Writing reflections: cooking without a recipe

As a follow up to a previous post about my struggles with story structure, I realized that, yet again, writing is related to cooking.

My husband is pretty good at looking in the fridge, taking what we have, and making something tasty from it. I am more a "plan out the entire week's menus and get exactly what I need at the store on Saturday" kind of person. I need a recipe, I need a plan. Which is why my struggle with story structure is so frustrating. It feels like cooking without a recipe.

Because I prefer baking, I usually require a recipe. While you could, in theory, mix together a random amount of flour and sugar and milk and maybe get something that might be a pancake, quantities and ratios are a little more important in baking. My husband prefers to look at a recipe for the general idea of a meat and pasta dish, and then add whatever he thinks belongs in there.

However, once I learn a recipe or an outline for a recipe, I am more comfortable improvising, and I can spot what problems may arise. My husband will look at a recipe, see we're missing five ingredients, add things that have no business being in there ("We were out of eggs so I used beer"), and it still somehow turns out pretty good. I know that certain things can be substituted (milk + vinegar = buttermilk) and will stick to the ratios.

I am creative inside a box. He is creative outside the box (and sometimes all the way on the other side of the room from the box).

So, who is the better cook? It depends on what you're looking for. If you want chocolate chip cookies that look the same every single time you make them, I am your gal. If you want cookies that may have nutella one week, and applesauce the next, ask my husband. We both make perfectly good food. We just make each other crazy watching the other cook.

I am excited to be working on an outline for my first NaNoWriMo starting in just a few days. However, I am a little worried the story will be formulaic and uncreative. Then I remember that a lot of people want chocolate chip cookies that taste like chocolate chip cookies. I don't have to cook without a recipe if I'm not ready yet. If I try for improvised applesauce cookies right now, they most certainly will not taste good. Soon though, I'll be mixing in all sorts of crazy stuff without even a glance at the recipe, and it'll be awesome.

Do you follow recipes, or improvise?