My mother was an excellent cook; she had her own restaurant for about a decade. There were several dishes that I wanted her recipes for: Chicken Cacciatore, her chili, and especially her Potato Soup. My attempts to get these recipes always went something like this:
“Can I get your Potato Soup recipe?”
“Oh sure,” she would say. “It’s really easy.”
“Great! Do you have it written down?”
“No,” she would say with a small frown. “But’s it’s really easy.”
“Okay,” I’d say. Then I’d get my notebook out and wait for the recipe she had memorized.
She would get a far-away look, like she was remembering cooking the soup. “Well, you just boil some water and add chopped up potatoes.”
“How much water? How many potatoes?” I would ask.
“Oh, I don’t know. Until it looks about right,” she answered unhelpfully.
“Okay. I can boil potatoes.”
“Then you add the pasta,” she said, continuing with the recipe.
“When?” I asked stupidly.
“Oh, I don’t know. When the potatoes look about right,” she answered unhelpfully.
“Okay,” I said. “So I add the pasta. When does the cream go in?”
“Oh! Not until you add the spices,” she answered somewhat helpfully.
“What spices?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. Salt and pepper, of course. And a bay leaf. Maybe some Worcestershire sauce. Or paprika.”
“How much?” I would ask, almost giving up.
“Oh, I don’t know. Until it tastes about right.”
“Do you have approximate amounts?” I asked hopefully.
“Not really. But when that’s done, you add the cream,” she said.
I knew not to ask how much cream. Why? Oh, I don’t know.