When I was first living on my own and learning to cook I always felt compelled to follow the recipes precisely. If I didn’t have one tablespoon of green pepper to chop, I’d have to go out to buy it. I had no confidence to leave it out and add something else instead.

Later I shared a house for awhile with a man who’d bring armfuls of cookbooks home from the public library, read them cover to cover like juicy novels, and then improvise for days on the themes they suggested — he never looked back at the recipe to see if he was doing it right! I was inspired by him. I still follow recipes a lot of the time, but usually at least two at once, compromising between them, adding whatever I like.

“There are no rules,” I read on someone’s t-shirt recently. I guess that’s a good response to the anxious belief that all wisdom is already in books that must be consulted before one can do anything the right way.

But after years of pretty much making up whatever I cook, I think there are some underlying principles to be guided by. Perhaps one is that in cooking, as in the rest of life, discretion is useful. If you use all your favorite herbs in everything you cook, everything you cook will taste the same.

Dana Reinhold
Hillsborough, N.C.

My favorite recipes are the ones I make up when someone I love invites me to dinner, says: “You bring dessert,” and, “Okay, I will,” but I don’t have enough money to go shopping, so it’s whatever there is in the kitchen cupboard, back of the refrigerator, etc. This pie is really a cheesecake without eggs or sugar. Each time it’s completely different, but equally wonderful, breakfast, lunch, dinner or middle of the night.

Cream Cheese Pie

I. Graham cracker crust made from anything that crumbles: corn flakes left over from the last tenant, old muffins, crackers, or even real graham crackers. Put everything in a plastic bag and squeeze till crumbs. Pat in pie plate for a crust.

II. Filling — cream cheese which can be used straight or mixed with cottage cheese or ricotta cheese (but not yogurt which would curdle the other milk products in the stomach); lots of honey and a little orange juice or pineapple juice or liquid to make the filling of good consistency like cheesecake. Push filling down into pie plate with a fork or the fingers till the plate is full.

III. Topping — make a design out of any kind of fruit: cranberries in winter, flower petals in spring, nuts in the fall. Enjoy.

Kathleen Snipes
Carrboro, N.C.

My favorite recipe:

Homemade Kahlua

Add ½ cup instant coffee to
2 cups boiling water and
3 cups sugar.
Add 2 cups 80-percent vodka.
Store in ½ gallon glass jug.
Add 2 vanilla beans.
Store airtight for 30 days.

Valerie Adinolfi
Oakland, California

Chinese Chicken With Peanuts, Szechuan Style


1. Skin, bone and chop a chicken into bite-size hunks. Toss in peanut oil.

2. Mince a 1-inch piece of ginger root and 2 cloves of garlic.

3. Chop up a bunch of green onions.


1. Heat up wok or heavy skillet until very hot. Spill in 4 tbsp. peanut oil.

2. Frazzle garlic and ginger for 30 seconds.

3. Add chicken, toss it about, and add 3 tbsp. sherry and ½ cup peanuts and onions.

4. Let this cook for a minute, stirring occasionally, while you mix up: 2 tsp. cornstarch, 2 tbsp. tamari, ¼ cup water, 1 tsp. molasses.

Cover and let steam until chicken is cooked, about 4 minutes.

This is my favorite recipe.

Rich Pfau
Carrboro, N.C.

Micronesian Chicken (Chicken Kelaguen)

1 whole chicken (or equal amounts of chicken breasts, thighs, etc., or leftover turkey or fish)
1 coconut or packaged coconut, no sugar added
2-3 limes
1-2 onions
Celery stalk
Hot pepper
Salt and pepper

Cook chicken 45 minutes or until tender in boiling water with herbs added (garlic, thyme, marjoram, salt, pepper, celery, etc. as desired). Remove chicken from broth and let cool. (Use broth later for soup base.) Remove chicken meat from bone. Marinate chicken meat in juice from 1-2 limes (keep adding lime until meat is tangy). Chop onions, 1 celery stalk, coarse chop 1 coconut, and add to chicken. Add ½ teaspoon each of marjoram, thyme, sage to the mixture, and hot pepper, salt, and black pepper to taste. Tamari also. Check taste. Add more lime or spices to taste. Chill. Serve with orange slices, or on lettuce.

Celestial Pizza

Prepare a basic whole wheat bread recipe and let rise or thaw 1 package frozen uncooked whole wheat yeast bread. When the bread has risen once, punch it down, smooth it into 2 greased pizza pans or large rectangular pans.

Mix together:
1 large (12 oz.) can tomato puree
½-1 tsp. each oregano, thyme, marjoram, sage (or Italian herb mixture)
6-8 fennel seeds
dash garlic
salt, pepper

Steam lightly:
1-2 cups broccoli, cauliflower, fresh beans, or any fresh vegetables

½ cup mushrooms
1 large onion
green pepper

Pour tomato sauce over pizza dough. Spread cooked vegetables and raw ones over sauce. Top with roughly 1-2 cups assorted chopped or grated cheeses; may use mozzarella, parmesan, cheddar, swiss, cream cheese, etc. Sprinkle sunflower seeds, peanuts, or other nuts on top.

Bake 35-45 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Check for doneness of bread. You may pre-cook pizza dough in pan 10 minutes before adding vegetables if you want it very crisp.

Carole Mathison Mercer

This recipe is also a favorite of Tom Wesselman’s.

Zucchini Soup
(serves eight)

3 6-inch long zucchini thinly sliced
2 medium onions thinly sliced
6 tablespoons of sweet butter
4 tablespoons of flour
2 teaspoons of curry powder
2 10 ¾-ounce cans concentrated chicken broth with 2 cans water added, or 1 ¼ quarts chicken broth
8 ounces of sour cream

Melt butter in large skillet. Add sliced onions and zucchini and saute for two minutes. Sprinkle curry powder and flour over zucchini and toss carefully with a wooden spoon. Stir constantly until flour is well blended and slightly cooked. Slowly add hot chicken broth to zucchini. Simmer mixture and stir until soup thickens slightly. Cool. Add salt to taste. Puree in blender. When ready to serve, reheat soup and swirl in sour cream, taking care not to let soup boil, or cream will curdle. When serving soup cold, add a dollop of sour cream to each bowl.

Hope you like it. I love it.

Trey Speegle
Houston, Texas

Apple Sauce Cake

2 ½ cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup molasses
1 egg
1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
½ cup soft margarine or butter
¾ cup raisins

Combine dry ingredients in mixing bowl. Add molasses, egg, apple sauce. Beat well. Stir in raisins. Bake in greased, floured 8-inch square pan in 350-degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes.

Name Withheld
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania