I enjoy cooking. These days, with what feel like ever-increasing obligations in my work schedule and my increasingly long days at work, one of my low-key, relaxed pleasures remains experimenting with recipes, trying things out, refining them. And I wish the way I taught, the way I ask students to write, matched up better with the way I cook.
It starts with when I want something, with desire: when I’ve got a taste in my head, or an ingredient I want to work with. Lately, it’s been fish soup — not quite chowder, but close — and I’ve been coming at it from different directions, most of them involving Thai and Vietnamese flavors. So for the first draft, I tinkered with onion and garlic and sesame oil, fish broth, catfish, potatoes, green vegetables. Not good: the textures were terrible. The flavor of the broth was right, at least. So I regrouped, cooked the vegetables separately from the broth, used clam juice and curry paste and lime juice, added scallions and basil and cilantro at the end. Still not there: the broth is again the best part, but too many different vegetables are distracting, though it’s a gloriously green soup. Better than the first version, at least, in that it’s worth keeping and will feed me for a couple days. But too spiciness and citrus obscures the seafood flavors. I’m almost there, and I’ll try again in a week or two, reducing and focusing the base, making it simpler, making the accent notes work together.
I wish my students had the luxury of that extended process in their writing. I’ve tried to plan it into the course, to make it available, but when I write, I know that availability and desire without time — or any of those terms without the other — are often and too easily a recipe for 1-2-3 casseroles and tupperware leftovers. When I cook, I can come back to it because I want to.
Where’s the place for the student who makes the burnt dish and then makes the same burnt dish again? Sure: I need Shaughnessy and Bartholomae helping me with the recipes. Part of it is certainty and vocabulary, making a roux, roasting the spices, knowing when to deglaze; part of it’s knowing what ingredients you like to pull from. But the most important part, I think, is knowing what you want. What you’ve got a taste for: desire.
Lately, I’ve felt like I don’t know how to teach that last thing.