The Measure of a Meal

~By Heather Ray

My daddy is a good cook, the kind who remembers all the ingredients and measures by instinct: another touch of brown sugar or yellow mustard or chili powder to perfect his irresistible caramelized sloppy joe, prepared for a family of four with “oh, about a pound and a half? of ground beef.” For years, he readied the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners while mom was earning a second income.

My mom is a good baker, the kind who meticulously measures, taking great pride when she can find the time to make the spongecake, the filling, and the icing from scratch, making detailed notes on her recipes, “1990: Heather loves this – add more cocoa and halve the frosting next time!” and bookmarking the page in one of her too many cookbooks with a post-it.

They’d smile at the other and shake their heads, bemused, as the one measured in his palm and the other in her favorite ring of little silver spoons, Daddy with eyebrows raised in contemplation, sampling a spoonful, or Mom with eyebrows furrowed in concentration, consulting the instructions a second time. Between them, they always set out a good family meal.

I like to think that my own approach to cooking combines the best of both: researching recipes to understand the basic components and ratios and preparations, then imagining my own modifications and adjusting to taste – a tantalizing teaspoonful of almond extract in chewy chocolate chip cookies or a spicy hit of cinnamon and cayenne in rich chocolate lava cakes. But perhaps most importantly, I learned from both that the real key to any good meal is the family (whatever the nature of the bond) with whom it’s shared!

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