First, a disclaimer: I don’t like to cook. Alas, I like to eat, and so I do cook, but nothing about being creative in the kitchen interests me. I’m not curious about finding the perfect gluten-free scone recipe. I don’t want to try out exotic spices for a new version of chili or roasted chicken. Talk to me about Kitchen-Aid mixers and my eyes will glaze over. My time in the kitchen is about survival. I chop veggies, I bake potatoes, I dice fruit salads. We eat well and mostly healthily, with the emphasis on simple.

But while I don’t like to cook, I do love cookbooks, oddly enough. Specifically, I love to read them while I’m eating my dinner of roasted potatoes, Brussels sprouts and scrambled eggs. I particularly love those chatty kinds of cookbooks that describe the author’s history with a recipe or dish. If the writer then goes on to tell a story about how she or he was once in Rome and met his/her future partner while eating spaghetti with anchovies and tomato sauce, all the better. Having confessed my love of reading cookbooks, I can’t remember the last time I used one. I think this only proves that I like reading more than cooking.

It will come as no surprise then that my favorite cookbook is “How to Cook Without a Book” by Pam Anderson. I don’t love this book for the beautiful photos of platters piled high with vegetables or the gorgeous images of long dining tables situated on Italian hillsides. There are none. Nor does the author divulge many personal anecdotes along with her expertise, although I have no trouble imagining the efficiency and no-nonsense manner in which she gets dinner on the table for her busy and hungry family. In this book, Anderson teaches the basic skills of sautéing, roasting and saucing and advises how to stock your pantry and refrigerator for simple ingredients that will work in a variety of forms and combinations. It’s genius, really.

But the reason I love this cookbook is not for the wisdom it might give me in managing my own meal preparation. I love this cookbook for the title alone: How to Cook Without a Book.

I love this title because it reflects my values about how to teach and practice: Read your pedagogical journals or treatises on how to practice, but then shut the books and get to work. The real test of the integration of our skills and creativity is what we can do without a book.

Nothing makes me crazier than the little child who, when asked if they can play something for grandpa says, “I need to get my book.” Of course, books are great. In fact, my favorite teaching moment last month was after performance class when I heard two teenagers, a brother and a sister, in the sunroom talking. “Hey James, have you seen the book ‘Penguin Problems?’ It’s the best.” Charlotte then proceeded to narrate this gem of a children’s book page by page to James (“And then the walrus says to the penguin, ‘Hey your life isn’t so bad…’”). Did I mention these were teenagers?

I love books. I have a house piled high with them. But our skills at the piano should not be limited to only what we can read.

Rote teaching is all about “Without a Book.” It is building one pattern, one phrase into one song after another. It’s not so different than taking the red pepper, chicken breast, and handful of spinach and concocting dinner. Here’s this little piece of music, we say to our students, now look! It’s all yours.

No book necessary.