Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cookbook Flip Flop

We received several cookbooks this year as presents, lavishly illustrated and, in case the titles weren't obvious enough, written in Dutch. The only one that's written in English is Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and I have to say that, despite its weird-as-hell format, it does have several excellent illustrations. Amongst them, how to dice an onion.

In my opinion, one of the hardest things to get used to as an expat from the US is the fact that the rest of the world is logical and uses the metric system. For me, the change is somewhat easier because I work in the sciences, but I still, to this day, think of liquids in terms of cups/pints/quarts/gallons (though sodas are in liters). For baking, then, I'm still used to cups of flour and sticks of butter--and while it's easy for me to convert an American recipe to metric measurements, going the other way is something I still haven't figured out.

Metric measurements mean, amongst other things, that flour is weighed, and while weight is a more precise measure than volume, for some reason the idea of "grams" of flour just rankles me the wrong way. This is one of my few American habits that I just can't seem to shake, no matter what. I've figured out that one ounce is 28 grams, one cup is 248 mL, and 200° C equals a "really hot oven" (I've decided that oven temperatures are best expressed as "low, medium, hot" rather than exact tempertaures, but nobody but nobody's oven is ever exactly right). But I have never bothered to check how much a cup of flour weighs, and something tells me that, short of my scientific curiosity getting the better of me, I never will.

Part of this is because our primary baking book, Dorie Greenspan's Baking, is an American book. But a huge part of it is that, until now, volumes have worked fine for me--"Don't fix what ain't broke" and all that jazz. Measuring flour is a bit of an art when you use volumes, and it's one that I've developed a reasonable mastery over. It's something I'm reluctant to give up, I think, because on a microcosmic level it becomes a herald of my own obsolescence. It detracts from the mystique that surrounds baking--anybody can weigh out 200 g of flour, but not everybody can measure out 1 cup properly--and the reliance on a scale, rather than your own sense of how the recipe is falling, reduces the art to a science.

But maybe this year things will change. Maybe I'll finally get over my aversion to weights and learn to love the metric system as it totally takes over my life.

On the other hand, maybe not: I've always preferred doing a little extra math if it means I don't have to change my ways.


  1. hello I just discovered your site. Love it. I don't however, like having to highlight the entire page so that I can read the text. Either the background needs to be lighter or the text should be white on that black background. But I am not here to nitpick. What I really want to say is:
    That I to have with the metric system. For me though I have a hard time remembering how to convert any measurement into metric or vice verse.

  2. @ Prince: comment about the text duly appreciated. If you do check back (and please leave me a comment if you do) please let me know if the now-white text is showing up better. The monitor upon which I made the changes is not the best monitor for viewing color--I'd suspected this when I upload my photographs but this confirms it.

    I do conversions all the time when I'm talking with my mom or sister...keeps the brain limber :-)