Cooking as a creative process
As a cerebral person, many of my creative endeavors are a reflection of my overworked brain: in poetry every word has been tediously reviewed, researched, and, many times, replaced; Writing for my blog requires planning content, implementing actions, reflecting, writing, reviewing, tagging, and posting. These processes are recursive and sometimes mentally trying.
Cooking as a creative process is by contrast a one-time, sensory experience. It is visceral. It is improvised.
The satisfying crunch of a celery stalk under a knife, the sizzle of olive oil, the scent of bay leaves boiling in the bottom of a soup pot: these smells, sights, sounds, and feelings characterize a creativity based upon action. It is a daily practice that clears my mind rather than fills it.
Meals begin from years of experience tasting, using recipes, and experimenting on my own.
To streamline this process, I rid my kitchen of every extra pot, duplicate pan and stray toothpick. The pantry is made of cans and clear mason jars full of “only the essentials.” I know what is there, how it works, and what I can do with it. Black beans and vegetable broth can be simmered with onion, garlic, cumin and coriander and spooned over mounds of brown rice. Chickpeas can be sautéed with olive oil, fresh ground pepper, and kosher salt to mix into a green salad with feta and lemon vinaigrette. These are things I know, no recipe needed.
This sense of knowing provides a solace that is the basis of my cooking, but it is also the foundation upon which I improvise. Every week, my husband picks up our market bag of fresh vegetables and the occasional grain or cheese. These ingredients are not of our choosing, and sometimes there are items I have never used, or even heard of, before. The week might provide half a dozen raw beets, a bulb of fennel, a bag of wheat berries, or a carton of kumquats, each ingredient a point of exploration. One week I might discover that a roasted beet relinquishes its skin like magic if rubbed with a paper towel, or that kumquats (tiny little oranges) would be impossible to peel, but you can pop them in your mouth whole for a rich, citrus burst made more complex by the bittersweet peel.
I need this. When I am engrossed in the process of a tasting, simmering, roasting, chopping, and blending, I am absorbed in the moment, the fragrance of lemon zest, the richness of avocado. For a short time, I fully enter the physical; I am swept away in the “now.”