In the Kitchen

A Recipe for Science

by , posted on November 2nd, 2010 in The Science Issue

Science leaves me cold. Math? Sure—lots of dramatic and weepy memories of failed tests, frustrating theorems, mysterious technical calculators. But my sole memory of high school Biology is that my cat cadaver was named after my then-boyfriend’s ex. I don’t have a single blessed recollection of any chemistry experiment, any physics lab, any Earth Science research. I know I took at least one science course in college, but seem to have repressed every last detail.

As a parent, I watch in envy as other mothers crouch in the dirt with their children, carefully lifting dead bark to examine the life cycle of termites. I examine science kits in the toy store with suspicion, certain that their claims of ‘Easy!’ and ‘Fun!’ are the sole opinion of the crazy guy in Research & Development at the toy company. I dutifully peruse the pages of the National Children’s Gardening Association catalog, forlornly reflecting on my barren zucchini patch and anemic basil plants.

Cooking, on the other hand, I can do. With gusto. With relish. I usually don’t use a recipe—maybe I’ll flip through a few to get ideas, and then I’ll fly solo, throwing in a few extra herbs here, and extra dash of allspice there. I have wondered—and tested—whether turmeric can work instead of saffron. Equally, I now know better than to mess around with a recipe for a baked good: you can’t eyeball the amount of yeast, I’ll tell you that right now. I have peered anxiously through the oven door to see if the promised rising would happen; have watched a blender’s centrifugal force splatter hot soup all over my cabinets. I have compared the yolk of an old egg to a fresh egg’s. I have guessed along with my kids about why vanilla extract smells divine yet tastes so foul on its own.

So when this quote placed itself in my path, as I stood in my own kitchen reading Akiko Busch’s Geography of a Home, suddenly, finally, it all made sense: “My mother, like most people who know how to cook, understood that what she was doing was science, and that like any other science it required huge leaps of the imagination—at times even acts of faith. In our house, the kitchen was the place where science collaborated regularly and gracefully with creative imagination.”

I finally saw the science. Finally saw that the curiosity, the observation, the guesses about what might work—they are not the sole domain of the creative. Nor are they the intellectual property of the scientist. In this way, the artist and the scientist are one and the same. Both follow a process towards understanding—including making assumptions that may feel completely fanciful. And finally, both artist and scientist will take the information gathered from their individual leaps of faith, and try their best to represent what they’ve found—to tell their story—in words, images, or symbols.

Science happens everywhere—so does creativity. The kitchen happens to be the place where I most regularly play mad scientist—but equally when I point out patterns in a Cezanne still life, or teach the kids a song in 4:4 time, we are finding our own way towards science.

I draw the line at cat cadavers though. Bad memories.

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8 Responses to “In the Kitchen”

  1. Cheryl @ Mommypants Says:

    November 2nd, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    What’s funny is my mother’s degree was in chemistry but that somehow did NOT transfer into the kitchen.


  2. Leslie Says:

    November 2nd, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    Yup, I’m the opposite as well. Have a degree in electrical engineering & am worthless in the kitchen ;-) But Kirsten you’re absolutely correct – fortunately science comes in all different forms!


    Jennifer Cooper Reply:

    Yes! Here’s to science coming in all different forms!


  3. Jen Says:

    November 2nd, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    My husband says I’m like MacGyver in the kitchen, which I totally eat up with a spoon. Calculus and Org Chem would likely say otherwise, but who needs that anyway!


  4. Kirsten Says:

    November 3rd, 2010 at 12:29 am

    MacGyver in the kitchen? I SO want to eat at your house now. WHAT must you do with bubblegum, anchovies, and gluten-free flour??????


    Jen Reply:

    The invitation is open—if you DARE!


  5. Jen Says:

    November 3rd, 2010 at 9:36 am

    This one made me giggle! Thanks Kirsten for such an honest, warm and humorous insight


  6. eileen Says:

    November 4th, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    domestic science, ma chere, is what they don’t call it these days.


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