I've never been much for technology, so when I bought a car recently that came with GPS, I imagined that the device would go largely unused. But a few months later, on my way to visit friends at their new home in Oakland, California, I decided to give it a try. A patient yet firm woman's voice guided me easily to the exact location, and much to my surprise, I fell in love with the feature. Then one night, as I drove to see my friends for the fourth or fifth time, I realized that I had no idea how to get there. I'd been blindly following instructions from a disembodied voice without paying attention to where I was going.
This troubled me to no end. I liked to think I wouldn't automatically take the path of least resistance, yet here I was, in full capitulation mode. As I drove along, I considered the possibility that our national obsession with convenience was adversely affecting other areas of our lives as well. Like how we cook.
I have always thought of recipes as culinary road maps, demarcating a route from a list of ingredients to a finished dish—not so much hard-and-fast rules but a set of guidelines to lead the way. Not everything is accounted for in a recipe. The ingredients, the pans, the ovens, even things like humidity all play a role in the final outcome. Just as driving directions don't include tips like "Stop at red lights" and "Don't drive into oncoming traffic," recipes assume a certain baseline knowledge. But from perusing the kinds of recipes being published these days, it's clear that the baseline has fallen dangerously low. It seems that people have started to use recipes the way they use GPS—something to follow unthinkingly as a way to get from one place to another, without noticing the route.