Chocolate chip cookies were invented when someone made a mistake. It's only a failure if you can't eat the evidence.