This week I learned something rather important. I learned the importance of following directions.
It all started with a slab of meat. Last week was the Jewish New Year – Rosh Hashanah – and in addition to going to the synagogue for services, I planned a big meal for my family and the other two families that make up our big, extended family here in Tokyo. I bought a huge slab of meat for the occasion.
Before making the actual purchase, however, I had poured over a few cookbooks. I enjoy cooking enough to have many well-used cookbooks. The one that most often strikes home is the Paula Deen Country Cookbook. I bought it when I was at her restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, and it is a signed copy. It hasn’t failed me yet.
When in Japan, I cannot always procure the exact ingredients that a recipe calls for. I do my best. So this recipe called for a round eye roast. I got a roast, but for all I know it had square eyes or whatever. It seemed okay, but I’m not a meat expert. Perhaps if I’m doing this much cooking for this many people, I should become one, for safety’s sake, but as of yet, I’ve relied on my instincts and have not gone too far astray.
When I got home from the store, I re-read the recipe. It was a simple one. It called for taking the meat and marinating it in a mixture of burgundy wine and soy sauce. Now, let’s be perfectly clear. At the store, I was not able to get burgundy wine. I could get Bordeaux, or I could get what seemed to be a good, red, French table wine. I closed my eyes, pointed my finger, and went with the table wine.
The day before the holiday, I pulled the meat out of the freezer, then set it in the fridge to defrost. By that night, it was most of the way thawed. I made the mixture of wine and sauce, put the meat in a glass baking dish, then poured the mixture over the meat. After just looking at it for a few minutes, I put plastic wrap over the dish, put the dish in the fridge and promptly forgot about the whole thing.
I didn’t think about it again until nearly 2pm the next day, well after synagogue and lunch. The recipe was specific about timing. The roast should be cooked at 5 minutes per pound, uncovered. Then, I had to turn the oven off, cover the meat with tin foil and leave it in the oven for another 45 minutes. After that I could cool it and slice it.
I may have mentioned already that I am not so great with meat. I can do all right, but I’m no professional. So I decided to really do it the right way – by the book. I checked the weight of the meat, calculated the proper time to let it cook and followed the rest of the instructions.
What resulted was a perfectly cooked roast beef with a pink center and hint of sauce-taste on the top. The wine had steeped all the way through the meat making it soft and succulent. It was a crowd-pleaser.
Now, several times in the process of this meat, I was tempted to take a short cut. Did the thing really need to marinate overnight or would it do to throw it in the marinade in the morning? Did I have to calculate the cooking time or could I just estimate?
But I didn’t. I followed the directions to the letter to the best of my ability, and the result was a perfect piece of meat.
Why am I telling you this and does it at all pertain to writing? I would say absolutely. My mentor professor, Dr. Dulce Gray, and other professors in my life always said that one must know the conventions before breaking them with impunity. A writer can be certain that when following the rules to the fullest extent he can, the result will be a good piece – it still needs polishing – cutting and serving, if you will, but it will be a good start right out of the oven. Even experienced writers who break the rules regularly, know this, or are at least aware of it.
It just struck me that the simple act of following directions could impact life, meat, writing, and everything in between.
A happy, healthy, sweet new year to those who celebrate.