A Recipe for Success #sol18

recipe-for-successA Recipe for Success  #sol18

April 24, 2018

I’m a home cook.  I rarely make a recipe twice. Gleaning recipes from the internet, magazines, and blogs, I cook almost every night, so I’ve followed a good deal of recipes in my time.  Recently,  I had a run of bad luck with recipes.  The recipes were slightly incomplete or for me,  more complicated to read that usual.  In one recipe,  I began to improvise mid-composition,  shifting the timing,  when I added the ingredients, and cooking time.  In another recipe,  I had my son come and reread the recipe to see how he interpreted it.  My son doesn’t cook except for a few things and doesn’t have any experience with a ‘scratch’ recipe.  When I started to go ‘off-road’,  he was startled and asked me how I knew that might work.

How does a beginner cook or even someone with singular types of experience read difficult recipes?  I’ve read that thirty percent of home cooks go wrong somewhere in reading the recipe.  Perhaps it’s akin to this, as with many things,  the more your cook,  the easier it is to modify or substitute within a recipe. The more recipes you read,  the more you see how recipes ‘go’.  Two different readers (cooks) can read the exact same recipe in different ways.

Thinking about recipes as curriculum ideas, I wondered about how the beginners.  How do they read the recipes or take the ‘tips for cooking’.  I began to compare recipes with new curriculum or even new ideas and how they are presented to teachers.  Some new ideas come along with a standard cookbook, say,  the Calkins’ Units of Study in Reading and Writing.  They have kitchen set up (A Guide to the Reading/Writing Workshop) and very lengthy recipes for the daily(ish) work.  For some,  these recipes can be difficult to read and follow.  I think most would say they aren’t for cracking open and starting to teach (cook).

Some ideas are adaptations or additions to recipes.  This might be true of ‘add-ons’ such as project based learning or ideas in accountable talk,  parts of a balanced diet. Things that take their own sort of mastery. To the curriculum developer, literacy coach, or principal, these ideas seem to mesh or even compliment each other.  However, when a cook or a facilitator/teacher comes along these instructions,  their fit may not be apparent at first.

So here’s my advice for reading a recipe whatever it might be for:

1. Sit Down: That’s right … sit down at the kitchen table and simply read the recipe all the way through. Don’t make notes, don’t make lists, just read. If you’re actually trying out a new lesson, new unit, new initiative,  this will work too.

2. Read It Again: Highlight anything that might change your timeline or require special equipment or more time.  I recently took out a recipe for Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas Tacos.  The recipe title said easy, but when I took out the morning of dinner to cook, it actually requires 24 hours of marinating prior to that quick slow cooking. This is the time to annotate and think it all through.  I make a lot of margin notes.

3. Gather Equipment: This is an important early step and not always clearly spelled out.  Recently,  I found a document camera for a teacher.  It’s difficult to read interactively or point out special features in text,  if your class can’t see them.  Comparatively in a recipe,  if I don’t have a mandolin,  some recipes are going to be really tricky.

4. Gather Ingredients: Some things can be gotten together early.  All of the dry ingredients for example.  Some are needed right at the last minute. Some require pre-preparation:  chopping, soaking, separating.  The same with curriculum, sometimes you need a chart, chart paper,  a certain number or type of books for students.

5. Note the Order of the Steps:  Heat the oven first.  Chop before saute. Sometimes with teaching, we have to get students ready for the learning.

6. Always Triple Note Cooking or Baking Times and their ‘Doneness Indicators’: Your eyes, nose,  ears can tell you more than the timer.  I can usually smell a finished cake.  You can also see brownness.  There are mastery indicators for students.  They also have ‘doneness’ indicators.

Sometimes,  just read a lesson, a book, a recipe, an idea for enjoyment.  I am probably not going to make Spicy Tofu Kimchi Stew, but the recipe might give me an idea for another thing I would make.

Bon Apetit!


I slice on Tuesday with the Slice of Life Community.  Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for facilitating this effort.  Read more slices at twowritingteachers.org 

8 thoughts on “A Recipe for Success #sol18

  1. Great analogy between trying a new recipe and teaching a new unit or curriculum. I’m finding that so often, new materials are “thrown” at teachers without time to properly digest the contents (pun intended) before being required to teach/ use the materials. It really does take time and attention to learn and teach something new!

  2. Fun ideas and comparisons. I hate when I realize that I have to marinate overnight in the morning!! I wish step one was more joyful for people. I love to read both cookbooks and professional books — you are so right that you often make connections and get new ideas when you just allow yourself to read it.


  3. This is a wonderful metaphor and so apropos. I learned to cook around ten, and know the value of preparation. Not reading the recipe can leave one w/ egg on the face. Similarly, not all “recipes” are clear. We teachers have seen many bad recipes that ask teachers to do what’s not possible. Not every cook owns an InstantPot!

  4. Wonderful analogy. So spot on! I read your final sentence and knew that we have a kindred spirit. Not too many of my friends read cookbooks or lessons for pleasure. Thanks for a great slice, Susan.

  5. I can relate to being both a home cook, and teacher so this blended experience really resonated with me. Creative way to think about the variety of “cooks”we coach in the classroom.

  6. What practical advice – and what impresses me most is that you rarely make a recipe twice! That means you’re quite adventurous and creative as a cook.Certainly not boring, even if a few recipes don’t turn out as planned (and those make good stories!).

  7. So much to my taste here! Notion of doneness. Importance of deliberate reading: sometimes to execute, other times to glean enjoyment or inspiration. Thanks for exploring these analogies.

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