I like to cook and bake (especially pies and bread), but the idea of developing a recipe that others can use makes my hands sweat.  To be honest, I don’t really understand the difference between baking soda and baking powder (except that soda interacts with vinegar in a really cool way), and figuring out how long to keep something in the oven — and at what temperature — is a mystery to me.

So when my friend and fellow writer, Brette Sember let me know that she has a cookbook coming out, I jumped at the chance to feature her here.  It should be no surprise that math is a critical ingredient of all recipes.  The Parchment Paper Cookbook is no exception.  Her recipes offer easy ways to cook healthy meals without pots or pans. You can get a taste of her recipes at her blog: No Pot Cooking.

What do you do for a living?

I write books, blogs, and articles, and I also do indexing, ghostwriting, and copyediting.  One of my specialties is recipe development and food writing.

When do you use basic math in your job?

I have one cookbook out, The Parchment Paper Cookbook, and The Muffin Tin Cookbook is on the way. I’m finding there is a lot more math involved in writing cookbooks than I expected! When I was just cooking for my family I did a lot of dumping of ingredients, but now that I have to record my recipes, I have to do a lot of measuring. And I also have to do a lot of conversions of measurements.

Test recipes are much smaller than the ones I publish in my cookbooks.  So, after testing a recipe, I have to convert the ingredient amounts for publication. This gets a little complicated when you’re dealing with teaspoons and tablespoons.  For example, if make a test recipe with 3 tablespoons of an ingredient and I want to quadruple that to make a full batch, I would multiply by 4 to get 12 tablespoons. But I have to express that as ¾ cup.

Do you use any technology to help with this math?

Yes definitely. I don’t trust myself to get it right, and it absolutely has got to be accurate.

How do you think math helps you do your job better?

I’m able to give readers the most convenient measurement possible for them.

How comfortable with math do you feel?

I have to admit I don’t feel very comfortable with math. This is kind of funny because from 7th to 11thgrade I was in a special gifted math program where I went to the local university for math with kids from other school districts in my county. We learned a creative approach to math. Regardless, I never felt comfortable with math. So, no, I guess I would say I don’t enjoy the math aspect, but it’s essential to what I’m doing so I am careful to do it right.

Did you like the math you took in high school?

I got great grades until I took a traditional calculus class with college students in 11th grade. I got a D! I dropped out of the program then. I didn’t have to take math in college, because I had earned so many credits through that program.

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do this math?

It is pretty basic, but I had to refresh my memory for some of the conversions.

Thanks, Brette, for appearing in today’s Math at Work Monday.  Readers, if you have questions for Brette, feel free to post them below.  I’ll be sure to let her know and ask her to come by for a quick response.  And if you’re looking for a great holiday gift for someone who is too busy to cook and clean up, check out The Parchment Paper Cookbook.  Or pick up a copy for yourself!