Tag Archives: Theory of Cooking Relativity

Caramel Knowledge

Caramel Knowledge is a cookbook from the 1980’s,Caramel Knowledge

not to be confused with the movie Carnal Knowledge,a product of the ’70’s….

Carnal Knowledge

Jack Nicholson, Art Garfunkel, Ann-Margret and Candice Bergen

I bought the book for the title. ANYONE who could get away with a title like that is a friend of mine, and I would support that friendship by buying his books. But since the author, Al Sicherman,

Al Siderman

Al Siderman

is in Minnesota, still working at the Star Tribune we’ve never actually met.

It was in Caramel Knowledge that I first learned of  The Theory of Cooking Relativity

But I remembered it wrong. So after I tell you what I actually read, the words that have remained on the pages all these many years, then I will tell you MY theory, with the words that have been in my head (and coming out of my mouth ) for many of these same many years.

It starts with popovers. Al has a a no-fail popover recipe that someone has all sorts of trouble making.

Popovers - I've only tried them once, and since they came out 'meh' I haven't tried them again, even though Al has offered me a fail safe recipe. Maybe someday, maybe never - either way, I,m OK with it.

Popovers – I’ve only tried them once, and since they came out ‘meh’ I haven’t tried them again, even though Al has offered me a fail safe recipe. Will I try again?  Maybe someday, maybe never – either way, I,m OK with it.

A reader of Al’s, Esme Evans, suggested

Evans Theory of Relative Competence: Every time you figure out how to cook something new reasonably well, you cease to be able to cook something you had thought you had mastered.” p. 43.

She has examples – fallen cakes after mastering baklava; good pie crust = unable to separate eggs (making a lemon meringue pie  becomes a  trail….)

There’s a certain amount of sense in this, which is how in my brain I came up with The Theory of Cooking Relativity.

The theory states: Each person has a set point of culinary competence, which varies with each person. Some people can be extremely good at lots of things  – think Bobby Flay or Julia Child – this is the high end of the relative scale. There are a few – a very few – who are not very good at most things . You know – the ones who are not up to the challenge of Campbell’s soup.

Open can. Dump and add water. Heat. Easy, yes and yet sometimes.....

Open can. Dump and add water. Heat. Easy, yes and yet sometimes…..when good soup goes rogue…

Most everyone else fall somewhere in the middle. Some people are extremely good at one or two things – signature dishes. Others are relatively good at lots of things – no blue ribbons, but no horror stories.  This is where Evans Theory of Relative Competence is most apparent.

What all this means is  – there IS a cooking gene, and not everyone has it. Some people are born to cook, and some are born to set the table. What’s important is knowing where you are in the spectrum, and that there IS a spectrum, and we’re not all at the same place.

The  band Swing Set just showed up at the Kiskadee Coffee Company…time to stop and smell the coffee – and listen to the jazz.


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Crunchy Granola

You are what you eat and you eat what you are.

Although granola’s been around since the 19th century

Kellog's Granola 1893

Kellogg Granola 1893

I never heard of it until the 1970’s, when crunchy granola was bona fide hippie food. With my waist length hair, wire rimmed granny glasses, India print warp skirt, and Swedish clogs, I was SO there. I was crunchy granola.

And what could be better than buying granola?

Making your own. Bonus points to listening to Dale Dorman on the WRKO radio at the same time. (Stairway to Heaven)

This is what he looked like back in the day....

This is what he looked like back in the day….

This is what he looked like when we went to Oldies 106 at 5 am to do a how for Thanksgiving just a few years ago.

This is what he looked like when we went to Oldies 106 at 5 am to do a how for Thanksgiving just a few years ago. Somedays it’s easier to get into Pilgrim clothes at 4:00 AM then others!

Uber bonus points for waiting  for the night WATD played Folk Music with Dick Pleasants.

Dick Pleasants , active all over the Boston and CApe Cod folk/,bluegrass/aucostic/etc music scene.

Dick Pleasants , active all over the Boston and Cape Cod folk/,bluegrass/acoustic/etc music scene.

(Amy, what you wanna do?/I think I could stay with you/For a while, maybe longer if I do) Pure Prairie League 1974

My first attempt came shortly after I got some recipe cards in the mail. Cards for an all-natural cooking series….and you would get more cards each month for a low introductory fee….printed out by some big company. I think I still have the free box that was my gift to keep whatever – I’m not one to look a gift box in the mouth, as it were.

I was too young and naïve to see the irony in all this.

Until these cards arrived, I hadn’t thought that Granola was something that could be made at home.

Granola was in the same category as Wheaties and Cheerios and Grapenuts and Life. Cereal made in a factory, came in a box, you  eat it and buy more. Beginning and end of story.

The same Quaker Oats that made oatmeal raisin cookies cold make granola? Wicked cool!

Into the kitchen go I.

These self-same oats must be toasted.

One of the inherent problems is that oats go from toasted to toast – make that charred tasting and truly nasty – in a flash. And once smoke detectors became de rigueur, it became annoying and embarrassing.  Maybe this was just MY problem and not an oat problem.

I’ve since read about a Theory of Cooking Relativity, that we all have a set point of how much/how well our cooking chops are, and sometimes we must lose something we’ve thought we’d mastered in order to take up something else new; that there’s always something that we don’t get good at. Sort of a Superpower/Kryptonite sort of thing.

I also burn English muffins in the toaster. I was becoming rather famous for it. I stopped toasting English muffins in the toaster, and now I only toast them in a toaster oven, watching them the whole time.

By this time I had collected quite a few recipes for granola, and tried them. Most of them were sad stories, never to be retold.

You’re welcome.

Then I discovered: Stove top granola. -enchantedbroccoliforest-katzen-cvr-200

Thank you Mollie Katzan.

Mollie Katzan now - she has yet another book out....

Mollie Katzan now – she has yet another book out….

Just when I had forgotten about stove top granola, dear Ms Katzan came out with Still Life with Menu Cookbook, which is my favorite of hers, (although I’m madly in love with all of the ones she wrote for children, too.) and mentioned it again. In case you missed it the first time. Or just plain forgot.Still life with Menu

Pretend Soup - one of my faves!

Pretend Soup – one of my faves!

I still cut out granola recipes and save them – even today David Levovitz  with NO BAKE GRANOLA BARS (it would be a challenge for even me to burn these- I’ll let you know how they turn out). I have these clippings: Jane Dornbusch in the Boston Globe (trimmed off the  date, but a Wednesday when the food pages had gone to the pullout G-section, because food is now with the Funny pages. And the horoscopes and the word puzzles); Melissa Clark in the NYTimes July 15, 2009 with a more savory than sweet granola; Jill Santopietro form the Globe, May 2, 2007.

But they all include coconut. It not that I don’t like coconut, I do. What’s a pina colada without it? Or coconut cake? I just don’t care for it in granola. And it’s usually a large enough component that leaving it out leaves things unbalanced.

I don’t like recipes that make me fretful before I’d begun.

But there was ONE recipe that coconut was an add-in, not the base, if only I could find it.


I had a dream….I have very vivid dreams.

AND in this dream I was in a 15th century bake house (straight from a picture I’d be drooling over the day before) and as I was in this bakehouse all the walls became a golden color, and the outlines became red…

Forno -1481 French

Forno -1481 French

When I woke up, I thought “Tassajara Bread Book”


The last recipe, #98 in Tassajara?  Granola. No Coconut. Why is there a granola recipe in a bread book? It was the ’70’s.

In the meantime, I’ve eaten most of the ingredients I bought for the granola project…and just today David Lebovitz (Living the Sweet Life in Paris)  published No Bake Granola Bars…..here’s the link:


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Filed under Books, Perception ways, The 1970's