Poetic cooking while in fetters.

coconut curry with garbanzos

Since my husband’s death three years ago I’ve had three long-term housemates. Two of them have moved on, so that Susan and I are the only ones here, just two of us using the cupboards and large freezer space. This situation dovetails with my own less-burdened mind, which  now is able to grasp:

Yes! The obvious thing is to clean out the larder, use up the food, and start planning and cooking interesting meals with all the bits of this and that squirreled away. Facing up to what is unusable is part of the process; the soup that got lost in the back of the freezer for too long is one of the hidden costs associated with huge life changes, and is not a cause for guilt.

kasha (buckwheat)

Chesterton’s wisdom on creativity always helps me: Thrift is the really romantic thing; economy is more romantic than extravagance…  economy, properly understood, is the more poetic. Thrift is poetic because it is creative; waste is unpoetic because it is waste. It is prosaic to throw money away, because it is prosaic to throw anything away; it is negative; it is a confession of indifference, that is, it is a confession of failure.

The most prosaic thing about the house is the dustbin, and the one great objection to the new fastidious and aesthetic homestead is simply that in such a moral menage the dustbin must be bigger than the house. If a man could undertake to make use of all things in his dustbin he would be a broader genius than Shakespeare.

Another development since I returned from India is that I can’t go back to the weird eating habits I had fallen into as soon as I no longer had anyone to cook for routinely. Eating normally and very tastily for eight weeks cured me forever, I think, of my go-to frozen chopped spinach that I had been eating as the main part of every meal. Yesterday I used the last of it with a little container of likewise defrosted meaty red sauce and a (fresh) egg, to make a perfect breakfast:

These limitations I have placed on myself made me remember other things Chesterton said about art and painting and limits, and that led me on an interesting path through fields of quotes on the topic. Talk about limits and people will argue that they only exist in your mind, and must be “dropped,” if you are “to go beyond them into the impossible.” Even Winston Churchill is reported to have said, “The vistas of possibility are only limited by the shortness of life.” But he wasn’t trying to get dinner on the table in an hour.

Modern man seems especially prone to this delusion, but there are many sage exceptions, like Robert Browning: “So free we seem, so fettered fast we are!”

In matters of food and cooking, even if you had unlimited money you have limited time, and limits on whom you might find to prepare the ingredients, the choice of which is always limited to some degree, and on and on. I know you all know these things; this is my philosophical rambling you’re reading.

“Untitled” by Richard Diebenkorn

I am not advocating for an unhealthy fear of trying something new, but actually the opposite. As George Braque said, “It is the limitation of means that determines style, gives rise to new forms and makes creativity possible.”

And though Richard Diebenkorn was talking about painting, this word from him is empowering when considered at the beginning of any creative work: “My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful, the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles.”

Yesterday I found several very ripe bananas in the freezer, and I did not want to waste them, even if their monetary value at purchase was minimal. You can imagine what they looked like after being there for a while; I’m sure I couldn’t have found a neighbor who wanted them. Anyway, part of my “style” is to stay home. I avoid going shopping, and knocking on doors for any reason. If only I had got my hoped-for worm bins set up, I would have given them to the worms!

But various baking supplies were sitting in the refrigerator begging to be used, so I put everything together into an unusual banana bread. It started from a “paleo” recipe with almond flour, but when I substituted egg replacer for the eggs I created a Grain-Free Vegan Chocolate Chip Banana Bread.

It is a work of super enjoyably edible art!

18 thoughts on “Poetic cooking while in fetters.

  1. Your ability to “clean out the fridge” in a delicious way has always been impressive! This looks fun… and I’m glad India has raised your solo eating standards! I have had others cooking for me here more than anywhere and I do think it’s resulted in less variety than if I were doing it myself.

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  2. That’s something I deal with, too. I need to make sure I use up what we have instead of getting more just because I feel like it. The egg dish looks great! And Diebenkorn’s painting is just beautiful. Thanks for sharing!!

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  3. How thrifty to use what needed to be used up and make that delicious looking Banana bread.
    I struggle to make healthy tasty meals. I don’t care for cooking, only baking.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I find thriftiness to be so much more interesting than having unlimited funds. I can remember, years before my hubby passed away, thinking that it could be very interesting to be a little widow learning how to live on very little. Of course, I’m not talking about extreme poverty. Just “very little” enough to stretch one’s imagination. You’re making me hungry for more of Chesterton! I’m loving the whole experience of simplifying and really enjoying what’s left. It’s time to go through the freezer again, though mine isn’t extremely full. 🙂 Thanks for an inspiring post!

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  5. I have been doing the same thing the last couple of days. Living in a tiny space I have to continually sort and clear and recombine. I still will find an errant piece of plastic ware. Always a good feeling when the black bean salad is delicious with that wrinkle skinned nectarine and apple are added!

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  6. Frozen broccoli at every meal – Mama mia! But it’s so good that you not only were snapped out of that habit by your time in India, but that it has lasted! I like your little egg breakfast – you’re on the right track. 🙂
    I cook up chicken tenders every week for my brother’s lunches, and freeze the leftover pieces, if there are any. Today I chopped them up to make chicken salad for my meal. I added some shredded zucchini left over from a recipe, a bit of this and that – it was quite delish!

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  7. Gretchen, you have set my mind whirling, and I read the post once yesterday already! Let me tell you where I’m coming from. You see, I have been striving to live out of the pantry, fridge and freezer for two months now, the last two weeks without a single trip to the grocery, simply because our family business slowed almost to a stop. And looking at my well-stocked pantry I knew it would be interesting, if not fun. The surprising thing is that I think I’ve gotten more compliments from my husband over my meals than I normally do, maybe because everything is planned well in advance. There was no calling him at the last minute to bring home any takeout. And I’ve been taking pictures and keeping notes on everything, thinking to do a post on it sometime but my goodness, my friend, speaking of prosaic, my post would be titled Prosaic compared to yours! I love Chesterton but I’m still trying to figure out what his second paragraph means. I do see the wisdom in Braque’s quote and will copy that down and tape it up in my kitchen.

    I like your philosophical ramblings very much, Gretchen. They express much of what I’ve been experiencing and feeling and trying to scribble about. Only my scribbles, I’m afraid, are pure high school prose while yours are absolutely grad school poetry.

    Now it’s time to go cook because my husband has returned from a trip to the grocery store with my carefully crafted list. We will feast tonight because our prayers were answered with work this past week! And He allowed us not to be a day late on any bill during this lean time in addition to teaching our three families involved in the business some good lessons for the future. That’s how good He is!

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  8. Necessity is the mother of invention — another good quote along this line.

    When I was weary of my nightly cooking and would ask Adam if he wanted to cook supper, he would always ask the same question: “What are my assets?” I loved that. Then he would enjoy the creative challenge of making a good supper for six of us, with what assets I could offer. I agree that limitations (or need … or poverty) can be quite exciting, challenging, invigorating even. “But he didn’t have to put supper on the table in an hour.” Haha – love that! Choosing to function within limitations is one kind of creativity; having to do it, is another. This was a fun post!

    This brings to mind age-old thoughts about poetry. Many propose that formed/metered/structured poetry is much more creative, and therefore higher quality and more enjoyable (and more durable) than free-verse. I’ve written both, and I agree. The challenge of writing a sonnet not only improves the poem that’s written, it also weeds out bad poems that cannot withstand the force of the limitations. Good stuff, Gretchen! You always challenge my brain!

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  9. I truly enjoyed this post. I too am endeavoring to prepare meals that are simple, nutritious, and using what little bits of leftovers I can find in the refrigerator, freezer, or pantry.

    And my mouth watered when I saw your bread.

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    1. Unfortunately, Mags, I was eating even while reading your comment and nearly choked to death laughing. Giving in to death would not be good stewardship of your own praise, though, so I recovered myself. ❤

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  10. I love this post! You are so right. I REALLY need to read GK Chesterton- he writes so profoundly from what I have read in other people’s posts and quotes in other books! Your breakfast looked niiiiiiiiiiiiiice!

    Liked by 1 person

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