Kate and I (well really Kate) recently recieved a recipe from our friend Kathy Seymour, complete with lots ideas of how the recipe might be improved. Kathy describes herself as a cook, but not a baker. From Kathy's point of view at least, baking requires following the recipe. Something she doesn't enjoy. Cooking allows more freedom of movement. Kathy is a great cook (and probably an excellent baker when she chooses to be one).
My experience certainly would confirm Kathy's analysis. I've cooked lots of fine meals. I rarely follow the recipe carefully, viewing it as a guideline, not a formula. Although I've had some success as a cook, I don't recall ever having any real success as a baker. My first serious foray into the world of baking was an attempt to bake a chocolate cake for Kate - long, long ago before we were even dating. I apparently confused my "S" ingredients. My beautiful looking layer cake was awful. This is what happens when you either switch the amounts of salt and sugar or perhaps confuse the teaspoon of salt with a tablespoon. We called it the "Great Salt Cake." So it's safe to say, I'm a cook, not a baker. Though Kate is far superior to me as both a cook and a baker, dispositionally she's a baker, not a cook. I've travelled all over the Twin Cities on Kate's behalf looking for odd ingredients I'd never heard of because they were "what the recipe called for."
This of course got me thinking more broadly. It seems to me that most of us are predisposed to be either a baker or a cook. A rule follower or a rule ignorer. As I think of my friends and people I know well, I think I can almost immediately classify each of them. Certainly in my parenting life I can. I've spent lots of energy trying to convince my lovely daughter (the baker) that it's o.k. to break the rules once in a while.
I've spent lots more parenting energy trying to convince my son (the cook) that sometimes it's important to follow the rules. To do what is asked of you by a teacher not because it makes any particular sense, just because that's how you are measured. To turn in your assignments on time. Or at all.
As an aside, I would suggest that all "cooks" think their parents are "bakers" at heart. Parents of "cooks" are charged with showing the value of following the rules - whether or not it's their nature to do so. My parents (two bakers if I am right) had three cooks as children. Though as children my sister and I were each probably more rule followers than either of us are now (half-baked?). Maybe it wasn't too tough on my parents. There are cook/baker generalizations on a country by country basis that one can make. Germany, a nation of bakers. France and Italy, two nations of cooks. I always thought Russia was a country of bakers. Until I went there. Definitely cooks predominate.
So where does the wisdom lie? Is it better to be a cook or a baker? I think the answer is no. The wisdom is in knowing when to be a baker and when to be a cook. When you are doing your taxes, be a baker. Never be a baker if you are trying to play jazz. Be a baker if you are painting a wall, a cook if you are painting a painting.
The 19th of the Dahlia Lama's "Instructions for Life" is "approach love and cooking with reckless abandon." I guess he's saying be a cook when you're cookin'.
I can say from my web design experience that it is not a good idea to approach web code with reckless abandon. But when you're writing web content a little reckless abandon is in order.
To bring this full circle, I think Kathy finds the wise approach. Plays with the recipe. But writes down what she did that worked so she can start "cooking" the next time from where she left off.