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I’ve been making the occasional big deal out of learning how to cook during the shutdown. Under ordinary circumstances, my wife does most of the cooking while I do most of the dishes and related cleanup. This division suits us both. She’s a much better cook and seems to enjoy the process, and I don’t mind handling the dirty dishes or dealing with spills and wipe downs, though I’m sometimes entertained by just how many dishes can be generated in the preparation of one meal.

But the truth of the matter, and I suspect it’s true for a lot of people who are in similar boats right now, is that I’m not really learning to cook, at least not directly. I’m learning how to follow a recipe. And here’s the secret: it’s not that hard.

The cooking part comes out of the learning how to follow a recipe, and it’s just like any other skill that way. You learn something new by following the instructions for things that have already been shown to work. Slowly, you build the body of knowledge to be able to manage the skill on your own, in this case flavour combinations, substitutions, measurements, and so on.

Almost five weeks into the shutdown (well, when my work was shut down), I have a pretty clear idea of just how much a teaspoon (or half of one), tablespoon, and cup are. I still measure carefully, mostly, but I can tell what looks approximately right.

I know the proportions to mix my own onion salt (3 parts salt to 1 part onion powder) if I run out. I know that it makes my cooking life a whole lot easier if I prep everything in advance and gather all the ingredients before I start the prep.

I know that clean up is easier if you can put stuff away as you finish using it (oil back in the cupboard, salt goes there, remaining peppers go back in the fridge, that spoon I’m not going to use again drops in the sink, and so on.)

I’m learning when to check on things because just because the recipe says X minutes at Y temperature, doesn’t mean it won’t cook a little faster or slower because you’re not in the same kitchen as the person who perfected the recipe.

I’m learning that I’m less fond of the cleanup when I’m the one who generates most of the mess. This has probably helped me develop a fondness for one-pot dinners.

And probably dozens of other things. It’s funny the knowledge that builds up inside your head by following instructions from someone who’s skill in something is far more advanced than your own. And it’s funny just how many things work that way.

I’ll never be a world-class cook, I expect, but I can do a lot better than toast, pizza, and the same stir fry one a week. Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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