Once upon a time, before I went to college, my mother worried. I didn’t know how to prepare what she called “any decent meals.” So she bought me a copy of The Joy of Cooking, and sat me down to watch and learn. She opened the cookbook to a favorite recipe and began to show me how to make it.

“Here it says use vegetable oil, but I always use olive oil.”

And then “here it says use chili peppers, but I always leave those out, because the dish gets too spicy.”

And on it went. Just like that.

“It says here to add salt, but never do that—salt is bad for your heart.”

After some time, I interrupted the process.

“What is the point of the recipe if you do whatever you want anyway?” I asked.

And then, as sometimes happened in my mother’s bright ...

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