I do not own a kitchen scale.
There is a growing number of food writers out there - people I love and follow and read voraciously - that are encouraging and inspiring cooks to put down their teaspoons and cups, and embrace the scale. Measuring by weight gives you better results, more precise amounts, it helps you use a recipe with more efficiency. It gives you, they say, better food.
And I believe them. But I can't bring myself to buy one.
And until I read Grace Young's elegant, beautifully-written book, The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen I couldn't figure out why. Why was I balking? It's just a scale. But when I read Grace's chapter, "Cooking as Meditation", I understood what I was feeling. If you've never read her book, you should. She is a graceful storyteller. She writes with economy, every word is essential and necessary. You never feel like it's too much. It's just what it should be. Her writing is precision, craft and heart.
How much do I love this book? I've photocopied this chapter and have it in my kitchen drawer, so I never lose my way in the kitchen. That's how much.
I was taught early in my life to appreciate the fragrance, texture, succulence, and taste of a well-composed dish. Baba and Mama pointed out to me how a chef achieves greatness only after years of practice. They called this honing of skills mastery, or si fu. I have since learned it is also possible for nonchefs to master cooking without relying on elaborate techniques. When certain virtues are applied, an experienced cook can take the simplest ingredients and techniques to form a work of beauty. The most important virtue is alertness to senses; knowing when an ingredient has the correct visual cues, smells, sounds, tastes, and texture is more valuable than mastering the intricacies of a complicated recipe.
In the modern home kitchen, the true art of cooking by instinct is diminishing, partially because of the emergence of so many appliances that replace the need to rely on one's own cooking judgement. Kitchen gadgets have replaced culinary expertise. Rice cookers alleviate the cultivation of judgement of when to slow the fire and when to simmer the rice to begin the steaming process. Deep-fat-fry thermometers indicate when the oil has reached the right temperature for frying, and instant-read thermometers take the intuition out of knowing when the meat is cooked. Food processors grind meat that was once hand-chopped with a cleaver...My parents maintain ardently that the patience to hand-chop or hand-shred produces a tangible difference in taste and texture.
...My parents teach that when you cook you must be able to change directions, chun bien. You must use your powers of observation, regarding every situation as unique, and adjusting accordingly...The high heat on my parents' front burner is more powerful than the setting on the back burner. This simple fact affects cooking time.
...As in life, one must observe the subtleties of cooking and adjust, remembering not to be enslaved to a recipe's cooking times or measurements. It is mindfulness, attentiveness, and gaining self-confidence through experience that nourish success.
Sometimes the reason we cook or write about cooking gets lost. We think it's about complexity and difficulty and impressing people. We think it's about gadgets and equipment and perfect outcomes. We stupidly think the meal is about us, our way to express ourselves, and show who we are to an audience of hungry eaters. But what I want to be in the kitchen is also what I want to be in life: mindful, attentive, self-confident. And this is what I want my girls to be.
This isn't really about the scale, which has it's usefulness, but I think I just want less stuff, more intuition in my life. And the kitchen seems like a good place to start.
The picture (above) is from Splorp