A story of an improvisor with exacting standards:
My father, seventy-eight, is a methodical man. For thirty-nine years, he has had the same job, cataloguing books for a university library. He drinks two glasses of water first thing in the morning, walks for an hour every day, and devotes almost as much time, before bed, to flossing his teeth. “Winging it” is not a term that comes to mind in describing my father. When he’s driving to new places, he does not enjoy getting lost.
In the kitchen, too, he walks a deliberate line, counting out the raisins that go into his oatmeal (fifteen) and never boiling even a drop more water than required for tea. It is my father who knows how many cups of rice are necessary to feed four, or forty, or a hundred and forty people. He has a reputation for andaj–the Bengali word for “estimate”–accurately gauging quantities that tend to baffle other cooks. An oracle of rice, if you will.
Read on: Improvisations: Rice : The New Yorker.